Behind the music: Sonoma’s Michael Coats

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Behind the music: Sonoma’s Michael Coats

Postby tater1977 » Fri Jan 18, 2019 10:42 pm

Behind the music: Sonoma’s Michael Coats ... el?sba=AAS


There may have been better places to grow up for someone with his sights set on show biz, but for Michael Coats, being raised in the East Bay town of Danville suited him just fine.

Coats is now a fully vested grown up, and he has done quite well.

The Sonoma-based public relations specialist has a long and interesting involvement in the local music scene.

As a student at Monte Vista High School, Coats enrolled in the school’s electronic arts program. One of the student tasks, as Coats describes, was “…to raise money for our electronics program, which produced a weekly television show.” Coats not only realized that he had a gift for talking on camera, he learned a thing or two about promoting events, too.

As a young impressionable kid, he was involved with bringing some pretty big named bands to the high school. Monte Vista had an 800-seat theater, and the school hosted shows by such rising bands as Journey and Huey Lewis and the News.

“It was a crazy, heady time. ’74, ’75, ’76 music was on fire,” Coats said. “And we did these concerts. Somebody had to sell the tickets and that somehow fell to me. I had the gift of gab.”

“Basically right out of high school,” Coats said he landed a job working in the box office at the Waldorf, a premier night club on Battery Street in San Francisco. While there, he worked for owner Jeffrey Pollack and, later, for Bill Graham. They presented many fledgling but now famous bands. Journey was among them, presenting “the first shows with Steve Perry singing with Journey”

“We did six nights in a row with Journey, two shows a night,” recalls Coats.

Also, while at the Waldorf, Coats says, “We were one of the first to use the BASS tickets. My relationship with (Sonoma resident Jerry Seltzer) goes back to that time. He is another one of the guys who mentored me in my career. He could sell ice to an Eskimo.”

Coats began working for Ken Baker Publicity, and soon met Tom Johnston, singer and guitarist of the Doobie Brothers. He later met the band’s manager, Bruce Cohn.

Coats’ good fortune continued when Cohn asked him to help open his new winery in Glen Ellen and assist with managing the Doobie Brothers.

One afternoon, Cohn and Coats were contemplating the future of the winery and the band. An idea was hatched to have a celebrity golf tournament. Coats told Cohn, “You’ve got these stars on your Rolodex.” In 1986, “the first golf tournament raised a whopping $500 for the community, or something like that,” Coats recalls.

After a few years, they began to realize that the golf tournament was kind of tapped out and could only raise so much money. “It’s funny when you get into fundraising, you just want to keep raising money,” says Coats.

Cohn and Coats decided to add a concert component. They began looking for a large, outdoor, venue, and the best available option was the high school field.

“So, we booked Graham Nash, and put together an all-star band that included members of Little Feat.” The show also included Nicolette Larson, her last show before she died of cancer.

He remembers that it was simply a marvelous and magical afternoon. Coats recounts that Bill Lynch, of the Index-Tribune, wrote “this love letter of an editorial” afterward about how Bruce Cohn “taught the children well,” a pun on Nash’s “Teach Your Children.”

“It was just lovely, we couldn’t have asked for anything better,” said Coats.

“We raised more money than the golf tournament and we made a nice donation to the Boosters,” Coats said.

The next year’s concert was headlined by Little Feat and, eventually, the annual benefit outgrew the high school and Cohn went on to host what became knowns as the Fall Music Festival at his Glen Ellen winery, where it stayed for 21 years, raising several million dollars for local charities.

When Cohn moved the festival to the downtown-area Field of Dreams in 2015, he was able to use his connections to bring Ringo Starr to the stage.

“Somebody pinch me,” Coats recalls thinking about the prospect of a Beatle playing the festival. “I’ll die. I’m going to heaven.”

On the first weekend of October 2015 Greg Allman, Chicago and Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band each headlined the three-day festival.

“We raised half a million dollars in one weekend by moving that concert down to the Field of Dreams,” Coats said.
Coats remembers being in a high all Saturday night, hosting a show featuring a Beatle.

An aspect of a concert promoter’s job that gets little notice from concert goers is the selection of the “walkout music.” Bill Graham taught Coats that the last sounds that people hear at a concert are important. “Graham told me, ‘They’re gonna remember that.’ The Rolling Stones always use ‘Take the A Train.’” On this night for the walkout music after Starr left the stage, he directed the sound guys to play Sinatra’s “My Kind of Town.”

“I told the guy, ‘Don’t be shy, pump it up… this is our town.’ I had chills up my spine,” Coats says.

Coats has kept in touch with the Little Feat members over the years since that first benefit concert, and he still occasionally promotes their mini tours.

He is excited that “Funky Feat” – Little Feat minus Billy Payne, now playing with the Doobies – is coming to Sonoma County soon. The band brings its syncopated rhythms to HopMonk Sebastopol on Jan. 18, and to HopMonk Novato on Jan. 20.
Over the course of his career, Coats has learned the finer nuances of being a promoter.

“I have been fortunate that I could follow this path,” says Coats. “It’s been very exciting. It’s very stressful.”

Speaking of the artists he has worked with, he says, “These are talented people, they have egos, you can’t step out in front.”
And he received some important advice from no less than Bill Graham himself. “Bill taught me, “Walk a step behind me, would you?’”

Today, Michael Coats and his wife Valerie are contemplating a move. They have been living on a small ranch and vineyard on the east side of town, but are thinking of moving closer in. They want to be in our town.

And after a full, busy, and rewarding life walking “a step behind,” Coats is thinking about retirement in a few years.
Perry's good natured bonhomie & the world’s most charmin smile,knocked fans off their feet. Sportin a black tux,gigs came alive as he swished around the stage thrillin audiences w/ charisma that instantly burnt the oxygen right out of the
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