Chris Smith Press Democrat Column April 4, 2021

Every friendship has it ups and downs. So it is with the lower Russian River’s linkage with the high-brow, art-graced, frequently scorned, men-only, pee-on-the-trees annual encampment at the Bohemian Grove near Monte Rio.

The kinship goes back an extraordinarily long way, 120 years. A good deal of good came from it even before the arrival of cash gifts from Bohos totaling $110,000 that right now aid efforts to get vulnerable Russian River-area residents vaccinated against COVID-19 and that come as a shot in the arm to other critical missions in the region.

“It’s a great example of doing something tangible for one’s neighbor,” said Dr. Jason Cunningham, chief of West County Health Centers. The nonprofit recently received $50,000 for its vaccination efforts from the Dawn Redwood Trust, a charitable foundation that gets most of its dollars from members of the Bohemian Club of San Francisco, host of the Bohemian Grove campout.

Leaders of the Dawn Redwood Trust also gave $20,000 to each of the three community organizations that benefit from the hugely popular Monte Rio Variety Show. In normal years, the show happens in July, during the Bohemian Grove encampment that often draws protesters worried about the prospect that some of the club’s rich and powerful members meet with politicians out of the public eye.

Each year, performers that have included the likes of Steve Miller, Elvin Bishop, Clint Black, Zac Brown and Roy Rogers venture from the Grove to entertain a great crowd at the open-air Monte Rio Amphitheater. Last summer, COVID regulations forced the show to go virtual.

The $20,000 checks that arrived from the Dawn Redwood Trust were godsends to the Monte Rio School Foundation, the food pantry and other services of St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church, as well as the Monte Rio Fire Services Foundation.

“Everybody’s working together,“ said Michele McDonell, the community dynamo who coordinates the charitable Monte Rio Variety Show. ”It’s just a blessing. That’s how we operate.“

McDonell said cash grants from the Dawn Redwood Trust come at a time when fallout from the pandemic deals hardship and misery throughout the river area.

“It’s pretty grim for so many people,” McDonell said. Neighborly help originating in the pockets of Bohemian Club members is helping.

At West County Health Centers, chief executive Cunningham said the $50,000 from Dawn Redwoodd Trust has allowed his organization to contract with a fellow community nonprofit, Corazón Healdsburg, for essential COVID outreach services. Corazón Healdsburg has taken on the challenge of locating low-income people in danger of being overlooked by vaccination programs and helping them arrange to receive the shots

Cunningham said the new dollars made it possible for West County Health Centers to pay for the services of five members of the Healdsburg organization’s bilingual, bicultural vaccination outreach team. Those team members connect people with the vaccination clinics operated by the health centers.

That assistance in attracting vulnerable individuals to the clinics has been invaluable. “I would not have been able to do that quickly without that funding,” Cunningham said.

The Bohemian Grove members who savor the redwood camp and the people who live near it have been neighbors for far longer than anyone can remember. So they might as well be friends.

Thank You for a Successful 2017 Show!

On behalf of the Monte Rio School and Fire Services, and St. Catherine Catholic Church, we thank the individuals who provided the production resources and entertainment contacts this year and for the past 106 years.    We are grateful to the awesome performers who give their time and talent, and also the crew and volunteers without whom this event would not be possible.

Kix Brooks of Brooks and Dunne joined us for the 106th Monte Rio Variety Show.
Kix Brooks of Brooks and Dunne joined us for the 106th Monte Rio Variety Show.

The 106th show was enjoyed by over 2000 audience members – the largest since our 100th Anniversary Show in 2011. Our Entertainment list included:

Dick Hardwick (Compere)
Rick Walsh and band (Jazz)
Smokey (one of the longest running acts for the show as a storyteller)
Dan Brower – National Anthem
John Ballachey (Jack Jones song)
Liv Taylor (James Taylor’s brother – Folk Song)
Gary Muledeer (Comedy)
Shelly Berg (Jazz Piano)
Billy Valentine (Pop Song)
Patrick Martin (Magician)
David Jackson (Comedy & Song)
Mark O’Connor Bank (bluegrass with fiddle)
Tim Huffman (Country song)
Phil Vassar (Country song)
Tim Nichols (Singer, guitarist, songwriter)
Ray Benson (Country song)
Kix Brooks and Friends (Country, Finale)