Giants’ Tim Flannery brings bluegrass band to the Mystic

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PLANNING TO GO?

What: Tim Flannery and the Lunatic Fringe, in concert, as a benefit for Flannery’s Love Harder nonprofit.

When: Sunday, Jan. 20, 8:30 p.m.

Where: The Mystic Theatre, 21 N. Petaluma Blvd.

Admission: Tickets $20-$23.

Information: MysticTheatre.com.

Tim Flannery is a born entertainer.

It was true of his career as a baseball player with the San Diego Padres. Early on nicknamed “Flan,” he played as part of that franchise for over ten years. His big-hearted “at bats” and see-it-from-the-bleachers grin quickly turned him into a fan favorite. After retiring and (eventually) joining the San Francisco Giants’ coaching staff, Flannery earned a new reputation as the most exuberant, wildly animated, fun-to-watch third-base coach in the Major Leagues. In fact, it sometimes seemed that base-running Giants had an extra incentive to get to third, just so they could soak up a few seconds of Flannery’s unbridled energy and enthusiasm.

On TV, as a pre-and-post-game analyst for CSN Bay Area, he’s often as spontaneously hilarious as he is erudite and insightful.

And as a musician, he’s an absolute natural, possessed of an easygoing knack for connecting heart-to-heart with a crowd. In performance, he sings, plays guitar, tells stories and generally enjoys the hell out of every live show. Even on the phone, casually chatting from his home down in Southern California, Flannery is a blast to talk with.

“For 33 years, I never had a summer off,” he says, “and when I finally retired from coaching in 2014, that next summer I got to play at the High Sierra Music Festival. I played Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. I started whitewater rafting, and I was thinking, ‘Are you sh-----g me? This is what goes on when you’re not playing ball? Man! I’ve been missing out!’”

The reason for this conversation is Flannery’s upcoming appearance, with his longtime band The Lunatic Fringe, at Petaluma’s Mystic Theatre, on Sunday, Jan. 20. According to Flannery, the last time he performed at the Mystic was in June of 2017, when he joined Jackie Green for a concert benefitting The Blue Rose Foundation. The Petaluma show, part of a multi-city west coast tour of theaters, music venues and honkytonk bars, is all to raise money for Flannery’s Love Harder Project, a nonprofit he established with his wife, to support anti-bullying and anti-violence programs in schools and communities all over the US.

As Flannery explains it, the tour is all about supporting a worthy cause – including a few gigs in Redding, raising money for Butte County fire relief – while having a good time with his band, a hand-selected assortment of experienced players who spend the rest of their year gigging with some of the biggest names in music. It is, clearly, a dream come true, which is saying something, considering the same could be said for Flannery’s first career.

“I was very fortunate to grow up in a family that loves to sing,” says Flannery, proudly adding that his little brother sings opera in three languages, and his uncle, the legendary Pittsburgh Pirates player Hal Smith, was a singer-songwriter like Flannery. Born and raised in Kentucky, Flannery’s family moved to California in the ‘60s. While playing baseball at Anaheim High School, he fell in love with the songwriting of such folks as Bob Dylan and Jackson Brown. His own music is a gently braided tangle of bluegrass, country, Springsteen-tinged rock and good old Americana folk tunes, with lyrics that read like short stories scribbled onto a greasy diner napkin at a roadside truck stop.

PLANNING TO GO?

What: Tim Flannery and the Lunatic Fringe, in concert, as a benefit for Flannery’s Love Harder nonprofit.

When: Sunday, Jan. 20, 8:30 p.m.

Where: The Mystic Theatre, 21 N. Petaluma Blvd.

Admission: Tickets $20-$23.

Information: MysticTheatre.com.

And some of those songs really were.

“I’m always writing songs, and I always have,” Flannery says. “All through high school, all through college, I was writing and I was singing. And then when I took off to chase my baseball dreams, I just brought my guitar along with me. In our family, we never knew you had to choose between baseball and music. When people asked me about that, questioned how I could be focused on playing baseball if I was also thinking about music, I always said, ‘I’ll choose between baseball and music when you choose between water and air.’ I don’t know about you, but I have to have both.”

Signed by the Padres in 1978 at the age of 21, Flannery played in the minors for a few years, occasionally getting called up to play with the Padres, for which he played his first full season in 1982. He stayed with the team until his retirement in 1989. For the next few years, he managed and coached minor league teams in Spokane, Las Vegas and Rancho Cucamonga, but returned to the Padres in 1996 as manager Bruce Bochy’s third base coach. In 2007, when Bochy was named as the new skipper of the San Francisco Giants, Flannery made the move with him, and ended up assisting the Giants throughout the next eight years, participating in three World Series wins.

Through it all, Flannery wrote songs, performing wherever he could in the off seasons.

“In 1996, I think, I recorded my first record,” he says, noting that he’s since released an additional twelve albums, with another due out this April. With a laugh, he remarks, “I guess when you can say you have thirteen or fourteen records out, it’s the same thing as saying you’re old.”

Flannery’s most recent album, issued in 2018, is “Last of the Old Dogs,” named for a tune he wrote about folksinger Jerry Jeff Walker. Except for covers of Walker’s “Little Bird” and The Grateful Dead’s “Catfish Joe,” the songs on the album were all written by Flannery, most of them inspired by real people, including a rafting guide Flannery met a couple of summers ago. He’s now immortalized in a graceful ballad called simply “Hoagie’s Song.”

“Most of my songs are about real people,” Flannery says, “people I’ve met on the road over the years. And you meet a lot of interesting people when you travel the country as much as I have. That ‘old dog’ song, that one is all about Jerry Jeff Walker, who’s a friend of mine, and a personal hero. The song is all made up from actual stuff he’s said to me.”

Surprisingly, Flannery admits he’s not written all that many songs about baseball.

“I guess I’ve written a few,” he acknowledges, “but most of my songs are only about baseball indirectly. They’re baseball songs in that they might have characters or experiences that I encountered because of my baseball career. But I don’t really sing too often about bats and balls and all that.“

That said, there is one song on the last CD, a tune titled “Glory Trail,” that has a very definite baseball connection.

“My uncle, Hal Smith, was a world series hero in 1960, playing with the Pittsburg Pirates,” explains Flannery. “If you see old pictures from the ‘60s, a lot of the time he’s carrying a guitar. Well, when I signed my first professional contract in 1978, my uncle gave me a letter. I’d just signed up with the Padres and was ready to take off on a bus to make $500 a month and eat on $6 a day in the Minor leagues. Chasin’ the dream, right? Anyway, that letter from my uncle told me about all the things out on the road I should be careful of, all the things that will hold you back, all the ways to overcome that, and still shine when things aren’t going very well, travel-wise, on the field-wise. I carried that letter a long, long time. And just a few years ago, I finally wrote a song about it. And that song is ‘Glory Trail.’”

It was in the wake of the tragic beating of Giants fan Bryan Stow, who was left paralyzed with extensive brain damage after an attack outside Dodgers Stadium in L.A., that Flannery and his wife Donna founded The Love Harder Project (LoveHarderProject.org).

“I was asked to sing for some benefits for Bryan, and then it just kept going,” he explains. “Now, whenever we perform, it’s all about leaving behind as much money as possible to fight violence, to encourage anti-bullying education. My new album is about that, too. It’ll be called “The Light,” and it’s all songs about light overcoming the darkness in this crazy time we’re living in. To be able to go out and get a gig, and play music with great musicians, entertain people and touch their hearts, and then maybe make a little bit of difference in the communities I play in. Hey, what could be better than that?”

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