Mamma’s Backstage: Eclectic Fest pays tribute to Bob Stane’s Coffee Gallery Backstage

By Bliss Bowen

PHOTO: Alisa Hayashida | South Pasadena News | The Elliot Caine Quintet performs at the Eclectic Preview Party at Mamma's Brick Oven backstage in 2022.

When Coffee Gallery Backstage impresario Bob Stane shuttered his venerated Altadena listening room last spring after a 25-year run, colleagues organized a sale of its contents. Lights, microphones, mic stands, cables, tables and chairs, signs, sheet music, a large mirror, an old Yingjie accordion — everything had to go, and friends and fans turned out to rehome pieces of the 49-seat space where they had long gathered in community. South Pasadena musician Brad Colerick was out of town, so he asked soundman Charles Nestle to go in his stead to pick up an essential Coffee Gallery element. The stage.

That stage will serve its purpose once again April 27 as part of the Eclectic Music Festival. Colerick is organizing a tribute to Stane and the Coffee Gallery Backstage at Mamma’s Brick Oven, where the CGB stage will support several artists who performed on it at its original location. A lighted gold star and wooden CGB sign from last year’s sale will also be on hand, and Colerick is hoping to create a poster or backdrop evoking the Coffee Gallery Backstage’s distinctive plantation ambiance.

PHOTO: Bob Stane’s Coffee Gallery Backstage Facebook | The South Pasadenan | Bob Stane’s Coffee Gallery Backstage

“I touched base with Bob and got his blessing for this,” explains Colerick, who says he considers Stane a mentor. “I’m calling it the ‘Mamma’s Backstage.’ Charles Nestle will be on the sound board and hopefully dimming the lights in Bob Stane fashion.”

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Ah, yes — the dimming of the lights, a signature touch of Stane’s. No CGB show was truly complete without Stane theatrically changing the colors or lowering the brightness of the lights beaming down on his stage in sync with an artist’s emotional vibe or humor. Equally memorable was the way he greeted audience members at the door from his seat by the soundboard and the dry, self-deprecating wit with which he introduced artists before each set. His show biz flourishes were unexpected in such a humble setting and evidenced the respect for stagecraft he honed while operating coffeehouses and nightclubs over four decades (including 18 years as co-owner of the Ice House in the 1960s and ’70s) before opening the Coffee Gallery Backstage in 1998. It isn’t enough to just write good songs, he would remind artists inquiring about bookings; can you keep an audience entertained?

PHOTO: DM Lemattre | South Pasadena News | Brad Colerick and David Plenn at the Eclectic Preview Party in 2018.

For 25 years, the Coffee Gallery Backstage was a vital, steadying presence in greater Pasadena’s acoustic music scene as other venues continually came and went. It was a rare treasure hidden in plain sight, tucked behind a thick wooden door at the rear of a coffeehouse next to a neighborhood barbershop. Invitations to shows came with strict warnings not to park on the building’s side street so as not to annoy residents with any late-night revelry, yet the quirky space attracted national artists despite its offbeat location.

Performing there was almost a rite of passage for area singer-songwriters, many of
them influenced by heritage artists who also plied their trade on that stage such as Wings guitarist Laurence Juber, jugband leader Jim Kweskin, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band multi-instrumentalist John McEuen, Little Feat/Brian Wilson collaborator Van Dyke Parks, and onetime Byrd John York. Over the years the CGB calendar boasted numerous local favorites — Phoebe Bridgers, Conjunto Los Pochos, bluegrass mandolinist/guitarist Tom Corbett, ex-X guitarist Tony Gilkyson, I See Hawks in LA, Incendio, flapper-era revivalist Janet Klein, honky-tonk troubadour Rick Shea, the Tall Men Group — as well as touring singer-songwriters such as late greats Malcolm Holcombe, Jimmy LaFave, and Eric Taylor.

PHOTO: Bob Stane's Coffee Gallery Backstage Facebook | The South Pasadenan | Bob Stane.
PHOTO: Bob Stane’s Coffee Gallery Backstage Facebook | The South Pasadenan | Bob Stane.

Stane booked a dependable mix of traditional bluegrass, country and folk, gypsy jazz, Hawaiian slack-key guitarists, Tin Pan Alley pop, ’60s and ’70s tribute acts, and many memorable nights. His stage welcomed out-of-towners on the verge of big breaks: Austin luminary Slaid Cleaves (playing with verve and great humor for an audience of six), Caroline Spence (after winning songwriting awards at the Kerrville and Rocky Mountain Folk festivals but before earning accolades from the likes of Emmylou Harris and Miranda Lambert), and Po’ Girl (before clarinet-playing vocalist Allison Russell teamed with
future hubby JT Nero in Birds of Chicago and her award-sweeping solo career). Bona fide legends played the Coffee Gallery too: former Byrd Chris Hillman harmonized with Desert Rose bandmate and longtime collaborator Herb Pedersen for a house packed with familiar contemporaries and hardcore fans. And audiences frequently witnessed local artists carrying American roots music forward: Christina Ortega shaking the rafters with her delivery of “The Vaquero Song” by cowboy entertainer and CGB stalwart Dave Stamey; Dustbowl Revival in its early stringband-revival days, when its elastic lineup stretched to 13 members; and, more recently, Old Californio leading a California country and pop revue
featuring Oingo Boingo bassist John Avila, pop craftsman Kip Boardman, and folk songstress Gwendolyn Sanford.

PHOTO: Scott Fiedlander | The South Pasadenan | The stage at Bob Stane's Coffee Gallery Backstage.
PHOTO: Scott Fiedlander | The South Pasadenan | The stage at Bob Stane’s Coffee Gallery Backstage.

Stane, who has since focused on publishing his memoir, consistently valued his audience’s taste and loyalty. It fostered community, and ultimately that is what the CGB stage will represent when it is reassembled against the side wall at Mamma’s. That’s a concept Colerick values too; in October he will celebrate the 15th anniversary of Wine & Song, the weekly songwriter series he launched in South Pasadena in 2009 and currently hosts at the Lost Parrot Café. The bonds forged between audience members and artists are as meaningful as the music that draws them together.

“It’s going to be a really special day at Mamma’s celebrating the great times so many of us experienced at Bob’s venue,” Colerick says. “I’m thrilled to bring a bit of that Coffee Gallery Backstage magic to the Eclectic this year.”

Powdercoat (aka harmonious singer-songwriters Claire Holley and Kristin Mooney) will kick things off at Mamma’s Brick Oven Pizza & Pasta (1007 Fair Oaks Ave., South Pasadena) at 4:15 P.M., followed by Ed Tree and Cynthia Brando (5:15), Joel Rafael (6:15), JaKL aka Jaynee Thorne/Karen Tobin/Leslie Barker (7:15), and The Salty Suites (8:15). Hosting duties will be handled by comedian/singer-songwriter Owen Dara. For venue info, please call (626) 799-1344; to learn more about the Eclectic
Fest, visit