Montgomery Village’s summertime concert series celebrates 10th anniversary

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Concert series

Montgomery Village’s summertime concert series is celebrating its 10th anniversary. It was launched during the economic downturn, offering residents free entertainment while raising money for nonprofits through beverage sales. Here are some of this summer’s concerts and their beneficiaries:

Sunday: Rock and Roll Rhythm Revue (Santa Rosa Junior College wrestling program)

Thursday: Pete Escovedo Latin Jazz Ensemble (Forgotten Felines)

Saturday: Tainted Love (Redwood Empire Food Bank)

July 14: Wendy DeWitt, Queen of Boogie-Woogie (Compassion Without Borders)

July 25: Wonder Bread 5 (Social Advocates for Youth)

July 27: Johnny Vegas featuring Angie Maserati (Boys & Girls Club of Greater Santa Rosa)

July 28: Dean Grech (Maria Carrillo High School Band Boosters)

For more information, call 707-545-3844. For a list of upcoming concerts, visit mvshops.com/calendar-of-events-list/.

Way more than a few years ago, Bill Stevens attended his first rock concert, a memorable show at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. Loverboy opened for Journey, whose lead singer, Steve Perry, belted out top Billboard songs like “Open Arms” and “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

On a recent Saturday afternoon, Stevens, 53, was transported back to that time from several decades ago, thanks to the summer concert series at Santa Rosa’s open-air Montgomery Village Shopping Center. He and his wife, Christine, were among some 200 people watching Escape, a Los Angeles-based Journey tribute band.

A fish biologist with the federal government, Stevens isn’t a die-hard Journey fan, but he still enjoys the band’s ’80s sound. Escape was impressive, he said.

“They actually sound really good,” said Stevens, of Santa Rosa.

He and his wife occasionally head to Montgomery Village for the free concert series, which this year celebrates its 10th anniversary. The series features a wide selection of music, from pop, rock, jazz and country to tribute bands performing hits from Neil Diamond, Elton John, Michael Jackson, Santana, Frank Sinatra, the Beatles and more.

“It’s fun music that takes you back to a time, a moment in life,” said Melissa Codding, who founded the series in 2009, after hosting a popular Earth Day celebration with live music at the shopping center.

Codding, now director of operations, was marketing director — and not yet married to the shopping center owner, David Codding — when she came up with the idea to book bands for outdoor concerts. From one summertime concert every other week, the seasonal series grew to include weekly concerts on Saturdays and Sundays and rotating Thursdays, each one benefiting a Sonoma County school or nonprofit.

Beneficiaries serve beverages donated by concert sponsors, with all profits going to social service agencies, veterans organizations, animal welfare programs and school groups, many based in Santa Rosa. Each also receives proceeds from sales of reserved VIP seatings, ranging from $75 to $100 a table.

The series has raised more than $800,000 for charitable groups, with an annual average of about $150,000 in recent years.

“It’s such a community thing,” said Melissa Codding, who founded the series when the economy was down and she figured live music could help lift spirits.

Senior Advocacy Services was the beneficiary from the recent Escape concert, on an afternoon that saw temperatures hitting 95 degrees. Beverage sales were brisk, especially for ice-cold Bud Light.

While proceeds from VIP seating and beverage sales are greatly appreciated, the exposure is also helpful, said Crista Nelson, the agency’s executive director. Being a beneficiary, she said, “really makes a difference for the organization.”

Nelson credits Codding with establishing a program that’s rewarding for everyone, from those listening to music to the agencies benefiting from the event.

“She makes it so easy for us,” Nelson said. “We walk in and smile.”

Codding said there’s often a wait list from nonprofits.

In the early days, some were reluctant to apply for the one-day license to sell alcohol.

“It was a hard thing to get nonprofits to participate. Now it’s like a no-brainer,” she said. “It’s such a simple process now.”

