Sue Lester was (luckily for me) the girl next door when my parents moved my sister and me in 1966 to this out-of-the-way place next to a lake named Folsom. Sue and I were 8 years old, though she would turn 9 in late November. She was Susie then, and I was still Janis, the names our mothers called us. But it didn’t take long for us to adopt nicknames (hers was Suz for a while), which is how the world knows us now, as Sue and Jan. She was my original BFF, and I’m pleased to say that she still is.
This is Gracie, Sue’s sweet kitty, who, unfortunately, died last year. Sue, now a veterinarian in Nevada City, deeply mourned Gracie’s passing. But Sue, who has seen more than her share of pets die in her personal life and profession, is nothing if not resilient. And Gracie lives on, not only in Sue’s heart, but now in Gracieland (named by Sue’s dear friend Ginny), Nevada City’s newest home concert venue. I was fortunate to attend the second concert in Gracieland history this afternoon where four very talented, professional musicians delighted a small audience.
Jeri Jones and Pam Delgado are half of Blame Sally, one of Sue’s favorite bands. Velvy Appleton is half of the band Spark and Whisper. Robert Powell is a wicked pedal steel and guitar player. Robert and Velvy teamed up for half the show at Gracieland, and Jeri and Pam made up the other half… and then, magic! as all four played together.
I felt lucky to be part of the invited guest list. The room is perfectly set up, the sound is amazing (one of the musicians commented that it sounds better than “90 percent of places we play”), and you couldn’t get a more appreciative, focused audience. And, of course, the musicians were top-notch, playing in a variety of musical styles and genres, each of them masters at their craft.
I have known Sue Lester for (gasp!) 52 years this summer, and she was my first music guru. It was Sue who introduced me to music new to my young ears: Herman’s Hermits, the Beatles, Iron Butterfly. (It was the ’60s… can you tell? “In-a-Gadda-Davida” was never my favorite, though Sue used to rock out on air guitar before I knew it had a name. I played air drums.) She has one of the most extensive CD and vinyl collections of anyone I know, and she introduced me, literally, to Blame Sally at a live show.
When Sue bought her cute house in Nevada City a few years ago, she did so in part because the open bottom floor immediately made her think “concert venue.” She’s been planning this ever since. She and friend built a small stage, she rented chairs and recruited friends to help with food and set-up, and she knew just the musicians she wanted to play Gracieland. (She has a list of others, too.)
I think my buddy Sue has added a new title to her already impressive list (M.S., DVM, BFF): impresario, which is one who, according to dictionary.com, organizes and often finances concerts, plays or operas. And one of Sue’s main backers and biggest fans is her mom, Nell Lester, along with her late father, Bill, who were two of the most devoted parents I’ve ever known. They did good, as my father used to say, and I’m grateful to them for producing such a fine daughter and friend.
So bravo, Gracieland! Thanks to all the folks who helped Sue make her venue a success. I see a summer concert series in the future. Here’s to a lot more music to come!