.Tom Gaffey Needs Your Help

Okay, folks. It’s serious.
The Phoenix Theater in Petaluma is in such a severe financial crisis that Tom Gaffey has been laid off. You might not have noticed, because he’s still working there every day, but it’s true—he’s been taken off the payroll.
“I need to be back on in about a month,” Gaffey told me yesterday, “or I’m gonna be in trouble. “
On the phone last week, Tom tried to downplay the situation, saying that he’s been through thin times before, back when the Phoenix was a smaller operation. “If I could cover the rent, the PG&E and the insurance, then we were golden,” he says. “But now we’ve got some other things going, and the fact of the matter is that stuff is so cool. The music school, the clinic, the art programs, all the extra stuff we do is just so important and so valid. When you see the clinic on Thursdays, it’s absolutely full, a good long line of people waiting to get in. You can’t deny this is a great program.”
To that end, the only paid employee at the Phoenix right now is music program director Gio Benedetti, and even he’s been cut down to half-pay. Executive director Amber Faur, like Gaffey, has also been officially laid off. Bruce Hagen, board president, explains that both are still working at the Phoenix in a volunteer position, and “they’re working as hard as they ever did, God bless ‘em.”
It just doesn’t make sense. Say the name “Tom Gaffey” anywhere in Sonoma County and an air of beloved reverence is instantly conjured. This is a guy who’s given decades of encouragement to teens who didn’t get support from their schools, their families, their social circles. Who’s said yes to starting a band, painting a mural or realizing some other potential when every other adult has said no. Who’s given years of sincere advice in place of nagging, and provided wide-ranging opportunities to kids who’ve only known closed doors.
So how could something like this happen?
For years, the Phoenix used to be run by Gaffey alone, who in addition to booking shows also oversaw a bunch of kids who hung out after school, played guitar, made art, put on plays, edited films, skated and helped each other with homework. When the theater was saved from being turned into an office building in 1999 by a group of dot-com benefactors, it slowly eased into the Phoenix Theater of today—a nonprofit model where all those extracurricular activities are now official programs eligible for grant funding.
Hagen says the theater had banked on getting some significant foundation grants and major donor grants, “but the word we’re getting is ‘You guys look like a great program, you have a pretty solid organization, but we’re not taking anybody on right now.”
The shows haven’t been doing too well, either. Up to half of the theater’s income once came from door receipts, but the Phoenix was forced last year to be overly cautious about booking rap shows, “and as troublesome as those sometimes were,” says Hagen, “they were very profitable for the Phoenix.” (The long-running series of Super Hyphy shows usually brought in at least $2,000 per month.)
All told, the Phoenix needs about $20,000 a month to stay afloat. In addition to funding, the theater is in need of energetic board members, reliable volunteers and “people with skills in administering a nonprofit,” Hagen says. “Ten years ago, we had a situation where the Phoenix couldn’t exist on the model that it had. And now, we’re in a similar situation where in this economy, we can’t get by unless we have a greater level of support from the community.”
Those interested in volunteering time or skills can get in touch with Hagen directly by emailing him here. As for Gaffey? “I’m fine for a little while longer,” he told me, “but I may have to go out and find a job here real quick.”
For those who’ve been inspired or supported in any way by Tom Gaffey and the Phoenix Theater, helping out is as easy as clicking here and making either a one-time or monthly donation. They’re a 501(c)(3) now, so it’s tax-deductible. Now is the time to help out. Countless people have seen firsthand the benefits to having Tom Gaffey at the Phoenix Theater. If enough of us pitch in, we can rescue one of the worthiest causes in Sonoma County. Every bit helps.


  1. Have you tried the fender music foundation for grants?? I am opening a thirft store in Petaluma and it is going to be a “hip” thrift store/buy sell trade clothing store. We can maybe work out a fundraising idea… I’ll talk to alyssa and see what we can do.

  2. sailed? nah, that ship hasn’t sailed. just hit some rough winds. that place needs all the help it can get. that place DESERVES all the help it can get. so let’s help it, damnit!

