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How Metallica secretly filmed a concert at a Sonoma winery

Where to See the Film

While the “Encore Drive-in Nights” screening of the Metallica concert film sold out at Gundlach Bundschu within hours of going on sale on Aug. 14, the film is playing at several hundred other venues across the county and two dozen spots in the California. As of press time, $115 tickets for a car of up to 6 people were still available in Sacramento and Concord.

Every ticket purchase includes four digital downloads of Metallica's “S&M2” album, which documents two concerts that reunited the band and San Francisco Symphony for the first time in 20 years. And the show also include a guest performance by Three Days Grace.

The concerts will follow safety precautions of vehicle spacing, window guidelines, masks for staff, contactless payment and restroom safety procedures.

The Metallica concert is part of a series of one-night-only concerts screened at drive-in theaters across the United States and Canada. encorenights.com.

Walkers along Sonoma’s Denmark Road at sunset on Aug. 10 wouldn’t have believed what they were seeing had they even known to look.

A smattering of cars were parked on the crest of the Gundlach Bundschu winery driveway, but no more than usual. There was a kaleidoscope of lights throbbing, but no music. The 320-acre property’s gates were firmly locked -- so why were there burly security guards at every entrance?

Less than a half dozen locals knew that one of the biggest bands in America was set up overlooking the vineyard of the Sonoma winery secretly performing “Enter Sandman,” “Fade to Black” and “One,” without an audience.

For two weeks in early August, the iconic heavy metal band Metallica quarantined in the North Bay while their crew hid out in a small, modest Sonoma hotel. After repeated COVID testing, the band played a secret concert in Sonoma without anyone in town getting wind of the unlikely event.

The resulting feature-length film of the band’s first show of 2020, and their first concert in nearly a year, will be screened at more than 300 outdoor venues across the country, including at the winery where the concert was filmed, on Saturday, Aug. 29.

Enter Gun-Bun

Over the past decade, Bundschu Company CEO Jeff Bundschu has been producing small music shows at his family winery on the east side of Sonoma. Especially in the early days of hosting these indie concerts, he grabbed any chance he got to meet people in the music business — he plays a little guitar and bass, and is a music super-fan.

Gundlach Bundschu president Jeff Bundschu and his father, Jim Bundschu.
Gundlach Bundschu president Jeff Bundschu and his father, Jim Bundschu.

“If anyone in the music industry visits the winery, I always lead the tour,” he says. A few years back, a fast Google search confirmed that one VIP scheduled to visit was involved in managing some very big bands, including Metallica.

The two hit it off and kept in touch. Meanwhile, the sixth generation of Bundschus built some buzz for the winery as a hot micro-venue. An eclectic group of indie musicians were scheduling gigs there and praising the excellent acoustics of the winery’s old redwood barn and its picturesque hillside stage.

Gundlach Bundschu Winery on Denmark Street in Sonoma.
Gundlach Bundschu Winery on Denmark Street in Sonoma.

The fateful text

Jeff Bundschu describes himself as a dreamer and an optimist. But 2020 has been challenging. So he says he was too tired to be surprised when he received a text on July 24 that Metallica was looking for a compelling spot to film a concert movie. Well, he thought, this year is “already chock full of otherworldly scenarios coming true.”

Might the winery be interested? There would be no fans, and filming would take only two days.

While Bundschu himself is more likely to attend SXSW than Saints and Sinners, he’s no fool, and he instantly agreed -- provided it could be done safely and discreetly, given the COVID situation.

Less than a week later, Metallica’s crew arrived.

Staying local

While band members Lars Ulrich, James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett and Robert Trujillo stayed in Bay Area homes, their crew quietly checked into Sonoma’s El Pueblo Inn on July 31 for what all concerned described as “serious quarantining.” Meals were delivered and housekeeping was canceled.

It was still a holy sh#* moment when I heard they had arrived in Sonoma and had checked in.“ Jeff Bundschu

The band’s team had asked for a hotel recommendation earlier on, said Bundschu. “But it was still a holy sh#* moment when I heard they had arrived in Sonoma and had checked in.”

Metallica's crew stayed in 30 rooms at Sonoma's El Pueblo Inn for almost 2 weeks.
Metallica's crew stayed in 30 rooms at Sonoma's El Pueblo Inn for almost 2 weeks.

El Pueblo front desk manager Aranda Tynes was pleased that her team managed to keep the secret for weeks. “We are all huge fans,” she told the Index-Tribune.

But when?

Some last details were ironed out. Bundschu would close the winery to visitors and release the staff on Sunday and Monday, Aug. 9 and 10. He sent a courtesy note to neighbors that there would be a small commercial filming on the property. And he finally told his family and inner circle that it was happening.

“I don’t know if it’s fair to say they’re used to me dropping things like this on them, but they were not shocked,” he said. “Nor too wowed to not ask me all the usual questions — ‘What’s our liability? How will we keep this a secret? What are they paying? What’s the upside to us?’”

Bundschu’s retort? “Come on! It’s Metallica!”

