Alvon Johnson has hosted and produced marathon benefits before. A “Concert for Karen” won’t be one of them.
“This is not going to be three hours,” says the blues guitarist. “I think 90 minutes is good.”
And for good reason, he said. The April 1 fundraiser for youth scholarships will be recorded earlier from the Empress Theatre in downtown Vallejo with Johnson, Lenny Williams, Tommy Castro, Terrie Odabi, and Tony Lindsay. All the above plus a video forwarded from Keb’ Mo’ will be edited into a film and screened April 1 for an honest-to-goodness live audience up to 100 people.
With some people concerned about how long they manage indoors together, 90 minutes is adequate, said Johnson. Besides, he believes with the talent he assembled, an hour and a half “is really enough.”
Johnson will host the event, which is also “live-streamed” at the same 7:30 p.m. time for those at home.
Tickets for the view-at-home streaming are $25. Viewing in person is $38.
“Hopefully, people will recognize that it’s a great cause and they’ll be generous,” Johnson said, hoping the fundraiser occurs annually “and gets bigger and better every year.”
The concert is dedicated to Johnson’s late wife, Karen Richards, who died last summer from cancer.
Johnson believes the benefit for young musicians is his late wife’s legacy because “Karen was one of those people always trying to help other people.”
“I don’t want her legacy just being my life,” Johnson said, managing a chuckle.
Johnson figured it was 2006 — “maybe 2007” — when the two met. Seems Richards wanted Johnson to teach her how to sing.
“She said she always wanted to do the blues,” he said, laughing “I thought she was just trying to hit on me.”
Johnson did not make a good first impression.
“I told her ‘You dress like a jazz singer’ and she walked away,” he said.
So, uh, it wasn’t love at first sight.
“Not at all,” he said.
That came later when the two would cross paths around the club circuit, as Johnson finally admitted, “She was kinda cute.”
Cute enough to fall in love with and, at times, be Johnson’s guest vocalist.
Never, of course, could he imagine doing a tribute show in his wife’s honor.
“I’ve had some really terrible days, but that (April 1) won’t be one of them,” insisted Johnson. “It’s going to be wonderful; a culmination of all the joy that we experienced together. It’s going to be all about sharing with the world how I feel about her and how I feel about doing something for these kids.”
Johnson said every artist he asked immediately agreed to play, donating their talents for the cause.
Because it was only known at the last minute that Solano County would advance to the “red tier” and allow 100 to watch a film of the live concert in person, the program was kept simple, Johnson said.
“Get it done and next year take it to another level,” he said.
When Alvon steps on stage April 1 to introduce the filmed concert, “I think it’ll feel wonderful,” he said. “I think Karen will be watching me thinking, ‘That’s my honey.’ I’m going to make her proud.”
Johnson said he’s had his share of emotional moments already from the stage and off it “for the first few months” following his wife’s passing.
“I couldn’t see any sunshine. It was like I was walking in a fog,” he said.
He said he’ll think of her frequently during the recording for April 1 and while hosting the first in-person Empress event in almost a year.
“I’m inspired by and grateful for what she gave me,” Johnson said. “She made me a better person.”
One other thing. The April 1 date. It’s not because Johnson has a thing for April Fool’s Day.
It was Karen’s birthday.
“Concert for Karen,” a concert film and streamed benefit for young musicians featuring Alvon Johnson, Keb’ Mo’, Lenny Williams, Tommy Castro, Terrie Odabi, and Tony Lindsay. Streamed tickets $25, in-person film viewing, $38. For more, visit empresstheatre.org.