Famed Golden Bear roars again

Benefit concerts this weekend in Huntington Beach to celebrate the long-defunct Golden Bear nightclub rate a mention in the annals of ironic pop music moments.

For three decades, the club was Orange County’s answer to such L.A.-area folk and rock institutions as the Troubadour, the Ash Grove and McCabe’s, hosting scores of local and touring performers not the least of which were Janis Joplin, the Byrds, Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, Neil Young, the Doors, B.B. King, Steve Martin and Jackson Browne.

The Bear, which closed in the mid-1980s amid a string of financial setbacks, opened in the 1920s as a roadside restaurant catering to travelers -- many of them Hollywood’s elite.

The club it became in the 1960s was revered by musicians as one of the best-sounding rooms in the country, but it was demolished in 1986 as part of Huntington Beach’s master plan to gentrify its downtown.


This weekend, however, a new generation of city officials is resurrecting the Golden Bear’s memory with four shows in two nights as part of the beachside community’s year-long centennial celebration.

Tonight’s bill brings together Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek, multi-instrumentalist David Lindley (a key member of Browne’s musical circle when his career took off), songwriter Jack Tempchin (an early associate of the Eagles) and Honk, the Laguna Beach-based rock-folk-jazz-surf group that was a regular at the club.

Saturday’s lineup is topped by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Members of the long-running country-folk-rock group met there while watching bluegrass and folk greats who frequented the club, inspiring them to start a band.

Also playing Saturday are Chris Hillman, one of the founding members of the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers, and , his former band mate in the Desert Rose Band. That bill is rounded out by singer-songwriter Steve Noonan, an O.C. contemporary of Browne and Tim Buckley.

Proceeds from the four shows -- two each night -- benefit Sweet Relief, the Huntington Beach-based group that provides various forms of aid to musicians in need.

“I only have the fondest memories of that club,” Hillman said this week. In addition to performing with the Byrds, he counted at least four other ways he played the club: with the Burritos, the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band, McGuinn, Clark & Hillman, and solo.

“It was a great place for musicians who wanted their music to sound right and who wanted to be able to hear it right,” Hillman said.

Lindley also performed at the Golden Bear in various groups: “My daughter’s band, the Casual Girls, played there one time and opened for us. That was a big moment -- it was a real passing of the family torch.”

Tempchin, the San Diego-based singer-songwriter who co-wrote the Eagles hit “Already Gone” and wrote “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” said the Bear holds a special place for him. “I opened for Hoyt Axton, who was one of my heroes.”

That feeling of musical community is one of the things participants in what’s billed as the “Golden Bear Reunion” are most looking forward to.

“It’s hard to re-create the atmosphere: the red checkered tablecloths, the bad linoleum, all that,” Lindley said. “But I think it’s going to be really good, especially getting to sit around with people you haven’t seen for a long time and compare notes. There will be a lot of stories coming up, I’m sure.”



Golden Bear Reunion Concerts

Where: Hilton Waterfront Beach Resort’s Grand Ballroom, 21100 Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach

When: 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. tonight and Saturday

Price: $57.50 to $97.50

Contact: (714) 960-7904