Maybe, maybe not

But on July 31, Bundschu woke up to a personal email from Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin, which cc’d Sonoma County Health officer Sundari Mase. They asked him to reconsider holding a small, outdoor, socially distanced wine and music experience featuring Chris Robinson that he had planned for late August.

Where to See the Film

While the “Encore Drive-in Nights” screening of the Metallica concert film sold out at Gundlach Bundschu within hours of going on sale on Aug. 14, the film is playing at several hundred other venues across the county and two dozen spots in the California. As of press time, $115 tickets for a car of up to 6 people were still available in Sacramento and Concord.

Every ticket purchase includes four digital downloads of Metallica's “S&M2” album, which documents two concerts that reunited the band and San Francisco Symphony for the first time in 20 years. And the show also include a guest performance by Three Days Grace.

The concerts will follow safety precautions of vehicle spacing, window guidelines, masks for staff, contactless payment and restroom safety procedures.

The Metallica concert is part of a series of one-night-only concerts screened at drive-in theaters across the United States and Canada. encorenights.com.

“Susan Gorin was concerned the optics set a bad precedent and I freaked,” said Bundschu. “If that little show was an issue, what would people think if they got wind of Metallica? I did not want to become the posterchild of COVID carelessness.”

Bundschu canceled Robinson on the spot, and vowed then and there this would be the most clandestine thing that ever happened in Sonoma.

Tests and more tests

There would be no concert if anyone had COVID. Bundschu, his wife Liz, their three key staff members and the entire Metallica crew was tested at El Pueblo on Aug. 1.

“Two jammed nostrils later, Liz and I were feeling pretty cool that our first coronavirus tests came about this way,” he said.

Aug. 3, retests for all. Both nostrils twice. Additional tests followed on Aug. 4 with a different company, via throat and nose, just to be safe. And again on Aug. 7.

After one of the tests, nose still sore, Bundschu saw lead guitarist Kirk Hammett in the El Pueblo parking lot. “I tried to act cool,” he said with a laugh.

A dedicated COVID compliance officer informed everyone who would be on-site that they needed to be double masked at all times when not eating, and expected to use the multiple sanitizing stations, and maintain six feet minimum distancing. Bundschu learned that the officer’s role was a new one, created by the film industry as a mandatory component to reopening film production.

Dress rehearsal

The winery was just closing Saturday, Aug. 8, when four giant trucks full of the band’s gear and crew arrived, released from the hotel downtown to start building the set. All Metallica branding was taped and invisible and a handful of band baseball hats went unnoticed.

Bundschu showed up two hours early for the Sunday night rehearsal and found there was plenty of time for small talk with the crew.

“Metallica is one of the best in the business, paying their crew year around, whether touring or not,” said Bundschu. “And they are allowed other gigs when the calendar is clear. So with eyes wide I heard first-hand tour stories about the likes of Madonna, Pearl Jam, Brittany Spears and Taylor Swift.”

The band walked onto the winery’s gravel parking lot at the base of the Mayacamas at around 7 p.m. and the crew got down to business.

“Ten years into this, it isn’t exactly my first rodeo,” said Bundschu, having seen sound checks and rehearsals for some “incredible” artists. “But I was in awe, trying to hold it together. These guys are pros.”

Bundschu said he was perhaps most impressed by the appreciative demeanor of one of the most commercially successful bands of all time.

“Because of COVID, they all hadn’t seen each other in months, and they were so happy to be together, so authentic, doing what they do best,” he said.

The secret concert

For Monday’s concert filming, the band threw themselves into their set despite playing almost silently. The drums weren’t mic’ed and the band wore in-ear fractal monitors that allowed the musicians and recording engineers audio access to the full sound, without any outward projection.

The view across Sonoma Valley from the Gundlach Bundschu property.
The view across Sonoma Valley from the Gundlach Bundschu property.

Five cameras circled the set on tracks and the band played with their backs to the sun as it set over Sonoma Valley, to mimic the actual time the movie will play at the drive-ins. They ended in darkness.

In interviews since leaving Sonoma, reporters have tried to learn more about the secret concert. Drummer Lars Ullrich told Scott Munro of Metal Hammer magazine, “I’m not going to give anything away other than to say it was super fun. We played, we rocked, we got our groove back on. It’s been a great couple of weeks.”

In a CNN interview earlier this week, Ulrich described the drive-in concert – their first live performance together in a year – as a creative way to connect with fans, “an experiment.”

It wasn't a dream. Jeff Bundschu stumbled across a pick left by James Hetfield after the band packed up and left the Gun Bun property.
It wasn't a dream. Jeff Bundschu stumbled across a pick left by James Hetfield after the band packed up and left the Gun Bun property.

As for Jeff Bundschu, as he and Liz quietly watched the band perform its secret concert, he said he shook his head in disbelief that they had helped Metallica to pull this off.

“It really hit me then that this incredible band, with all its history, integrity and scale, was playing its great music right here, on our little knoll, in Sonoma.”

Contact Lorna at lorna.sheridan@sonomanews.com.

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