Gotta love these venues

By Jim Harrington - Staff Writer

With the possible exception of New York City, there might well be more great music venues in the greater Bay Area than in any other spot on the globe. But even NYC can't claim the sheer variety of different kinds of venues, ranging from intimate jazz clubs to mammoth outdoor amphitheaters, that locals get to enjoy on a regular basis.

Thankfully, some of the very best venues are located right here in San Mateo County. Here's a look at the top spots to see live music in the area:

Douglas Beach House
If someone were to ask this music critic: "Where's the best place to hear music in the entire Bay Area," the answer would be the Douglas Beach House. That's really saying a lot given that there are also the Fillmore and Yoshi's - two world-class spots - in the running.

But the Douglas Beach House is an absolute hidden gem, a place that, once you find it, you'll never forget. Located on Miramar Beach in Half Moon Bay, the small, intimate venue delivers the best of jazz and classical music in a very warm and inviting environment. The experience is much like watching a private concert performed in an old friend's beachside home - which is basically what you're doing.

The concerts are presented by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, a non-profit organization for the musical arts that was incorporated in 1964. The main man in charge is Pete Douglas - hence the venue's name - and he really knows his jazz. In recent years, he's hosted such jazz greats as Brad Mehldau, Hiromi, the Esbjorn Svensson Trio, Poncho Sanchez and Russell Malone.

So pack a picnic, head for the sea and get ready for a truly memorable musical experience at the Douglas Beach House

- The Douglas Beach House. 311 Mirada Road, Miramar Beach, Half Moon Bay. Call (650) 726-4143 or visit

The Fox Theatre
This lovely art deco-style theater has been downtown Redwood City's leading lady since it was built in 1928. But times haven't always been so kind to her, and those who live outside the area haven't traditionally had many reasons to get acquainted with the Fox. In all, this 1,400-capacity venue has historically lived in the shadow of more-celebrated theaters such as Oakland's Paramount and Palo Alto's Stanford.

That all changed a few years back when the lady got a major makeover. Now - to borrow from Jimi Hendrix - she's a ``Foxy Lady.''

Since reopening in June 2002, the refurbished theater has hosted the likes of Neil Young, Tom Jones, Tony Bennett, Lyle Lovett, Shawn Colvin, Robert Cray, the String Cheese Incident, Mary Black and B.B. King. The theater, with its grand and distinctive architecture, is a great place to watch a show. Many of the gigs are booked by Montalvo Arts Center, the fine Saratoga-based presenter that always seems to snag superb talent.

- The Fox Theatre. 2215 Broadway, Redwood City. Call (650) FOX-4119 or visit

The Little Fox
As significant as the reopening of the ``Big'' Fox was to the Peninsula's music scene, the fairly recent debut of the adjoining Little Fox has actually meant more. That's because the larger Fox only offers live music every so often, while there's something happening at the Little Fox basically every night.

The venue, which is booked by the great Tom Miller, offers a plethora of different styles. On any given month, music lovers can pick from such styles as roots-rock, country, swing, authentic blues, local jazz, folk and jam-band rock. The venue also offers a plethora of cover bands - which prefer the term ``tribute bands.''

Some of the acts that have performed at the Little Fox include Elana James, James Cotton, Mimi Fox and Chris Cain. This is the place to go to hear both local talent and national touring acts.

The best part about the Little Fox is its intimacy. The two-level venue only holds 240 people so fans can get really close to the action. Plus, it's got a great sound system and superb acoustics.

- The Little Fox. 2209 Broadway, Redwood City. Call (650) FOX-4119 or visit

San Mateo County Fairgrounds
There aren't many finer things in life than watching live music while munching a corndog and sipping an icy lemonade on a warm summer evening. If you haven't experienced that thrill in years - perhaps since childhood? - it's highly recommended that you mark Aug. 11-20th on your calendar.

That'll be your chance to get one last dose of summer as the San Mateo County Fair returns to the county fairgrounds. We all know the rap on fair acts. They are all a bunch of mediocre live acts, consisting of has-been rockers and never-will-be pop-hopefuls. Right? Wrong.

The San Mateo County Fair usually hosts a comparatively hip collection of talent. In recent years, music lovers have had the chance to enjoy the likes of modern-rockers Smash Mouth, Sugar Ray and the Donnas, the all-girl rock band that hails from nearby Palo Alto.

- The fairgrounds. 2495 S. Delaware St., San Mateo. Call (650) 574-324 or visit

Shoreline Amphitheatre
There's little argument to be had over the Bay Area's top concert venue. The Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View is not only the Bay Area's top concert venue - it's one of the nation's biggest and best.

The Pollstar Concert Industry Awards once named the Peninsula venue ``the Best Large Outdoor Amphitheatre in the United States.'' The Wall Street Journal called it ``the Cadillac of Amphitheatres.'' This critic refers to it as the official home of the summer music season.

Opened in 1986, basically as a way for Bill Graham to host as many Grateful Dead concerts as possible, the dual tent-shaped venue (which some have likened to Madonna's rocket-shaped brassiere) has been a major hit right from the very start. It's drawn capacity crowds for such legendary performers as Phish, R.E.M., the Dave Matthews Band, Radiohead, Jimmy Buffett and Tim McGraw. And that's just scratching the surface. Just about everybody of note has played the Shoreline over the last 20 years.

