The Cambrian

See, Cambria Hoot founder, dies

Concert producer Steve See, at right, of Los Osos, with saxophonist Red Holloway of Cambria at Vina Robles Winery for Big Band Sundays in March.
Concert producer Steve See, at right, of Los Osos, with saxophonist Red Holloway of Cambria at Vina Robles Winery for Big Band Sundays in March. PHOTO BY JERRY WAIDNER, ©2010 JERRY WAIDNER

Special to The Cambrian

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 in San Luis Obispo.

“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.

“He was one of the main people to bring music here,” said guitar maker Peter Yelda, one of the musicians who played at the first Cambria Hoot. “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.

“That guy’s home was on the stage,” said Gerard Ages, who from the late 1970s to mid-1990s was with See in the band Tink and the Babylonians. “I’ve never met anybody so comfortable with being in the spotlight.”

“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.

When See held his first Hoot at the Plough, “it was a major ‘other’ activity at the time” for the venue that primarily showed plays, said James Buckley Jr., who helped with those early shows and whose father Jim Buckley owns the theater. Buckley Jr. recalls See’s “passionate enthusiasm for the music.”

Steve Crimmel of Painted Sky has hosted the Hoot since its inaugural year and, like everyone else, is stunned and sad to learn about See’s death at such a young age. “He was a strong supporter of live music,” who encouraged people to turn off their televisions, said Crimmel.

Those early concerts included Darryl Purpose, with whom See became very close, along with hooking up the singer/songwriter with Cambria’s native daughter Julie Beaver, a violinist and fiddler.

Also involved in radio, See announced KOTR’s mid-day show when he lived in Cambria in the mid-90s. “He added his own unique brand of humor,” said former Otter DJ Harry Farmer.

Among See’s many Hoot fans in Cambria are Lauren and Rollie Younger, who considered him “a messenger of joy.” Former Cambrian Lisa Stromsoe was among friends who visited See and drove him to medical appointments during his illness.

During his stint in Cambria, See volunteered at the Youth Center and worked for Arabian Horse World magazine.

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. 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.”