Concert series

Montgomery Village’s summertime concert series is celebrating its 10th anniversary. It was launched during the economic downturn, offering residents free entertainment while raising money for nonprofits through beverage sales. Here are some of this summer’s concerts and their beneficiaries:

Sunday: Rock and Roll Rhythm Revue (Santa Rosa Junior College wrestling program)

Thursday: Pete Escovedo Latin Jazz Ensemble (Forgotten Felines)

Saturday: Tainted Love (Redwood Empire Food Bank)

July 14: Wendy DeWitt, Queen of Boogie-Woogie (Compassion Without Borders)

July 25: Wonder Bread 5 (Social Advocates for Youth)

July 27: Johnny Vegas featuring Angie Maserati (Boys & Girls Club of Greater Santa Rosa)

July 28: Dean Grech (Maria Carrillo High School Band Boosters)

For more information, call 707-545-3844. For a list of upcoming concerts, visit mvshops.com/calendar-of-events-list/.

She’s pleased that so many different groups in the community have stepped up to serve beverages and promote their organizations.

This year’s series features 41 concerts, including this Sunday’s performance by Rock and Roll Rhythm Revue. The concert benefits the Santa Rosa Junior College wrestling program.

For concert-goers like 70-year-old Lana Nelson of Rohnert Park, the series is a welcome way to spend a few hours.

“I’m here constantly,” said Nelson, who is retired from a career in mental health. “It’s free, and it’s a nice crowd. I love people, I love music. Dancing is my passion.”

Leticia Gomez of Sebastopol attends concerts occasionally with friends. The software engineer moved from downtown Chicago to Sonoma County four years ago, trading beach volleyball in her free time in the Windy City for wine tasting and concerts in her new community.

“Moving here, it’s a different scene. It’s music-focused,” said Gomez, who’s in her 40s. She loves dancing and was having fun in the heat at the Escape concert. Overhead shade sails and large oscillating fans helped cool the crowd.

Concerts include a section for dancing, seating areas for guests who bring low-backed chairs, reserved tables and open-table seating.

For the Saturday “Rockin’ Concerts” and the Thursday “Concerts Under the Stars” held in the Village Court, and the “Sunday Concerts at the Terrace” at the Village Terrace, visitors can enjoy the music while dining outdoors at nearby restaurants.

Codding said the concerts typically attract people from their 30s to their 70s, with Thursday concerts bringing in 400 to 800 people, and 200 to 400 on Saturdays. Sundays are mellower, she said, with about 100 to 150 in attendance.

While all bands are popular, dance band Wonder Bread 5, Pete Escovedo Latin Jazz Ensemble and party band Pride & Joy, among others, have big followings. Crowd-pleasers like the Unauthorized Rolling Stones (the first band to perform), Petty Theft, the Sun Kings and Caravanserai have played every year of the series.

Codding said the true rock star is her husband, who recognized how happy people were at the Earth Day concert a decade ago, and gave his enthusiastic support to underwrite the series.

“It was right after the economy plummeted,” she said. “Everyone was being affected by the economy. You think about where we were in 2009, and it was not easy for people.”

Nonprofits were especially hard-hit, as even established donors were unable to make contributions. The concert series was developed as a way to spread joy and put cash in nonprofit coffers.

The benefits trickle in to the 20-acre shopping center as well, although not always on concert days. The 70 tenants may see an increase in business after the music stops, and when parking opens up at the longtime shopping center, which marks its 70th anniversary next year.

“Customers who come (for concerts) remember us, and they come back,” Codding said.

Nelson, the Senior Advocacy Services executive director, agrees.

“I now shop here because of this,” said Nelson, who lives in Petaluma. Doing business at Montgomery Village is a way to pay it forward.

Codding said the series has been a community effort from the start. Sonoma County radio veteran Mike Watermann of The Wolf 102.7 has been a part of the series since the first year, when he was the drummer for the Unauthorized Rolling Stones. He has helped secure bands, and is the emcee at concerts.

Sponsors like Rodney Strong Vineyards and Korbel Champagne Cellars also play a role in the success of the series, just a few of the many contributors supporting the concerts.

Codding and the center’s marketing and event coordinator, Cherie Granzotto, work together to cover every detail of the series.

Codding attends each concert, even if she can only make it for a few songs. She graduated high school in 1978 and — like so many in the audience — often is transported back to an earlier era once the music starts.

She and her husband still measure a decade of the series’ success by watching concert-goers dancing, swaying and singing along to the music.

“It’s such a heartwarming thing to look out and see all these happy people,” Codding said.

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