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A Look Back at Next Level

Posted by on Apr 18, 2016 | Comments (0)
Santa Rosa's Manzanita Falls show off new material at Next Level on Friday, April 15.

Santa Rosa’s Manzanita Falls show off some new songs at Next Level on Friday, April 15.

This past weekend, April 15-17, some 28 bands and hundreds of fans came together for Sonoma County’s inaugural Next Level Showcase and Conference, with two days of music and a daylong seminar covering the business of creativity all aimed at helping local musicians get the information and assistance they need to take their music to, well, the next level.

Organized by the folks at Creative Sonoma (a program under Sonoma County’s economic development board) as well as the North Bay Hootenanny and Second Octave (both local promoters and event producers), the Friday and Saturday showcase took place at Arlene Francis Center next to Railroad Square, and the Sunday conference commenced down the block at Chop’s Teen Center.

In short, the two-day showcase was a fun-filled inspiration to anyone who’s a fan of North Bay bands, with a variety of genres and styles on display. Friday featured several folk acts alongside indie rockers. The crowd cheered along with harmonious groups like Rainbow Girls and emotionally-resonating rockers like Manzanita Falls.

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Sonoma County folk veteran Kevin Russell (second from the right) brought his So-Called Friends with him to perform at Next Level.

Pop band Lungs and Limbs got a dance party going in the classroom stage, one of three performance spaces that featured bands, and the eclectic Oddjob Ensemble closed out Friday with a fantastic performance that included horns and accordions a plenty.

Saturday was a decidedly louder affair, what with experimental noise rock outfit Antiphony blasting the small saloon stage to pieces as the evening’s opening act.

Secret Cat balanced high-energy and tight grooves at Next Level on Saturday night.

Secret Cat balanced high-energy and tight grooves at Next Level on Saturday night.

Other spirited Sonoma County bands, like the quirky and solid Secret Cat, reminded the crowds that you can be both silly and sensational, and several San Francisco acts showed up as well, like Travis Hayes & the Young Daze, who were joined onstage by Petaluma singer Emily Whitehurst of Tsunami Bomb and Survival Guide fame.

Petaluma's Emily Whitehurst shares the spotlight with San Francisco alt-rocker Travis Hayes at Next Level.

Petaluma’s Emily Whitehurst shares the spotlight with San Francisco alt-rocker Travis Hayes at Next Level.

Sunday’s conference was all business. Amazon Music executive Griff Morris started out the day with a keynote that addressed several topics of importance to up-and-coming artists, including the need to engage with online platforms like Amazon, Spotify and even YouTube. He also related a story about none other than 80’s pop icon Rick Springfield, telling the crowd about how the singer spent nearly 20 years struggling in the music business before his one-hit wonder status came to fruition.

Other panelists included veteran recording engineer Stephen Hart, who along with singer and songwriter Lia Rose, spoke on the importance of preparedness and seriousness in the craft of songwriting and recording. Rose also highlighted the benefits of collaborating with other like-minded musicians and the need to leave egos at the door when working on musical projects.

One of the most enlightening speakers was Merl Saunders Jr, executive director at San Rafael’s Fenix supper club and music venue, who spoke frankly and honestly about the vital importance of being an authentic and dynamic performer and how to get gigs at venues like his.

The conference ended with several roundtable discussions where the musicians and music business professionals in attendance could speak more personally to get real-world advice on topics ranging from music licensing and agent representation to publicity and promotion. At the end of the day, several bands also signed up to receive one of five $2500 grants that Creative Sonoma is offering to help local musicians pay for whatever particular project they need help with financially.

With the massive amount of talent seen and heard this weekend, it’s with hopeful enthusiasm that I wait to see which bands get the grants, a decision that will announced within a month, and wait for next year’s Next Level Showcase and Conference to keep up the efforts to put Sonoma County and it’s vibrant music scene on the map in every way possible.


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