GREETINGS FROM KONOCTI HARBOR
published as the story, of the Entertainment 'Pink Section' in the SF Chronical in 2007 & written by by Delfin Vigil
Greg Bennett is not an 'I-told-you-so' kind of guy.
Lucky for him -- because otherwise he'd have about 17 years' worth of 'told-you-so' messages to catch up on.
The first would date to 1990, when Bennett took over as general manager of the dilapidated Konocti Harbor Resort on the shores of Clear Lake in Kelseyville.
'It was all beat up, bruised and battered,' Bennett says of the then summer-only resort that was founded by the local plumbing and pipe-fitting union president Joseph Mazzola in 1959 as a 'low-cost family vacation'
destination for blue-collar workers. 'By 1990 the carpets were all shaggy, the lampshades were torn up and, well, let's just say it was more than a little rustic.'
When Bennett spread the word that he would be remodeling the resort, keeping it open year-round and turning it into a concert venue for big-name acts like May 27's double-bill of Blondie and Todd Rundgren's band the New Cars, most people wondered what kind of crazy pills he was taking.
'They said it couldn't be done,' remembers Bennett, who came up with the ideas after seeing it done in other resorts he had worked at in remote locations such as Jackson Hole, Wyo. 'They said, 'You can't do concerts in the middle of nowhere, and you definitely can't get anyone to come up here in the middle of winter.' I just said, 'Hey, if you give them enough reasons to come, then they will come.' '
Konocti Harbor quickly became the field of dreams that it is today once Bennett began building on those reasons. Such as: remodeled cabins with fireplaces and Jacuzzis for the winter, air conditioning and barbecue grills out front for the summer. There are now two Olympic-size swimming pools looking over two children's wading pools. There's an 18-hole goofy miniature golf course with lighted tennis and basketball courts nearby.
Sure, the boat and waverunner rentals are a little more popular during the summer, but good luck trying to get a hot-stone massage without an appointment any time of the year.
And then there are the concerts.
'The first gig was Leon Russell,' Bennett remembers, starting off a list that would include Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Tim McGraw, Chris Isaak and Ray Charles, among many others. 'We brought him into a 300-seat showroom and sold tickets with discount rates on rooms and dinner and the response was great.'
Told you so No. 1.
After a couple of years of sold-out shows, a balcony was added, doubling the room capacity to 600. Less than a year later, Bennett had to rip out the roof to make room for more than 1,000 concertgoers.
But that still wasn't enough.
In 1994, Konocti Harbor held its first outdoor event in an amphitheater converted from the ruins of an abandoned softball field. Nickelodeon hit the stage first, slinging their slime over a crowd of 4,000 smiling and sunburned faces. The first summer concerts were held a few weeks later, featuring Earth Wind & Fire, Clint Black and R.E.O. Speedwagon.
Now, on any given night, Konocti Harbor will have live music in that original showroom, the outdoor amphitheater and at the bar stage in-between.
'A city is a city is a city, and after a while they all look the same to musicians cramped up in their tour buses,' Bennett says of the Konocti charm that brings superstar celebrities to his venue. 'Before gigs most anyplace else, you'll find musicians hiding in their hotels. But here at Konocti, you might find them out on a boat in the lake, fishing on the pier or having lunch in our restaurant. It's why they all always want to come back.'
Coming up this summer at Konocti Harbor you might very well be borrowing some bait and tackle from the Beach Boys, who perform Friday. Or maybe buying Hank Williams Jr. a beer at the sports bar after his gig Aug. 5.
'It's my kind of spa. Fresh air, clear water, wide-screen color TV -- that's nature,' Isaak wrote on his autographed picture on Konocti's wall of fame. He'll be camping out again July 22.
If Bennett ever pulled the plug on the music, he could easily retire by way of eBay with the killing he could make on all of the autographed memorabilia he's collected over the years. Besides the signed rock 'n'roll gold records, electric and acoustic guitars, conga drums and big-hair head shots hanging all around the resort that would out-gun a Hard Rock Cafe anywhere, there is also a good-size sports memorabilia museum.
It started a decade ago when Konocti Harbor teamed with nearby Buckingham Golf and Country Club to create the Celebrity Quarterback Golf Shootout.
This year's tournament will be the 10th anniversary, held the weekend of Aug. 25-26, when more than 10,000 people will crowd along the nine-hole course (the golfers go around the course twice) to watch the likes of Joe Montana, John Elway and Ken Stabler swing away.
'I've still got the yellow sticky note that says 'Joe is in,' ' Bennett says of Montana, who every year leads 20 retired National Football League players across the green. Before, in-between and afterward, the jocks can be found hanging around Konocti Harbor telling football war stories over a couple of Budweisers at the bar, and sometimes signing autographs by the pool.
'It's weird to see that many people embark upon Lake County -- where only about 50,000 people live. That makes a lot of the other businesses in the area happy, too,' Bennett says in perhaps a vague reference to the last time he was tempted to say, 'I told you so.'
KONOCTI HARBOR RESORT AND SPA The 120-acre facility holds year-round concerts, along with massage services, skin-care treatments, fitness classes and watercraft rentals. The resort is at 8727 Soda Bay Road, Kelseyville, Lake County, 90 miles or a 2½-hour drive from the Bay Area.
For a complete schedule, go to www.konoctiharbor.com or call (800) 660-5253.