By GUY KOVNER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is scheduled to address a throng of rich and powerful men on Friday under the towering redwoods at the Bohemian Grove as the annual encampment along the Russian River in Monte Rio enters its final weekend.
No one other than about Bohemian Club members and their guests will hear the governor’s speech, which is — like everything that transpires during the 17-day midsummer enclave — done in absolute privacy.
Plutocrats and powerbrokers, including former presidents, annually flock to the 2,700-acre wooded retreat where neither women, other than grove employees, nor outsiders of either gender are permitted.
“It’s a private gentleman’s club,” spokesman Sam Singer said. “People are coming to get away from the duties of daily life. They don’t desire to be on the front page of The Press Democrat or The New York Times.
“In real life, they get there often enough,” he said.
The San Francisco-based club has about 2,000 members.
Mixing their revelry and weird rituals with serious issues, the Bohemians hear from a series of speakers, this year including media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who discussed “the future of news,” and former secretaries of state George Shultz and James Baker on international relations and terrorism threats.
Those names and Schwarzenegger’s appearance were confirmed by a source who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The grove speakers list, including ex-President George H. W. Bush in 1995 and not-yet President Richard Nixon in 1967, remains a well-guarded secret.
But Thursday night, some of the club’s more artistically inclined members will go public, staging the 99th annual Monte Rio Variety Show at the river community’s amphitheater, a fundraiser for three Monte Rio organizations.
The show and barbecue are open to the public and expected to top last year’s record of more than $32,000 in proceeds, divided equally among the Monte Rio Fire Services Foundation, Monte Rio Elementary School Foundation and St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church.
“It’s huge,” said Michele McDonell, a show coordinator and church member, referring to the show’s $10,000 boost to her congregation.
A sellout is expected, and tickets may be available today, but only at the Monte Rio Amphitheater behind the shuttered Pink Elephant bar on Main Street.
The entertainment lineup is not disclosed ahead of time, but the Bohemians “always guarantee a good show,” McDonell said.
Headliners last summer included country music singers Clint Black and Zac Brown, while Bob Weir and the Steve Miller Band have performed in the past.
Back at the grove, up to 2,600 members and guests are expected to show up this weekend, closing the 2009 encampment, Singer said.
Attendance is up slightly this summer, likely due to an improving economy, he said.
While many Bohemians are wealthy business titans, the club also values its “regular working gentlemen,” including musicians, lecturers and others who help entertain members during the encampment, Singer said.
Hondas and Fords mix with Mercedes and Bentleys in the grove parking lot. And while members’ private jets stack up at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport, about 100 Bohemians rode bicycles from the clubhouse on Taylor Street in San Francisco to the rural West County grove.