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Downsized On Wednesday morning, July 15, Annie O'Toole, longtime talent buyer at the Great American Music Hall, was informed by the five partners behind the venue that she would no longer be needed. "I was totally floored," says O'Toole. "I was told that the board of directors had decided the company could no longer afford me." According to Claire Brouwer, vice president of Great American Music Hall Inc., the decision is part of a more extensive plan of "corporate restructuring" that includes management changes. O'Toole has worked for the Music Hall for more than 15 years, acting as head talent buyer for the last seven. "Annie was the Music Hall," says Slim's booker Dawn Holiday, a colleague and a close friend. O'Toole's specific eclecticism, which in the last month alone has brought acts as diverse as the Mekons to Badar Ali Khan to the Music Hall, has been fundamental in shaping the club's nationwide reputation. Moreover, her amiable character endeared her to national booking agencies that could have easily placed their acts in larger venues. "Annie has been doing this longer than either Dawn or I," says Bottom of the Hill booker Ramona Downey. "She knows more about music than anyone I know." Brouwer agrees, and says that the club has no intention of changing its booking policy, except that O'Toole won't be there to do it. The new talent buyer, 28-year-old Greg Wynn, has been O'Toole's assistant for the last two years. Although he feels privileged to take on full-time duties at the Music Hall, last week he sounded like a man who had been kicked in the chest. "Everything came down all at once," said Wynn. Both Holiday and Downey say Wynn has his work cut out for him, intimating that a few major booking agencies have been calling them because they don't feel comfortable putting acts in the Music Hall without O'Toole there. "I have always entrusted Annie with my most sensitive clients, much to the consternation of BGP [Bill Graham Presents]," says Frank Riley, an agent with Monterey Peninsula Artists. "She is such a sensitive and conscientious person. Artists larger than the venue request to play there." "Everyone will have to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis," says Wynn. "A lot of agencies had really personal relationships with Annie; they're shocked and hurt. I need to let them know that we still want to work with their bands and help them grow." Brouwer says that she fully understands the strength of O'Toole's work relationships and adds, "We will miss her very much." (S.T.)

Left! Right! Left, Right, Left! Last week, local weirdo percussionist-about-town Stark Raving Brad, who plays drums and percussion for Undercover S.K.A. and the Marginal Prophets, took his father out for a show. "A late Father's Day," he called it. Brad figured his dad, who is quite interested in politics, might like to hear some political commentary. Why not, he asked his father, stop in and see Jello Biafra at the Great American Music Hall? When Brad and his pop arrived at the theater, the show was sold out. "No problem," thought Brad. He figured his father's name might open some doors. See, Brad's dad pulls a little weight around here. Brad's father is state Sen. Quentin Kopp, a fiscally conservative politician with a reputation for just saying no -- to bonds, to stadiums, to Willie Brown. Biafra found out that Kopp was at the door and made sure both Brad and his dad got seats. "My dad, to my surprise, ended up liking it," says Brad. "Jello started with this whole thing about legalizing drugs like cocaine and heroin. I could see that [Kopp] was thinking, 'This is going to be a long night.' But then Jello moved into his usual anti-corporate, America-is-becoming-the-Soviet-Union-a-police-state stuff. [Kopp] was actually applauding at a couple of parts." When Biafra let up for an intermission around 11 p.m., Kopp, who had an early morning appointment scheduled the next day, decided to leave. Brad figured his dad might want to meet Biafra first. Kopp agreed and Brad took him backstage. It might seem like Jello Biafra, the former singer for the Dead Kennedys, a collaborator in a band called Lard, and, more generally, a left-wing nut, might not have much in common with a guy like state Sen. Quentin Kopp. Turns out they had plenty to talk about. Nineteen years ago, Jello Biafra and Quentin Kopp were both San Francisco mayoral candidates. And 19 years ago, both men lost to Dianne Feinstein. "They hit it off famously," says Brad. "I was cracking up." Brad says Jello delivered a line about Feinstein, something like, "If Feinstein took her wig off and lit up a cigar, she'd look like a ward boss." Brad says his father was amused. Biafra and Kopp talked about politics for about 10 minutes, then Kopp made his exit. Brad says Jello told his dad they should all get together for dinner sometime. (J.S.)

