Steve See remembered for bringing music to SLO County

When Steve See arrived in San Luis Obispo to attend Cal Poly in the early 1970s, the local music scene was sparse. See immediately changed that and for nearly 40 years arranged concerts and brought in hundreds of musicians.

See, 54, died May 5 after a brief illness but has left his indelible mark. A celebration of his life is set for 4 p.m. Sunday, June 6, at the Odd Fellows Hall. See was Grand Noble for three years at the hall, where he held many fundraising concerts.

“People have no idea what big shows he used to do,” such as Jefferson Airplane at the Cal Poly gym, Jerry Garcia Band in Pismo Beach and Ray Charles at Cuesta College Auditorium, said See’s assistant, Nancy Craig.

While attending Cuesta, See coordinated a $60,000 fundraising effort for the Cuesta College Jazz Ensemble and the Vocal Arts Ensemble to travel to Europe.

“He was one of the main people to bring music here,” said musician and guitar maker Peter Yelda. “It didn’t matter if he made money or not.”

Nearly everyone who knew See notes his contribution to the music scene, his wicked sense of humor, showmanship, generosity, loyalty and good-natured grumbling about never making a dime from concerts.

“He had the promoter, entrepreneurial spirit,” said Gerard Ages, who from the late 1970s to mid-1990s was with See in the band Tink and the Babylonians.

See’s special quality was engaging the audience.

“That guy’s home was on the stage,” said Ages. “I’ve never met anybody so comfortable with being in the spotlight. People came to the shows and they knew something crazy was going to happen.”

“Steve always had music, whether he could make a living at it or not,” said KCBX announcer Sonnie Brown. Many people learned of See’s illness during Brown’s May 1 Song Town show, where she played an unreleased album, with See singing lead and musician friends playing back-up.

In the 1990s See, “the Hootmeister,” started the Cambria Hoot in intimate venues such as the Pewter Plough Playhouse and Painted Sky studio, where audiences could hear the likes of Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and others without distractions of talking and drinking or television.

The concerts soon became the Cambria Hoot Road Show at Coalesce Bookstore in Morro Bay, Steynberg Gallery and North County wineries.

See’s entertainment bent started in childhood. His sister, Linda Reed, recalls her brother as a little kid in the San Diego area where he set up performances in the garage, charging neighborhood pals a nickel, and in high school organizing lunchtime concerts.

See had his share of girlfriends, but he was a confirmed bachelor.

“No woman could ever compete with his cats,” said Craig.

Friends were relieved when See started working as a postal clerk five years ago.

See spent his final days in the home of longtime friend Trey Duffy, who wrote on a blog that his pal’s dying was about as good as it gets, surrounded by people who loved him, tying up loose ends, “and irritating the hell out of his closest friends right up to the end.”