Let's rock let's roll
Guitarists to resurrect renowned concerts in Danville
Most if not all of the 55 local guitar students performing in this month's Rock 'n' Roll Recital X have never met the legendary man behind it.
But if you were a teenager here in the '70s you probably know Chester Farrow, a retired Monte Vista High School electronics teacher who at the time some people called the most famous person in Danville.
The annual recital is returning to its birthplace in Danville this year. Students will showcase their work at the Village Theatre on May 14.
"It's like coming home," said Farrow, who attended high school locally and went on to teach at Monte Vista for 32 years. In '67 he began putting on monthly mini-concerts so his class could practice sound and video recording and editing.
The shows started out small, slapdash even. The classrooms at the school were separated by accordion-like moveable walls, and on show nights Farrow's class would turn the English department into a concert venue. Over time the audiences grew bigger and bigger and Farrow was able to attract better and better bands.
In 1972 the school built a theater that could hold 800 people and the shows grew enormously popular, attracting big names like Huey Lewis and the News, the Doobie Brothers and Journey.
"We became known as rock 'n' roll high school," said Farrow. "Monte Vista High School was known more than all around town - all around the Bay Area."
At that time teens didn't have easy access to Berkeley or San Francisco where the good clubs were, Farrow said. So bringing big names to suburban Danville was a unique opportunity, and people jumped at it.
"For a long time we had an exclusivity thing, in that we had the hottest shows around on this side of the Caldecutt Tunnel," he said.
"We kind of took that whole San Francisco Haight-Ashbury scene and brought it to Danville," said Michael Coats, a former student of Farrow's who credits the teacher with his successful career in music PR.
"At that time we were light years ahead of what was going on, getting a tremendous amount of recognition in the media," he continued. "To the point where Chester was constantly getting written up in the pop music column of the San Francisco Chronicle."
Any money the concerts raised went toward equipment for Farrow's electronics program. A believer in hands-on learning, he transformed his classroom into a recording studio.
It was called "Rainbow Studio" for the thousands of multicolored square carpet samples lining the walls to improve the acoustics in the room. Farrow hung all the shades of red together, then orange, yellow, green, blue and purple.
But nothing lasts forever, and by the early '90s the Rainbow Studio's glory days were fading. Farrow noticed turnout dwindling at the shows.
"I said, 'This is it,'" he recalled. "It's real easy for me to observe a trend. I get it. I see it."
Farrow stopped putting on the concerts, and not too long afterward announced his retirement.
The Rock 'n' Roll Recital started in '99, another brainchild of charismatic teacher. The idea came when Farrow was talking to a friend whose son was taking guitar lessons from Bruce Hock, a popular instructor with a studio on Hartz Avenue in Danville.
Farrow and Hock had become friends in the heyday of "rock 'n' roll high school." Hock was a struggling musician giving lessons on the side to pay the rent; now he has a long waitlist of prospective students and names like the Counting Crows and Black Eyed Peas on his resume.
The annual recital, which will be Webcast for the first time this year, gives students a chance to perform on a real stage with state of the art equipment, and gives their friends and families a chance to hear them play.
Making the event even more nostalgic, the staff is made up almost entirely of Farrow's former students from Monte Vista High, many of whom went on to have successful careers in the industry.
"Chester allowed us all to blossom, he allowed us to create. Which was rare in that era to find," said Coats.
"We're very unique," remembered Farrow fondly. "I do believe it's a uniqueness, if I may say, worldwide."
Time again to Rock 'n' Roll
What: Rock 'n' Roll Recital X
Who: Guitar students of instructor Bruce Hock
Where: Village Theatre, 233 Front St. in Danville
When: 7 p.m., Wednesday, May 14; doors open at 6:30 p.m.
Tickets: $30 ($20 for seniors and children 18 and under); purchase at www.villagetheatreshows.com; call 314-3400; or from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday at Danville Community Center, 420 Front St.