Peter Michael Escovedo & Friends’ “Hella” Benefit for Marc VW

Article & Photos by: Walter Atkins

Peter Michael Escovedo & Friends
Voices From The Heart: The Marc VW Benefit
Empress Theatre
Vallejo  CA
March 29 2017

Peter Michael Escovedo (E Family) organized a stellar line up of Bay Area musicians and “Hella” more for Voices From The Heart: The Marc VW Benefit at the Empress Theatre in downtown Vallejo CA. The acclaimed artists were Howard Hewett (Shalamar),EvelynChampagneKingTony Lindsay (Santana) and Vallejo’s own pride & joy, Con-Funk-Shun!

For this sold out benefit, the well established stars were supported by the Marc VW All-Stars consisting of: guitarist Bobby G, drummer Brian Collier, bassist Richard Brown, keyboardist Mike Blankenship and percussionists Juan Escovedo and Mio Flores. The PME Horns: Chuck Hansen, Andy Amoroso, Ron Moton, Marty Wehner, Marvin McFadden. Vocalists Extraordinaire: Leah Tysse, Sandy Griffith, Paul Green, Kaleo Ross, Kimiko Joy, and Tranishia Gholston.

Organizer and music director Escovedo, along with KBLX’s  Sterling James, MC’d the funky and soulful “Show”, as Escovedo called it, and a marvelous show it was. The night opened with the PME All Stars   playing Santana’s  screaming version of Black Magic Woman and spot lighted G’s fantastic guitar riffs. Lindsay’s moving rendition of Donny Hathaway’s Someday We’ll All Be Free enthralled the audience.

Local Bay Area favorite Con-Funk-Shun was killing it at the Show. Their 2-Funky set included their huge hits Too Tight, the ballad Love’s Train, and summer party track FFun. People were out of their seats with excitement. They clearly established the jubilant party pace that continued with the other artists.

The night included an auction for a guitar signed by all 30 musicians and vocalists that raised $1,600 to help offset medical expenses for the recovering Marc van Wageningen. When the bidding started to slow down, one of the guitarists helped James with an unexpected mile-a-minute auctioneer’s  voice that quickly got things rolling again.This produced laughter and smiles. For a hot minute, it seemed like Saturday at the local car auction.  The friendly Empress volunteer staff was very helpful throughout the show, led by general manager Kevin Frazier.

With the stamina of two teenagers, King launched her set with powerful vocals that rocked the spot as she high kicked and glided over the the large stage. King also made a new fan who was impressed by her singing, striding and kicking on stage in 5 inch heels. For her, King’s performance was at the top. King’s bouncy hit filled session was tough enough, but then she surprised everyone with her dynamic conga playing. From the conga stand, she calmly shifted to the drums, displaying her competence here too, while  the audience howled and partied. With her high vitality level, Escovedo wondered which instrument she was going to play next.  King’s husband and Bassist said he takes vitamins every day to keep up with her. “She’s like this every day.” The infectious groove had the dance area packed with people including this writer.

Howard Hewitt sang Shalamar classics including For The Lover In You. During his time,he slowly  walked into the crowd confidently serenading his screaming fans before returning to the stage. He lovely duet with Sandy Griffith was one of the show’s many high lights. Hewett was joined by the other artists on stage to help close the show.

CSL’s Timothy MacDonald, a generous supporter of the theater, was sitting with his wife and friends at the VIP tables. Rhonda Hicks, social media manager, explained the Empress was originally built in 1911 and  the centrally located  site  had fallen into disrepair over the years. As part of a city redevelopment plan, the first priority was the restoration of the Beaux Arts style theatre. The multi million refurbishment took years  and  included   a state of the art speaker system, provided by a Woodinville WA company. The massive suspended speakers produced clear sound and were remarkably thin.

After recording and pressing Raise The Marc within days of Tower Of Power’s van Wageningen’s accident, Escovedo asked  his musician friends and family  to perform at the benefit. He mentioned while living in LA, the celebrated King was his neighbor. The gracious support of Lindsay, Con-Funk-Shun, King and Hewett, along with the other artists, was immensely appreciated for this special cause.

Many thanks  to Peter Michael Escovedo for bringing so much talent  and support together in behalf of a ailing musician.This Show demonstrated  the family spirit & love of the old Bill Graham Fillmores was alive and well at the Empress Theatre.


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