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Riff Raff 

Wednesday, Apr 21 1999
Run for Cover -- the Junior League Is Rockin' Out! The 2,000 women who make up the Junior League of San Francisco have a bad reputation. As member Betsy Wilkins points out, a lot of people seem to think Junior Leaguers "sit around eating bonbons," appear at whatever debutantes' ball or society function the Nob Hill Gazette happens to be snapping photos at, and constantly ponder the burning question of the day: Tiffany or Gump's?

Armistead Maupin only helped fuel the fire in his Tales of the City novels, where he described the inner turmoil of DeDe Halcyon Day, the Junior Leaguer who was so horribly trapped in a Brocklebank Building hell of Pacific Union club functions and Nob Hill laying-about that she finally snapped and wound up rutting with the grocery delivery boy.

But things have changed, Wilkins insists. The Junior League of San Francisco, now 88 years old, isn't just for dowagers and trophy wives anymore -- as its 1998-99 annual report points out, 80 percent of its members work outside the home, and 66 percent have full-time jobs! And to further drive the point home, Wilkins is working as co-chairperson for the Rockers' Educational Arts Project (REAP) committee, which is hosting its first "Rockin' Out!" concert and fund-raiser at the Great American Music Hall on June 3. Featuring Big Brother & the Holding Company, Harvey Mandel & the Electric Snake Band, and Cosmo Fraser, the Junior League is doin' it for the kids: Wilkins says they hope to raise approximately $50,000 through the concert and related merchandise sales, the proceeds of which will go to arts programs for needy children and families. That's a drop in the bucket in comparison to the more than $2 million the Junior League raised for charity last year through its fashion show, cookbook, kitchen tours, and consignment boutique, but the point is to change the way people look at the Junior League. "The Junior League is not known for its rock concerts," says Wilkins.

Such things fascinate Riff Raff. Growing up in the wilds of Midwestern suburbia, we were within spitting distance of quarries and oil refineries, but not the type of people who actually own them. So on April 15, we dropped into SOMA's Hosfelt Gallery, where about 60 people associated with REAP -- Junior Leaguers, hangers-on, and '60s rock scenesters -- mingled amid artwork as nobody paid attention to the Indian tabla and sarod players who were hired to provide atmosphere for the evening.

"Sixties Rock Scene Attire Encouraged," suggested the invitation, though few of the attendees actually wore anything resembling it -- certainly, none of the folks actually involved in the '60s S.F. rock scene. "Blue blazer and khaki night," joked photographer and REAP Honorary Advisory Board member Jim Marshall, pointing out his attire, as well as that of Family Dog founder Chet Helms.

We asked Marshall -- whose most famous photo is a 1969 shot of late-period Janis Joplin sadly slumped on a couch, clutching a bottle of Southern Comfort -- what he does in his capacity as Honorary Advisory Board member. "I don't know," he said. Wilkins, who for much of the evening had been nervously eyeing what we were scribbling in our notebook, cried out, "No, no!," grabbed our wrist, and pointed out that Marshall is a "brilliant man," a "bon vivant," and asked rhetorically, "Who knows the rock scene better?"

Over at the buffet table, we posed the same question to Chet Helms, the '60s concert impresario who now continues to operate the Atelier Dore gallery in Union Square. "Not much. Lending my name to it," he replied, adding that he was asked to participate through his friendship with guitarist Harvey Mandel, who played with John Mayall and Charlie Musselwhite, but for better or for worse is most famous for two things: losing to Ron Wood in his audition to replace Mick Taylor in the Rolling Stones, and pioneering the finger-tapping hot-shit guitar shtick that the likes of Eddie Van Halen have been inflicting on us ever since. Mandel -- who also happens to be Wilkins' boyfriend -- is the main organizer of the event, soliciting the bands and assistants, which includes Glen McKay, the man responsible for Jefferson Airplane's light shows in the late '60s. "Got me laid a lot," he noted, laughing.

In addition to the billed headliners, the "Rockin Out!" concert on June 3 promises to feature "very special guests" (hint: Bob Weir and Clarence Clemons are on REAP's Honorary Advisory Board). Tickets go on sale May 3 at the Great American Music Hall box office for those interested in the $35 general admission passes. Those wishing to purchase the $135 "upper tier" tickets should call the Junior League at 775-4100 ext. 34 for more information. (Mark Athitakis)

Send Bay Area music news, band stories, or petty gripes to, or mail it to Riff Raff, c/o SF Weekly.

About The Author

Mark Athitakis


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