When: Area 51 at 8:30 tonight, Uncle Uncle at 9 p.m. Saturday, Mendeleyev at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Santa Barbara City College jazz combos at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Unity Shoppe benefit/Ugly Sweater Party featuring the Molly Ringwald Project and others at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 13, and SoHO’s 25th Anniversary Celebration featuring King Bee at 8 p.m. Dec. 14. The Mendeleyev and City College concerts are for all ages. The rest are for audiences 21 and older.
Where: SOhO Restaurant & Music Club, 1221 State St., Suite 205.
Cost: $10 for all concerts except the Unity Shoppe benefit, which is $20 to $25.
Musicology Student Showcase: Free performances are 5 and 7 p.m. Sunday.
Information: www.sohosb.com, 805-962-7776.
By Dave Mason,
News-Press Staff Writer
Gail Hansen was 5 years old, wearing patent leather shoes and a dress and dancing to a Beatles record in her Sacramento home.
As an adult, the lifelong music lover ran into Santa Ynez Valley celeb David Crosby as he was leaving Opal Restaurant & Bar on State Street. She asked him to perform at her club.
The Crosby, Stills and Nash legend gave her his phone number and later went on a stage at a well-known State Street institution with a Bohemian brick interior and brilliant eggplant and emerald green walls.
Say the club’s name, and musicians know it.
Michael Andrews loves the club.
“We played there the first year they opened upstairs,” the Area 51 frontman told the News-Press, recalling 1994. “There was a line pretty much down the stairs and around the exterior of the building to get in.
“It was packed,” said Mr. Andrews, whose band plays nearly a dozen concerts there a year and will perform at the club at 8 tonight. “That began our love affair over there.”
SoHO. Say the name, and Leslie Lembo of Raw Silk praises Mrs. Hansen and her husband, Bob Hansen, for their commitment to live music in an era where other clubs have resorted to DJs.
“It’s a place where anyone of any age can go and listen to real people play real music with real talent,” Ms. Lembo told the News-Press.
SoHO. Say the name, and Mrs. Hansen, 60, has a lot of memories about the club that has served as a home of sorts for musicians that she regards as family.
Performers have varied from Soul Majestic to Santa Barbara celeb Kenny Loggins (and his children, Crosby and Hana Loggins) to the late, great Leon Russell.
Other musicians have included Sarah Lee Guthrie, Arlo Guthrie’s daughter; Montecito resident and Steppenwolf frontman John Kay, Black Crowes’ Jackie Greene, Jack Johnson, the Animal Liberation Orchestra and students in recitals.
The club strives to have live music every day and achieves that with occasional exceptions.
“I’m the only crazy person in town who will do stuff seven nights a week!” Mrs. Hansen told the News-Press, laughing enthusiastically in SoHO’s green room for bands. She was sitting on a sofa, near a chess board on a coffee table and an upright piano that musicians play when they’re not on stage.
“That little piano, you can’t believe how often it gets used,” Mrs. Hansen said.
When Mrs. Hansen isn’t working with musicians or doing other tasks, she’s enjoying the concerts. “Yeah, I’m on that dance floor a lot,” she said, laughing.
This year, SoHO Restaurant & Music Club has celebrated its 25th anniversary under Mr. and Mrs. Hansen’s ownership with a series of benefit concerts for improvements such as better furniture and a renovation of the restrooms. The next anniversary concert, set for Dec. 14, will feature another local band that likes the club, King Bee.
Mrs. Hansen explained how she went from being that little girl dancing to The Beatles to an owner of a club that Toad the Wet Sprocket lead vocalist Glen Phillips calls “a great home base.”
Mr. and Mrs. Hansen, who became married in 1979, moved in 1983 to Santa Barbara. Mrs. Hansen went on to earn an associate’s degree in early childhood education at Santa Barbara City College.
“I never did anything with it because I had four kids of my own!” Mrs. Hansen said, laughing.
Mr. Hansen worked as a district manager for Carrows Restaurants, which had its home office in Santa Barbara. When another corporation purchased Carrows, Mr. Hansen ended up commuting for two years to the new headquarters in Irvine.
SoHO had been opened for a year under a previous owner when Mr. and Mrs. Hansen, seeking to end the long commute, bought it in 1994. Its name was inspired by the popular New York City district known for its music and art.
“We thought we were buying a restaurant,” Mrs. Hansen said. “We didn’t realize how music-oriented it was. That part of it made me happy, but not so much, Bob, because he’s a restaurant guy, not a music guy.
“My sister (Kim Stanley Zimmerman) and I took over the music part of it,” Mrs. Hansen said.
She recalled she and her sister worked as waitresses and performed other tasks. In the beginning, Mrs. Zimmerman booked music acts, but that came to be Mrs. Hansen’s job, which she continues to do today with help from her young staff. They include SoHO employee Alec Beloin, founder of a promotion company called Smart Alec Presents.
