Text by Diana Reynolds Roome
Jazz on the Rocks
Music man Pete Douglas transformed a seaside beer shack into a beloved Northern California institution.
More than four decades ago, Pete stopped by Miramar Beach near Half Moon Bay and he never left. He refurbished an old beer shack and started playing records for surfers, pelicans, and anyone who would listen. Over the years, the tune-filled structure grew into Bach Dancing & Dynamite, now one of the most venerable music venues on the West Coast.
The club started with an explosion. In the 1960s, Pete often had friends over to listen and dance to records. One day some strangers wandered in, offering to detonate dynamite (for no good reason) in front of his flimsy building. Pete encouraged them to move down the beach, and went back to changing albums.
As his friends began dancing West Coast swing to the four-four beat of a Bach Brandenburg Concerto, they heard a loud boom. The blast was Pete's wake-up call. He realized that his love of music should become his life's work. So he hung up a redwood sign with his clubís new name: Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society.
In the beginning, the venue looked as though it might have grown organically out of driftwood. As the Bach's renown spread, it expanded to accommodate growing audiences. Pete invites everyone to lounge on his sprawling front porch and picnic. Wine is available at a small upstairs bar, and Pete opened a café next door because, he says, "every old guy needs a hangout".
Devotees hang at the Bach for its amazing views and the intimacy of Pete's famed upstairs room. The cedar walls have reverberated to every kind of beat and pitch, from sighs and laughs to stormy applause. Countless pianists have banged out tunes on the 9-foot Steinway concert grand.
Wearing his signature beanie hat and jeans, Pete introduces the musicians. Whether they're conga players, flamenco guitarists, or members of the exuberant swing band Lavay Smith & Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers, what matters to Pete is the integrity of their music."Places with this quality donít exist much anymore," says Pete. "But in a world of ever-increasing changes, people come here and find something thatís stayed the same."