News Column

Music is more than just a hobby for dedicated concert organizer

August 29, 2013

YellowBrix

Aug. 29--Dan "Pop" Popovich prefers being the man behind the blues music in Stockton.

"It's a hobby and a passion," he said. "I love the music. There's a good following here in blues. It's my music. People go to the Bay Area to see these bands. I have the opportunity to bring that caliber here. I'm very dedicated to making the opportunities available."

Popovich, usually "just not comfortable" displaying a public profile, has let his "blues at the Brew" series -- 10 shows in 16 months -- sound off for itself.

That continues Friday when Stockton's Jeramy Norris and the Dangerous Mood return to the Valley Brewing Company, a "very cool venue" for blues and blues-rock, Popovich said.

Popovich, 64, a retired telephone company worker, has pursued his blues hobby in a practical sense, helping organize and stage 34 concerts and blues festivals (at least) since 1986 -- ranging from the High Sierra Blues Festival, Hell Angels Fall Ball and Cool Breeze Festival to shows by Linda Ronstadt, Daniel Castro and Y&T, among others.

He's looking ahead to an Oct. 11 Valley Brew gig by the Alameda Allstars, musicians who supported Gregg Allman for 15 years on tour: "I'm pretty excited."

Popovich, who picks around on guitar for fun during weekly Valley Brew jam sessions, started establishing his blues presence here in March 2012, when he and a friend agreed to schedule a Stockton show by San Francisco resident Ron Hacker, a bluesman, author and actor.

The friend changed his mind. Popovich was Hacker's business manager, so the show went on anyway.

"The musicians I've had the opportunity to work a lot with in Stockton I've worked with in the past," said Popovich, who's done Valley Brew shows with Hayward's Ron Thompson and Fresno's Mofo Party Band. "I got to know them in the music scene and, yeah, we can work together again and share the common things we all love: The music."

Popovich isn't the first to try and establish a viable venue for live blues and blues-rock music here. Ron Lozano did that twice. Popovich is limiting his shows to one a month, hoping to maintain a sense of exclusivity.

He's observed Stockton's inconsistent, rise-and-fall live-music mode most of his life.

Born in Fresno, he's been in Stockton since he was 1 year old. His dad, Dan, a longshoreman, died when Popovich was 12. Mom Lorri raised him and his two sisters. A Stagg High graduate, he worked as a longshoreman for three years before joining AT&T in 1970, retiring after 42 years.

"Like any other young, teenage kid, I wanted to be a rock star," Popovich said. "I dabbled with bands and was interested in having bands, but blues just kind of came to me and touched me. Let's call it a feeling. Even if you're feeling emotionally down, it makes you feel better.

"In the '60s, I got my curiosity up. I was aware, of course, of what the crossroads were. And on and on. Blind Willie McTell, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Charley Patton. People were adding a rock edge to it."

British rock bands such as Led Zeppelin, in particular. If Popovich saw a song-writing credit for Mississippi bluesman Willie Dixon, he'd do his research and locate the real thing.

In 1986, he was hired to drive a water truck at the Strawberry Music Festival at Camp Mather in Yosemite National Park.

"From there, I started to meet people" and became infatuated with festivals. "It was like the circus in a way. It's like the circus comes to town, people come ... and have fun. Then, you put it away until the next time. It's cool. Really cool."

Economic reality has settled in, however, reducing the annual number of festivals.

"There's no way to make the big money now," Popovich said, listing major festivals that have failed in recent years. "Just to survive is what I call it. I'm happy with it. It works here. A lot of people I've known from the past, they're my friends, too."

Popovich, whose three adult children finally are warming up to the American blues form, too, is a bluesman forever.

"Probably 'til the day I die," he said. "Like the musicians themselves, it's a passion we have. They play. We watch. The music. That's what does it for us. That shows a great feeling. Everybody's happy, It's just a cool thing."

Contact reporter Tony Sauro at (209) 546-8267 or tsauro@recordnet.com.

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(c)2013 The Record (Stockton, Calif.)

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