Friends Productions is based in Marin County, California, just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. Marin County has a vibrant entertainment community. Lucasfilm, Pixar, California Film Institute, and Industrial Light & Magic all had their beginnings there. Marin has been home to George Lucas, Sean Penn, Van Morrison, Mariel Hemingway, Janis Joplin, Frances McDormand, Narada Michael Walden, Jane Levy, Linda Ronstadt, Pat Paulsen, Rita Abrams, Robin Williams, Bill Graham, Bonnie Raitt, Dana Carvey, Maria Muldaur, Peter Coyote, Elvin Bishop, Robin Wright, Jesse Colin Young, Tupac, Sterling Hayden, Mimi Farina, Pernell Roberts, Sammy Hagar, Eve Arden, Kathleen Quinlan, Dave Koz, and Dr. Elmo. It has also been home base to band members of: Metallica; Santana; Grateful Dead; Doobie Brothers; Jefferson Airplane/Starship; Heart; Big Brother & the Holding Co; Journey; Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young; Huey Lewis & the News; Fleetwood Mac; Booker T & the MG's; Cold Blood; Quicksilver Messenger Service; Dan Hicks & the Hot Licks; Chicago; America; Monkees; Sons of Champlin; Mother Hips; New Riders of the Purple Sage; Great Society; and Kingston Trio.
Kurt Huget and James Mochizuki were previously on the Friends of Marin Center board. The purpose of that non-profit was to raise needed funds for the Frank Lloyd Wright designed facility. This was done by organizing fund-raising events and donations from the community. Through its Outreach program, it also provided "Access to the Arts" by providing tickets for shows to underprivileged members of the community. Unfortunately, after a 30 year run, the organization could not sustain itself during the recession in the 2010’s.
Producers Kurt Huget (left) & James Mochizuki (right) with Jefferson Starship's China Kantner (center) at Marin Center
When Marin Cultural Association was founded in recent years, James and Kurt decided to start Friends Productions to originally book live music to benefit this non-profit. At the same time, it was felt that there needed to be more opportunities for local musicians, especially women, who were even more underserved. In the process, “Women in Music” series was created. Two shows at Marin Center: "Jefferson Starship/ Big Brother & the Holding Co" (Veterans Memorial Auditorium: 1900 capacity) and "Marin Women in Jazz” (Showcase Theater: 340 capacity) financed donations to MCA. A number of tickets for each of the two shows were donated to underprivileged members of the community. The two shows together showcased four female lead singers.
After these successful shows, Friends Productions was approached by the management at George’s to book at the storied nightclub in downtown San Rafael. George’s has a legendary history of a rock & roll club. Back in the day Santana, Grateful Dead, Sons of Champlin, Bonnie Raitt, Melissa Etheridge, and Huey Lewis all got their start there.
Friends Productions has promoted five shows at the 300 capacity venue thus far and “Women in Music” series continues. The most recent show “Songs of 1970” featured an all-star band also with a female lead singer. The show was done in partnership with Mill Valley Film Festival. It was to benefit their MINDTHEGAP initiative, a pledge to screen at least 50% woman-directed films at the October 2020 festival.
Kurt Huget has been a mainstay of the Bay Area music scene for many years, as a performer, songwriter, guitar teacher, and show producer. He has performed, recorded, and written songs with members of many of the great legendary San Francisco rock bands.
As a show producer for Bread & Roses for many years, he presented hundreds of shows, working with such notable artists as Joan Baez, Maria Muldaur, Boz Scaggs, Pete Seeger, Keb ‘Mo, Bonnie Raitt, Michael Franti, Pete & Sheila Escovedo, Sharon Isbin, The Doobie Brothers, and dozens more.
He worked as a booking agent for Second Octave Talent in Petaluma, booking acts such as Elvin Bishop, The Blues Broads, Nick Gravenites, Mickey Hart, Pablo Cruz, and Eliane Elias.