  3. Some simple math: $20,000 ÷ $10 = 2000. If 2000 people think the Phoenix is worth $10 a month AND DONATE THAT AMOUNT EVERY MONTH, the problem is solved.

  4. Noooo, this place can’t close. There is already so little for youth to do in Sonoma County, we need to get the word out to save the Phoenix. I’ll be praying about ideas and money and Tom.

  5. The simple fact is that live music is a tough business. I have worked in, on and around many live music venues (including the Phoenix). It’s not that the Phoenix can’t book bands. It’s just hard pulling down $5000 a month with bands alone. Thats at least $1250 every weekend. One or two bad weekends and your are behind on some bills. A very good show can include several thousand dollars of damage to the sound system or plumbing (really can you kids not break the toilets!?).
    Running an institution like this can not be based on donations. There jusst needs to be a more financially viable way of making it happen.

  6. i gave tom that spiffy haircut..and i mean hair! (singular)..or i traded for a dope phoenix theater shirt made by ricky watts…they are sweet shirts too!

  7. Roughly there are 60k people living in Petaluma??? I’d be willing to help find 2000 peeps to donate 10. per month. Door to door? Write up the proposal. What the pheonix is doing now for kids & the community. As long as Tom is alive the pheonix sails!!

  8. Stay sailing… oh u no wut i mean. The Phoenix was a safe place to go when i was growing up and still is. It gives the kids a community of there own. But sorry, the Phoenix wouldnt be the Phoenix without you Tom.?

  9. ok… sails, like in a good way, not ‘ship has sailed’ way. How many posts does it take to say, I heart the Phoenix. 🙂

  10. I have been hanging out in the phoenix building since I was four years old that bring it to a twenty year time span I am a second generation phoenix family member.Not only did I think of this place as my home but so did my parents over thelast twenty years I have put my blood sweat and tears in this building. the buiding help so many of sonoma countys youth in so many ways..I dont know how the rest of you feel about this place I know I am not the first person to think of the phonenix as a second home.. if you guys really want to save the place help out in any you can even if its only 5 $ its something and it will help …

  11. 2000 people donating $10/month seems like a fairly hittable target. Now notch it down to 1999 people. This could be taken care of with a couple recursive Facebook messages I’ll assume. Let’s get to work!

  12. Many moons ago Tom gave me my first job at the Phoenix,
    doing so much good for lots of kids. The Phoenix
    just wouldn’t be the same without him! I’ll be sending a
    donation today & I hope all his former employees do the

  13. I have a lot of memories of Tom Gaffey and the Phoenix growing up in Petaluma and then later on running a popular bar/nightclub in downtown Petaluma on the Blvd. I could always check in with Tom for the wisdom and advice I may have been seeking at any given time.
    Tom would bend over backwards for anyone, he is a great guy and this is a great cause!
    All of you should research the 5013C tax structure, you all need write offs and what better way to get one then to contribute to this great cause.
    Rock on Tom!
    Dave McGovern (Petaluma native)

  14. Good article Gabe! I’m sad to hear about the troubles. I hope it gets resolved asap. I am happy to hear that our Super Hyphy concerts had helped out a little. I wish we could do it all over again!

  15. The Phoenix served one particular segment of the community, but it is sad to see it go. Mabye jim is right; this ship has sailed.

  16. Well, if Tom ended up pouring the proverbial gasoline, I’d light the proverbial match for him. I owe him that much. Sounds like he just might Wind Up Working In A Gas Station on the side for a little while. 😉

  17. I wish I could help out right now! I’ve known Tom my whole life. He taught me to use the projectors and splice the film for movies when I was 7-8 yrs old – gave me a place to dance – and later a place to see great shows – I live in Utah now, but if there is something I can do I will! God be with you Tom! I wish the best for you! I’ve seen the Phoenix go through many changes over the years and I remember you driving a cab to make ends meet when business was slow…I also remember that through thick and thin and the city trying to shut you down, you have always been there for the kid’s and provided a safe place to hang out. You have changed my life! I miss you buddy! But I also know that the Phoenix has risen from many flames and tribulation’s, and I believe it shall rise again! Love you Tom! My family sends their love!


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