Classical Meets Americana Review – A Very Special Performance in Pacifica, CA

Kay Stern, Joan Nagano, Morning Nichols and Jim Nichols at the Mildred Owen Concert Hall

Recently I had the opportunity of attending a performance at the Mildred Owen Concert Hall where Pacifica Performances offers a performance almost every weekend. On February 3, the program was a unique blend, Classical Meets Americana with well-known Americana performers, Morning and Jim Nichols (guitar and vocal) and equally well-known classical music performers, Kay Stern (violin) and Joan Nagano (piano). It was an evening in which the core of musical pieces and songs dated to the time of the Civil War, bringing in some American History. With the humorous introductions by Jim Nichols, there was also a nugget of historical fact. I had never seen a program in which the classical and folk were so beautifully and interestingly blended, and I found this a unique approach.

Jim Nichols and Morning Nichols, two guitars and one vocalist

Knowing that Morning and Jim Nichols have played in the Bay Area, around the United States and in Europe for many years, I went searching for just how long and came up with more than a quarter century. (Jean’s Magazines) Currently, Morning Nichols serves as the Pacifica Performance’s Artistic Director.

Visiting the art gallery at intermission, Photo: Steve Cooper

This venue has a fascination that enhances any performance. The facility began as Sanchez School and when it was abandoned, the city of Pacifica was persuaded to purchase it and turn it into a kind of mini art colony.   The multipurpose room has been rehabilitated and is a perfect performance space with high quality lighting and an excellent sound system, now known as the Mildred Owen Concert Hall. Seated, one can look around the walls and see inspiring paintings. Four artists are selected every four months to display their works, which are also for sale. Frequently, the art galleries, which are located in an adjoining building, are available for visiting during intermission, an exhilarating enhancement.

Kay Stern and Joan Nagano

The standouts from the performance included Kay Stern’s amazing playing that was equally as wonderful to watch as to listen to, Joan Nagano’s piano perfection and charming story, Morning Nichols’ lovely voice that shown magnificently in Shenandoah and remarkably in Leonard Cohen’s Halelujah, and Jim Nichols’ playing of his familiar Chet Atkin’s numbers but also moving to duets with Kay Stern, moving “up” to classical pieces. The only drawback to this evening was that this musical melding of classical, folk, roots, and a bit of jazz — mixed together for a unique combination of American and European music was only performed once.


More about these outstanding performers:


Kay Stern is the Concertmaster of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, (since 1994) and has performed at music festivals around the world, including the Bard, Olympic, and Grand Teton music festivals. She has appeared on PBS’s Live from Lincoln Center, CNN’s Women Today, and as the former first violinist and a founding member of the Lark String Quartet, she performed and gave master classes throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia.


Jim Nichols has an unusual approach to the guitar–he uses a thumbpick and fingers to play everything from Chet Atkins style to modern jazz. His impressive credentials include appearances on tv, radio, concert halls and clubs including Carnegie Hall, The Tonight Show and the Django Reinhardt Festival in Samois-sur-Seine, France. His solo guitar CD was warmly received and was recognized by Guitar Magazine.


Morning Nichols, is a pure and compelling vocalist. She has performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival, the West Coast Cabaret Convention and has performed with guitar greats Chet Atkins, Tommy Emmanuel, and Martin Taylor, Together, the Nichols Duo toured in the US and in Europe, and have eight CDs that reflect the many eclectic styles of music they love to perform.


Joan Nagano, pianist, is a graduate of the music conservatories in Freiburg, Germany and in San Francisco, California. With an emphasis on chamber music, she has been coached by such noted musicians as Menahem Pressler and William Pleeth. A highly sought after musician in the Bay Area music community, Ms. Nagano’s performances have been broadcast locally on KQED and KPFA-FM radio and on Canadian national radio.


The main gallery focusing on women, Photo: Steve Cooper

Photos: Jamie Soja unless otherwise noted.


For information on upcoming performances and to order tickets go to the pacificaperformances website or call 650.355.1882


Mildred Owen Concert Hall

1220 Linda Mar Blvd.

Pacifica, California







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