Earlier today, I soft pedaled it at Sierra FoodWineArt magazine about Willie Nelson coming to town, because it’s a broader, more genteel audience. Journalists sometimes do that, tailoring their message to the crowd — just like performers.
But — just between us Sierra Foothills Report enthusiasts — American music icon Willie Nelson is expected to come to Grass Valley this summer, performing in the annual benefit concert for the Bear Yuba Land Trust (formerly the Nevada County Land Trust) at the Nevada County Fairgrounds. It’s going to be a blast.
I expect a formal press release next month. This is a big coup for the Bear Yuba Land Trust and The Center for the Arts, which is handling the concert, and the Fairgrounds, now under Sandy Woods, an innovator.
I’m proud and appreciative of all of them! Julie Baker has done a “bang up job” revitalizing The Center. For us, Willie’s appearance is on a par with landing the Amgen Bike Race, as Nevada City did in the recent past.
Now that’s out-of-the-way, let’s get down to the bigger picture: It is time to get more serious about building a new performing arts center in our town or expand existing ones — an “on again, off again” effort over the years.
We continue to land a lot of major-league talent nowadays: Kris Kristofferson and Judy Collins (The Center for the Arts) and the Vienna Boys’ Choir and world-class pianist Garrick Ohlsson (InConcert Sierra) and Gregory Vajda’s Music in the Mountains performances, among others. We are unique in the Sierra Foothills in this respect — at least when it comes to the breadth and depth of performers.
We also have award-winning community theater, including Sierra Stages, the Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra (CATS), LeGacy Productions and others. The Del Oro Theatre broadcasts live performances from the Met Opera and London’s National Theatre.
To be sure, the county fairgrounds is ideal for a Willie Nelson concert. It also will help reinvigorate and raise visibility for the fairgrounds — just when it is facing state cutbacks.
But landing another world-class talent should cause our community to revisit the need for a bigger venue to handle our ever-increasing performing arts business. The arts are a big “economic engine,” helping the lodging, dining and shopping sectors of our economy with visitors.
An effort to build a larger concert venue at The Center’s downtown location (700-1000 seats) stalled last year because of the economic downturn, public funding (including redevelopment funds), lack of awareness of the arts’ economic power, and other factors.
This included a minimal $1 million effort to upgrade The Center. (We at Sierra FoodWineArt magazine contributed what we could afford to the cause). More substantial renovations brought the proposed figure as high as $14 million for a more ambitious plan.
Several years ago, a movement was quietly growing in the county to build a full-scale performing arts center.
A committee of performing-arts groups was formed and a survey was funded by Nevada City residents LaVonne and the late Frank Amaral, well-known for their support of the arts. Their contributions helped build the Amaral Family Center, a classical music venue at the county fairgrounds.
It came at the same time that Sierra College pulled back from plans to build such a center at its Grass Valley campus — and built a gym.
Now that the arts community has proven its mettle in landing world-class talent, it’s time for the community to step up and help support a full-scale performing arts center.