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SF Chronicle - Saturday December 20, 2003  -  Nadine's fans rockin' around this Christmas

Hot Hits, Cheap Demos
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The tinsel was hung by the amps with care, in hopes that St. Rock 'n' Roll soon would be there.

Even those on the sharpest edge of the San Francisco arts world -- indie rockers -- like to make merry at the holidays; so on Wednesday, the Red Devil Lounge on Polk Street hosted "Nadine's Xmas Special," billed as a "hip, hot, holiday shebang."

At the club, up-and-coming bands such as Kingstreet Crossing, Essence, PC Munoz and the Amen Corner, and Eli Braden of Fuse mingle with oldsters in the music biz, shining some apples, buying some drinks, ready to play some tunes. Cocktails called Reindeers are on special, and the red lights that dot the two- story interior create a look that's less like Christmas and more like a Frisco brothel circa 1900.

But most attendees are here not to pay homage to seasonal icons like Jesus and Santa but to salute iconoclastic Nadine Condon, godmother of Bay Area indie rock, founder of the showcase Nadine's Wild Weekend, humanitarian and now book author.

"My first!" crows Condon, holding up a copy of "Hot Hits, Cheap Demos: The Real-World Guide to Music Business Success."

"Pretty amazing, eh?" she says, in a voice that recalls the volume and energy of the Sex Pistols onstage. "I feel like a cherry has been popped. I'm already ready to do it again!"

Condon, a statuesque Nordic blonde, has, at 52, done almost everything else. Her music career has spanned two-plus decades and garnered her copies of 14 gold and platinum albums by virtually every Bay Area band that's made it big. Counting Crows, Third Eye Blind, Smash Mouth, Train -- all have called Condon their mentor.

In 2000, she starting teaching seminars in breaking into the business and decided to turn her course syllabus into a book.

"The two months I spent on the final rewrite were the happiest months of my life. I really believe now that I have been called to teach," she grins, while hugging well-wisher after well-wisher.

Also present in the room are three charities chosen by Condon to have table space and take donations from those feeling like spreading the holiday spirit around -- Little Kids Rock, which provides free instruments and instruction in music to mostly low-income public school children; Good Samaritan Family Resources, which helps immigrant families; and Catherine's Center, a transitional house for women leaving jail or prison.

"My charity work is huge to me these days," says Condon, who also works with a hospice in San Mateo County. "I always try to impart to aspiring musicians that no matter what kind of success they achieve, they should also aim to give something back."

Condon has filled her book with many such "Nadine-isms." Part of her coaching has always been about values as much as material success. And to Condon, every band that comes to her deserves a break.

"I started all this because young bands can't get anyone to listen to them. Not lawyers, not agents. No one will answer their questions. Now it's all written down, and I'd love to go around the country and speak at colleges and high schools."

She has made just one request of the bands she invited to play tonight: cover a tune by a Bay Area band from the '60s or '70s.

"The guys in Kingstreet told me they were going to cover something by Huey Lewis, and I had to tell them no -- Huey is from the '80s," she chuckles. "And they reminded me that they were barely born in the '70s. Yikes! Makes you feel old."

Kingstreet does as requested, playing "Somebody to Love" by the Jefferson Airplane, one of the bands Condon was intimately involved with in the '80s, when it was in its Starship incarnation. The band does an admirable job, and Condon's face registers her pride and pleasure.

After Kingstreet guitarist Blake Schaefer executes a particularly scorching solo, Miles Hurwitz, manager of the red-hot Oakland band the Matches, yells out from the bar: "Introduce your guitarist!"

Singer Matthew Burks is confused. "Did you say lose my guitarist? Oh, introduce him! I thought I was gonna have to ask you to step outside. This is Blake."

It does not hurt to remind up-and-coming young bands of their stage manners.

Up-and-coming female singer Essence (yes, her parents were Haight-Ashbury hippies) sings George Gershwin's "Summertime," originally sung by Billie Holiday in the '30s and made famous for a second time by Janis Joplin.

And singer-songwriter Eli Braden, who just released the album "Honeydripper" last month, chooses to perform a solo, acoustic version of Neil Young's "Like a Hurricane." And later calls out from the stage: "I met Nadine 10 years ago and she has been setting me straight ever since."

Condon, the torch passer and educator, watches the musicians with motherly pride.

"I keep thinking maybe I should grow up, but rock 'n' roll is too much a part of me. And working with these musicians keeps me young. It's hard not to get excited on their behalf -- their whole future is ahead of them."



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