Imaging essence Riff Raff wants to apologize directly to the Bay Area talent coyly know as essence for a huge and glaring oversight. Earlier this year we introduced readers to essence with a saucy black-and-white pic of the singer packing heat in a tank top. "Riff Raff now knows sass sometimes wears an ocelot hat and wields a harpoon," we wrote. After marveling at the photo for months, we've recently discovered that essence was obviously out for more than sass. Examine the startling pictures above. On the left, essence. On the right, "noted scientist and sensitive woman" Eugenie Clark. We found the second photo in a 1955 issue of Holiday magazine, accompanying a profile about proto-feminist Clark. Clearly, we underestimated essence; we thought she was trafficking in cheesecake. Instead, displaying the kind of keen marketing acumen that took M. Louise Ciccone from Material Girl to Queen of Pop, essence is obviously at once appropriating a feminist archetype and subverting phallic iconography. We salute her. In other essence news, the singer's pleasant manager, Michael Moore, recently relayed enough new artistic achievements to convince us that San Francisco's savviest performer is finally ready for an uppercase letter. First, Spunk! magazine put Essence and her rolling locks on its cover. Moore also promised us that an Entertainment Weekly "profile" on Essence is forthcoming. And last, Essence will return to the Fillmore Auditorium (where we heard she "blew away" a crowd opening for Pat Benatar in March; she's also opened for Hall & Oates at the Warfield) for a special distaff "Fillmore Sessions" on Saturday, July 25. Essence headlines the show with Noelle Hampton and singing soulmate Nefertiti Jones. (J.S.)

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  • Nevada City and the South Yuba River: A gold country getaway

    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

    South Yuba River State Park and Swimming Holes:
    The park runs along and below 20 miles of the South Yuba River, offering hiking, mountain biking, gold panning and swimming. The Highway 49 bridge swimming hole is seven-miles northwest of Nevada City where Highway 49 crosses the South Yuba River. Parking is readily available and it is a short, steep hike to a stunning swimming hole beneath a footbridge. For the more intrepid, trails extend along the river with access to secluded swim spots. The Bridgeport swimming hole has calm waters and a sandy beach -- good for families and cookouts -- and is located 14 miles northwest of Nevada City. Be sure to write down directions before heading out, GPS may not be available. Most swimming holes on the South Yuba River are best from July to September, while winter and spring can bring dangerous rapids. Always know the current before jumping in!

    Downtown Nevada City
    The welcoming, walkable downtown of Nevada City is laid back, yet full of life. Start your day at the cozy South Pine Cafe (110 S Pine St.) with a lobster benedict or a spicy Jamaican tofu scramble. Then stroll the streets and stop into the shop Kitkitdizzi (423 Broad St.) for handcrafted goods unique to the region, vintage wears and local art “all with California gold rush swagger,” as stated by owners Carrie Hawthorne and Kira Westly. Surrounded by Gold Rush history, modern gold jewelry is made from locally found nuggets and is found at Utopian Stone Custom Jewelers (301 Broad St.). For a coffee shop with Victorian charm try The Curly Wolf (217 Broad St.), an espresso house and music venue with German pastries and light fare. A perfect way to cool down during the hot summer months can be found at Treats (110 York St.) , an artisan ice cream shop with flavors like pear ginger sorbet or vegan chai coconut. Nightlife is aplenty with music halls, alehouses or dive bars like the Mine Shaft Saloon (222 Broad St.).

    The Willo Steakhouse (16898 State Hwy 49, Nevada City)
    Along Highway 49, just west of Nevada City, is The Willo, a classic roadhouse and bar where you’re welcomed by the smell of steak and a dining room full of locals. In 1947 a Quonset hut (a semi-cylindrical building) was purchased from the US Army and transported to its current location, and opened as a bar, which became popular with lumberjacks and miners. The bar was passed down through the decades and a covered structure was added to enlarge the bar and create a dining area. The original Quonset beams are still visible in the bar and current owners Mike Byrne and Nancy Wilson keep the roadhouse tradition going with carefully aged New York steaks and house made ingredients. Pair your steak or fish with a local wine, such as the Rough and Ready Red, or bring your own for a small corkage fee. Check the website for specials, such as rib-eye on Fridays.

    Outside Inn (575 E Broad St.)
    A 16-room motel a short walk from downtown, each room features a unique décor, such as the Paddlers’ Suite or the Wildflower Room. A friendly staff and an office full of information about local trails, swimming and biking gets you started on your outdoor exploration. Amenities include an outdoor shower, a summer swimming pool and picnic tables and barbeques. Don’t miss the free vegetable cart just outside the motel in the mornings.

    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

  • Arcade Fire at Shoreline
    Arcade Fire opened their US tour at Shoreline Amphitheater to a full house who was there in support of their album "Reflector," which was released last fall. Dan Deacon opened the show to a happily surprised early audience and got the crowd actively dancing and warmed up. DEVO was originally on the bill to support Arcade Fire but a kayak accident last week had sidelined lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh and the duration of the west coast leg of the tour. Win Butler did a homage to DEVO by performing Uncontrollable Urge.

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