- Shoreline. One Amphitheatre Parkway. Call (650) 967-3000 or visit

Montalvo Arts Center
Located in one of the most beautiful settings imaginable for live music, the Montalvo Arts Center (formerly known as Villa Montalvo) presents the finest in jazz, world music, classical, folk and rock. Some of the more notable performers who have played Montalvo include John Prine, Shawn Colvin, Richard Thompson and Medeski Martin and Wood.
But, again, it's the setting that really separates this place from other venues. Located in the Saratoga Hills, Montalvo is housed in a Mediterranean-style villa on 175 woodsy acres. It's such a stunning setting that it really doesn't matter who is playing - this critic might even go see Maroon 5 if the band was performing there. That's really saying something.
- Montalvo. 15400 Montalvo Road, Saratoga. Call (408) 961-5800 or visit

The Mountain Winery
It hardly seems fair to the rest of the world that two of the most glorious concert venues are located in such close proximity - Montalvo Arts Center and the Mountain Winery. Local music fans never sweat that inequity - they're too busy enjoying their good fortune.

Situated on a mountaintop, with grand views of Santa Clara Valley, the Winery offers a decidedly mainstream schedule. Think Hootie and the Blowfish, Chicago, Huey Lewis and the News and Boz Scaggs. One can't help but feel a sense of history while at the winery, which was originally purchased by legendary winemaker Paul Masson back in 1901.

The Mountain Winery. 14831 Pierce Road, Saratoga. Call (408) 741-2822 or visit Listen up ! There's music in them thar hills

Yoshi's at Jack London Square
New Yorkers think they've got the best jazz clubs in the world. They're wrong. Just ask Oscar Peterson, a man who ranks as quite possibly the greatest living jazz pianist. Peterson is a very vocal fan of Yoshi's at Jack London Square in Oakland.

``It's the best club that I've played,'' the jazz man has said. ``They run a club the way a jazz club should be run. They have a respect for the artists that you don't always find in many of the other jazz clubs. They try to present the artists in the best possible light - and I have to respect that.''

Not even such famed NYC hotspots as the Village Vanguard and the Blue Note can claim better schedules than the one Yoshi's Artistic Director Peter Williams regularly assembles for local jazz fans. We're talking about the very finest jazz musicians in the business, including Brad Mehldau, McCoy Tyner, Pharoah Sanders and, of course, Oscar Peterson.

Plus, Yoshi's doubles as a sushi restaurant and drinking establishment, serving some truly kicking spicy tuna rolls and fine apple martinis. The Big Apple should be so lucky.

Yoshi's at Jack London Square. 510 Embarcadero West, Oakland. Call (510) 238-9200 or visit

Wente Vineyards
California's oldest family-owned and continuously operated winery, Wente Vineyards is also one of the best places to see live music in the country. The winery, which was founded in 1883 by C.H. Wente, hosts outdoor shows from June through September.

The tickets can be pricey, especially for the dinner-and-show packages, but it's money well-spent. It's hard to imagine a better way to enjoy live music than under the stars, near the vines and nestled up against a loved one in Wente's picturesque courtyard.

The musical offerings are solid and have previously included such talents as Clint Black, Boz Scaggs and Shawn Colvin. And, of course, the Wente wines are sensational, and the cuisine is outstanding.
Wente Vineyards. 5050 Arroyo Road, Livermore. Call (925) 456-2424 or visit

Paramount Theatre
Quite simply, the Paramount is one of most beautiful theaters in all of Northern California. The venue, a glorious celebration of art deco design, opened in 1931 as a movie palace that rivaled any in Hollywood.

Film buffs can still enjoy a nostalgic trip back to the Golden Age of Hollywood with a visit to the Paramount. The likes of Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable still rule the screen during the venue's regular movie nights.

But this is a story about music, right? And the Paramount has plenty to offer in that regard. The building hosts numerous acts that are too big to play the Fillmore in San Francisco and can't quite fill the cavernous Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View. Some of better acts that have performed there include Harry Connick Jr., Sigur Ros and Bryan Ferry.

The Paramount. 2025 Broadway, Oakland. Call (510) 465-6400 or visit

Alameda County Fairgrounds
There aren't many better things in life than watching live music while munching a corndog and sipping an icy lemonade on a warm summer evening. If you haven't experienced that thrill since in years - perhaps since childhood - it's highly recommended that you mark June 23 to July 9 down on your calendar.

That's your chance to kick start your summer as the Alameda County Fair returns to the county fairgrounds. We all know the rap on fair acts. They are all a bunch of mediocre live acts, consisting of has-been rockers and never-will-be pop-hopefuls. Right? Wrong.

The Alameda County Fair usually hosts a solid array of talent. In recent years, music lovers have had the chance to enjoy the likes of War, Charlie Musselwhite and the Ohio Players, whose song ``Love Rollercoaster'' remains one of the catchiest tunes ever written.

So get your ears set for some live music, and your taste buds ready for a corndog, and make plans to experience the Alameda County Fair.
The fairgrounds. 4501 Pleasanton Ave., Pleasanton. For more information, call (925) 426-7559 or visit

The Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse
Folk fans value this place as highly as jazz aficionados do Yoshi's. That's about right on the money. There aren't many, if any, places in the country that do a better job presenting roots music than this cozy venue.

If you're hankering for bluegrass, folk, country (not of the Kenny Chesney variety) or any number of different shades of world music, the Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse should be the first place you check. This venue hosts stellar touring musicians and talented locals almost nightly. Past headliners have included Ralph Stanley, the Hot Club of Cowtown and Mary Gauthier.

The Freight. 1111 Addison St., Berkeley. Call (510) 548-1761 or visit

Stockton Arena
The Stockton Arena doesn't have much of a history compared to the other venues on this list. It hasn't had time yet, given that it just opened earlier this year.

Still, the place is gorgeous (at least as far as arenas go) and is further evidence that the city is serious about entertainment. It will be interesting to see how well the venue's bookings stack up against more established spots like Oakland Arena and Arco Arena. So far, so good - Stockton Arena has already hosted Neil Diamond and Bob Dylan. The Stockton Arena. 248 W. Fremont St. Call (209) 373-1400 or visit