SoHO also gets help from promoters such as We the Beat and Numbskull Productions.
Mrs. Hansen explained why SoHO is popular with bands.
“It’s very intimate,” she said. “You can go right up to the stage and look at the band. And the bands love the energy the audience gives them.
“When we have standing room-only shows (for a capacity of 400 people), the energy is just focused on the music. People know the words to the songs,” she said. “They’re singing, they’re clapping, they’re dancing.
“For a seated show, it’s very quiet. People respect the musicians,” Mrs. Hansen said. “People know when they come to SOhO, they’re not sitting at these tables and getting drunk and talking through the show. When they’re at the dinner tables in the room with the stage, they’re know it’s a listening room.
“Sometimes they love the artist so much, they’re in the stage room, and they’re not back here buying drinks!” Mrs. Hansen said, referring to the bar, which is on the opposite end of SoHO from its stage. She laughed.
“They don’t want to leave their spot in the stage room,” Mrs. Hansen said.
Mrs. Hansen said SoHO only hires people who love music and that the club treats musicians like family. She said performers have become good friends.
“The bands come, and we give them hugs,” she said. “We welcome them, and we feed them dinner. It’s not just burgers. We feed them salmon and filet mignon and nice dinners.” (For the public, Mrs. Hansen said, the restaurant’s California cuisine dinners range from $14 to $28.)
SoHO’s popularity has extended to multiple generations of performers.
“Chris Stills, Stephen Stills’ son, has played here. He was amazing,” Mrs. Hansen said. “Also, Ben and Sally Taylor, Carly Simon and James Taylor’s kids, have played here.”
Famous Goleta musician Alan Parsons dropped by to perform during a 25th anniversary concert that featured Raw Silk and Mr. Andrews of Area 51.
Oscar-winning Montecito celeb Jeff Bridges signed and donated his guitars and photographic books for a 2010 SOhO benefit that raised $40,000 for medical costs for Zach Hansen, Mr. and Mrs. Hansen’s son, who was diagnosed with cancer.
That was the first concert featuring the Hansen Family Band, consisting of Zach, who’s doing well today and is 29; his brother, Tyler Hansen, now 31, SoHO’s bar manager; their sister Michelle Cardenas, 37; and their brother, Rob Hansen, 39. Mrs. Cardenas is the wife of Eric Cardenas, a member of The Messengers, a band that has played at SoHO.
Each year, on the night before Thanksgiving, the Hansen Family Band and SoHO’s friends perform at the club during a free concert for the community.
The home-like environment is clearly felt by the bands. Mr. Andrews of Area 51 said SoHO has been a place where he and the rest of the band feel comfortable being themselves.
Mr. Phillips, who has performed there with Toad the Wet Sprocket and as a soloist, said SoHO is an ideal club for trying out new songs.
“I’ve really appreciated it over the years,” he said.
“I would say more than anything, Gail has curated an atmosphere that is oriented toward music,” Mr. Phillips said. “There are a lot of clubs whose primary function is to sell alcohol and music is a way to get people there so they can sell their alcohol.
“I always felt like Gail’s first thing was the music,” he said.
Ms. Lembo of Raw Silk praised SoHO for Mrs. Hansen’s friendly and professional attitude and the atmosphere for jazz gigs and dancing. “The urban brick setting really works for many types of music.”
Mrs. Hansen’s taste in music is eclectic.
“Rock, reggae, jazz, everything,” she said. “We have flamenco dancers.
“So many music teachers have their (students’) shows here,” she said. “We also do a lot of benefits for other organizations.”
Among them is Unity Shoppe. The Molly Ringwald Project and other musicians will perform during an Ugly Sweater Party benefit for the Santa Barbara nonprofit, scheduled for Dec. 13 at SoHO.
In 2014, SoHO held a series of 20th anniversary concerts that raised money for expanding the stage, painting the walls and improving the sound system. (Mrs. Hansen was quick to praise sound engineer Rosie Hernandez for his great work.)
For the future, Mrs. Hansen said she would like to improve the lighting.
“We do not make a lot of money. It’s a very hard business,” she said, but noted she’s still having a lot of fun. “It’s a struggle to make it, but we’ve managed to do it. I would say SoHO is a labor of love for all of us, and that’s a good thing.”
Mrs. Hansen said her wishes include a solo concert by Mr. Bridges, who has performed with others on the SOhO stage.
“When he sees me, he says, ‘I know. I owe you a show,’ ” Mrs. Hansen said. “He promised.”
And there’s one more musician that Mrs. Hansen badly wants to see perform at SohO. She smiled when she said his name.
“I can’t retire until I get Neil Young.”