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Sonoma County Blues Festival Looking for Another Home

Posted by on Feb 4, 2010 | Comments (4)

(Update: It’s saved! Scroll down for info…)
(Update again: It’s back at the fair. Scroll down…)

I just got off the phone with Bill Bowker, who’s been informed that the long-running Sonoma County Blues Festival will no longer be a part of the Sonoma County Fair’s entertainment schedule. Fair Events Coordinator Jane Engdahl cited current economic conditions and the Board’s decision to virtually eliminate all major shows in the Redwood Theater as the reason.

“It’s just another slice of left-of-mainstream music taken away in this area,” Bowker said. “I’m not alone—San Francisco lost their San Francisco Blues Festival too. It’s the usual plight of people trying to get into roots music.”

Bowker mentioned that there’s usually a spike in Fair attendance on the day of the Blues Festival, but this year, the Fair is looking to focus its energies on booking large acts in the Chris Beck Arena. That leaves a thirty-year tradition out in the cold.

The Sonoma County Blues Festival became a part of the Sonoma County Fair schedule in the late ’80s with blues musician Mark Naftalin producing the event.  Smith and Bowker Productions took over the production of the festival in 1991, and had since brought everyone from Junior Kimbrough to Magic Slim to Santa Rosa.

Want some more names from over the years? How about Shuggie Otis, Eddie “The Chief” Clearwater, Sonny Rhodes, Doyle Bramhall, Tracy Nelson, John Lee Hooker Jr., David Jacobs-Strain, Honeyboy Edwards… the list goes on and on. Not to mention all the local acts like Volker Strifler, Ron Thompson, Lydia Pense and Mark Hummel who were repeatedly given a stage with the larger names.

Bowker is looking into options for keeping the festival going. Those interested in offering a new location can call him at 707.588.0707.

UPDATE: The Festival has been moved to the Earle Baum Center on Occidental Road, a great open-field venue, on July 31. The KRSH itself has stepped in as producer. Hooray to both! Artists to be announced soon.

Bowker writes:

Along with being able to present a full on array of shapes and hues of the Blues throughout the years, I have also found the satisfaction of seeing what the Blues brings as far as the community is concerned.  The Blues is about struggle, despair, pain, but also about hope, respect and about whom we are.  It leaves it mark on all of us.  The Blues is the truth.”

Glad to see another struggle overcome, Bill, and another bit of hope dawning.

UPDATE AGAIN: The Sonoma County Fair realized their mistake, and “aggressively pursued” the KRSH to move the Blues Festival and its many supporters back to the fair. So for “practical purposes,” it’s back at the Redwood Theater on July 31 after all, now with a separate admission charge. (It sounds like the KRSH is still putting up the money for the Blues Festival’s artists—the fair’s budget having already been committed to paying cover bands like Wonderbread 5, Super Diamond, the Cheeseballs, AC/DShe, Double Funk Crunch and Bud E. Luv.) Some info. on fair entertainment here, and a note from Bill Bowker here.

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  1. Billy
    February 4, 2010

    Well… there goes my last excuse to keep attending the pitifully lame county fair, which has become little more than an overpriced flea market of suck. So I guess it’s good that I’ll have an extra $75-100 to do something else with every summer.

    Shut that horrible thing down for good.

  2. Andre
    February 10, 2010

    The fair is going the way of the Harmony Festival where locals are shut out and national acts are taking the locally generated $$ out of our local economy. Really short-sighted.

    Let me guess…Live Nation/Ticket Master (or some similar corporation) will take over and it’ll cost $$ extra to see any music at the fair – Local bands will be relegated to playing acoustic on some hay bales in a far corner by the porta-potties, the carpetbaggers will leave with the profits and the fair organizers will be left with nothing but ill will.

  3. Mike Campbell
    February 14, 2010

    What a sad joke! It’s no wonder that this country is losing prestige and respect around the world. Blues, America’s only home grown art form (and it’s offspring jazz), is the basis for almost all popular music world wide. It should be celebrated, preserved and promoted and not treated like some out of date piece of crap. No more fair for me. I’ll leave it to those flag waving, animal abusing, money hungry bigots.

  4. bradpipal
    April 9, 2010

    Marin County Fair offers a blues festival and free rides for the admission of about ten dollars………


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