Revitalizing Local Music: KC Turner of “KC Turner Presents” on the Pandemic, 10 Years of Cookout Concerts and More

Kc Turner

KC Turner of “KC Turner Presents” has developed a following throughout the Bay Area over the last 20 years, working as a talent buyer, artist manager, booker, promoter and producer. During the pandemic, he reinvigorated the local live music scene with the Backyard Concert Series, efforts that got the attention of CNN and national news.

Turner has produced shows at venues like Cafe du Nord, Swedish American Hall, Great American Music Hall and the Fillmore in San Francisco, all the while establishing a foothold in Marin. His work at HopMonk Novato, both indoors at the Sessions Room and outdoors as part of the ongoing summer Cookout Concert Series of which he is the co-founder and producer, is now in its 10th year with over 30 acts running through October.

In light of this anniversary, we connected with Turner to see what’s next.

How did music influence you growing up?

Music and “performance” played a big part in my childhood. My grandparents introduced me to the music of Elvis Presley. I got so into Elvis that I would impersonate him and perform “concerts” for my family. I ended up entering the Ashland, MO (my hometown) Fall Festival Talent Show and performed for the whole town. My grandmother made the gold jacket and a classic homemade white jumpsuit! Being on stage was my dream and it’s kinda crazy that it’s become my career.

What brought you to California? 

In October of 2005 I had a job opportunity in Marin County. I loaded up my car and I headed to California from Missouri. I landed in Petaluma my first year and never looked back. In 2006 I moved to Novato to be closer to work, and it was in Novato that I met Henry who just opened up a pub in town called Finnegan’s. I asked him about hosting an open mic on Mondays and mentioned I had a PA and could run it. He said, “See you next Monday!” That was the beginning of my 10,000 hours in the music industry.

How was KC Turner Presents formed? 

Kc Turner

KCTP all began with that open mic night I started up in November 2006. I didn’t really call it KCTP, but that was the basic nuts and bolts of what I do today on a much smaller scale. I met great artists and friends and eventually started helping them book shows around the Bay Area. Without knowing it, I was carving out my little world. 

It was also around that time I was introduced to the concept of house concerts. Drew Pearce was the man leading that ship. It only took attending one of Drew’s shows to become hooked on seeing live music in such an intimate setting. I started hosting small little house concerts in my one bedroom flat in Novato. That is the true birth of KC Turner Presents. 

How has it evolved?

I started branding the series as “KC Turner House Concert Series” and at some point when I started taking those little house concerts to bigger stages I shifted to “KC Turner Presents.” I did and still do introduce the bands on stage, greet folks at the door, and thank everyone at the exit, so I wanted that experience to translate to the newsletter. When you get an email from “KC Turner Presents,” you’re getting an email from the person behind the scenes and you are more likely to open it and read it. 

Can you share the origin story of the Cookout Concert Series?

The Cookout Concert Series at HopMonk Novato’s outdoor venue is a concept that founder Dean Biersch and I came up with on a warm Marin day in 2014. Novato is not known for live music: in fact, in those early days folks thought I was spelling Nevada incorrectly! Back then 10 bucks got you in the door no matter who the talent was. For 25 bucks you got in the door and a hotdog and a beer! 

I called up my closest music pals and begged them to jump on this series and help us build something special, including New Monsoon, Chuck Prophet, Glen Phillips, Steve Poltz and many more. I recall Chuck Prophet saying, “KC, we’re putting Novato on the map!” The HopMonk Novato staff was and still is all-in — bringing the best fan experience to light. 

How did you manage all that goes into creating a concert series like this?

This was before I had a production team, so I was the promoter, talent buyer, stage manager, back stage manager, PA crew, sound person and MC. I worked hard to get this series off the ground. Because Dean Biersch and the team at HopMonk Novato believed in me and the music, we’re still here 10 years later… except with a full production team and an outdoor venue that has tripled in size. 

How did you pivot your work through Covid, during a time when most venues were closed?

Kc Turner

I brought it all back to where it began but with a twist: Backyard House Concerts. I called up all my friends who were sitting at home just like me: G. Love, Citizen Cope,  Sara and Sean Watkins, Bob Schneider and lots more. I built a concert delivery service: it started off as “In YOUR Driveway” but was mostly backyards. 10 people max allowed, all masked, all distanced. I brought my wireless PA and some lighting, we set up at a distance and bam… live music was back! People were literally crying at the shows. 

As folks got vaccinated, we allowed more people to attend the shows, easing back to “normal life.” Steve Poltz holds the record with 16 shows in 5 days. In all, I did over 200 private shows before venues opened back up fully and I’m still doing them! 

This summer marks the 10 year anniversary of the series, and the line up is stellar. Not only that, but if I’m counting correctly we’re talking about 30 shows in one fell swoop! 

It’s crazy. In the first few years we did like eight, then 11 maybe? Last year was the record with 19 and this year I think we’re going to end up with 30 Cookout Concerts from Memorial Day through October. I am still announcing shows and will be until July due to some not being allowed to be announced until then. I am even still working on booking a few more which should be buttoned up soon.

What’s next for KC Turner Presents? Any dream acts?

I never really know what’s next. I just work hard to keep growing the fanbase and trust from the fans for the concerts I present and move the line to stay challenged. I just want to keep at it, keep learning and keep dreaming big. And speaking of dreaming, dream act? Hmmm. I’ll be honest, I feel like the acts I currently have the honor to work with are my dream acts and I have the role of bringing that connection of great art and fans together. I can’t believe this is my job. 

Check out Turner’s Concert Cook-out Series calendar online.

Emilie Rohrbach

Emilie Rohrbach has taught music and theatre to grades pre-school through 8th in San Francisco and Marin counties for the last twenty years. She has been a freelance writer for Divine Caroline for five years, and her writing has appeared in Narratively, Hippocampus, Common Ground, Travelers’ Tales, and Marin Magazine, among others. She is passionate about Room to ReadShanti Bhavan, and Destiny Arts and serves on the board of Knighthorse Theatre Company.