Additionally, he was the booking agent for Marin/Sonoma venues Aqus Café, Redwood Café, and Grazie.
James Mochizuki moved to the Haight in the 70’s. He was immediately caught up in the music of the day. And who wouldn’t: with neighbors like Grateful Dead; Jefferson Airplane/Starship; Quicksilver Messenger Service; Big Brother & the Holding Co; Boz Scaggs; Santana; and Crosby, Stills, & Nash?
His father was a small business owner. James has always said that his best education in life was working at his Dad's store.
His parents convinced him to find a "practical" occupation, so he went to college pursuing a science degree. However, the arts were fully imbedded in him, so along the way he took drama (acting) at City College of San Francisco, theater management at San Francisco State University, and small business management at University of California.
At the urging of friends, he auditioned for, and got a part in the San Francisco production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's breakout rock musical, "Jesus Christ Superstar". The show ran for 8 months before full houses. He then was one of the founding members of Millberry Repertory Theatre. There, he was involved in several plays as an actor, house manager, and assisting in production.
Upon graduation, he went into healthcare, eventually earning a leadership position at a major San Francisco hospital.
He believes in giving back to the community. He has been a donor to Marin Shakespeare Company, Friends of Marin Center, California Film Institute, and Marin Cultural Association. He was newsletter editor for a non-profit. He served as President of Lucas Valley Estates Homeowners Association and was on the Executive Board for Friends of Marin Center.
When the opportunity came up, he, along with Kurt Huget founded Friends Productions.
Jesus Christ Superstar 50th Anniversary of San Francisco Opening!
BroadwaySF has announced it will commemorate the opening of Jesus Christ Superstar in San Francisco 50 years ago by doing a revival run at the Golden Gate Theater, San Francisco in October 2021.
As a 1971-72 cast member of the San Francisco show, here are my recollections:
"In 1971, Michael Thistle acquired the rights from Robert L. Stigwood Assoc LTD to stage Jesus Christ Superstar in San Francisco. The show opened in October 1971 simultaneously with the Broadway opening. The then Sharon McKnight came on as director (She would subsequently change her name to “Sharon McNight” prior to launching an illustrious cabaret and Broadway acting career.). Authentic period costumes were designed by Carol-Ann Liewelyn. This was in contrast to the over the top sci-fi costumes of the Broadway cast. Harry Groener played Jesus (He is now a mainstay on Broadway and was Tony nominated for Cats.). Donovan Scott was Herod (He is now a successful screen actor.). Soprano Jamie Warren-Stehula played Pilate’s wife and did backup vocals for Judas in the song “Superstar” (She would later join Opera San Luis Obispo.). James Mochizuki had the part of John the Apostle (He is now a live music producer/promoter and filmmaker based in Marin County.
One of the stipulations of the agreement with Stigwood was that the show needed to close if the national tour of “Superstar” came to SF. This happened in April, and sadly, but it turns out temporarily, The local San Francisco production closed down April 2, as Orpheum production opened April 4. Roger Kern, who had played Judas, at this point left to join the Shakespeare company at Old Globe in San Diego (He would eventually have a successful TV career.)
4 weeks later when the local San Francisco production re-opened, American Conservatory Theater veteran Jon Buffington joined the cast for the role of Judas. Near the end of the spring run, Buffington was ordained a Catholic priest in the Syro-Chaldean rite. (He had made a commitment to do Godspell for ACT at Marine’s Memorial after “Superstar” and was allowed to delay his call until 1973.). The spring leg of the production ran until June 1972 with Thistle playing the role of Annas for the entire run. Every night in the run was a full house. In the San Francisco tradition, there were no advance reserved seating. Just like Fillmore West down the street, the line snaked around the block and people were turned away when all seats were filled. The exception was closing night when SRO was permitted. "
Special thanks to Sharon McNight and Jamie Warren-Stehula for their assistance in this history.
-James Mochizuki, July 2021