Talk has been swirling for weeks, and now, it’s been made official: After 33 years, there will be no Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa in 2012.
The full announcement from Harmony Festival CEO Howard “Bo” Sapper is below, and it looks like the decision wasn’t made lightly. Harmony Festival organizers “spent many months creatively exploring dozens of promising options” to keep the festival alive, Sapper writes, but to no apparent avail. “We know this news is a great disappointment to the entire Harmony team and the community at large,” Sapper writes. “We share your feelings of disappointment.”
So far, this is only a postponement—the festival is not necessarily permanently cancelled. In an egalatarian move worthy of the festival’s aims, organizers have set up a website, www.harmonyfestivalonline.com, to collect ideas about the future of the festival from the fans and extended community. “We are looking ahead to the annual Harmony Festival in 2013,” it reads.
Obviously, this is sad news for many. Official announcement below.
Dear Harmony Festival Family,
On behalf of the Harmony Festival Board of Directors and management team, we sincerely thank you for your continued support and encouragement as we grew and evolved the Harmony Festival from a grassroots community event in 1978, into the nationally renown music, arts and cultural festival—that you’ve come to expect year after year.
It is with a deep sense of regret that we announce that after 33 years we will not be producing a Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa, CA in June 2012. As you can imagine, this is a very difficult announcement for us to make. We appreciate your patience as we took the necessary time to prepare a thoughtful message to inform the greater Harmony community of our decision, which is now effective immediately.
You might ask why we made this decision. Please trust that we have spent many months creatively exploring dozens of promising options in the hopes that we could keep this magical event alive this year. We know this news is a great disappointment to the entire Harmony team and the community at large, and we share your feelings of disappointment. We ask that we work together to move beyond this stage, toward hope and optimism for future Harmony Festivals.
We are working on plans to reorganize the company and the possibility of creating Harmony Festivals in the future. We are counting on engaging YOUR support and participation going forward as we re-envision a sustainable future for the festival. We also ask that you assist in communicating this message within your own community, in the most positive light possible.
We welcome your comments and feedback via our new blog www.harmonyfestivalonline.com and look forward to the possibility of rekindling the Harmony Festival flame so it shines even more brightly again in the future.
Howard “Bo” Sapper, CEO Harmony Festival, Inc.
Friday night at the Harmony Festival was headlined by perennial standby Michael Franti, who recently signed to Capitol Records after years on the independent-label grind. But Saturday and Sunday were topped by the Flaming Lips and Primus—two bands that got snatched up by Interscope and Warner Bros. in the great alternative rock signing frenzy of the early 1990s. While their back-to-back sets at the Harmony Festival were a nostalgia trip for many, and eye-opening for some, they also provided a case study in What Happens When the Weirdoes Get Industry Support.
In the Flaming Lips’ case, it’s resulted in some breathtaking albums—The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots—and one of the world’s must-see theatrical live shows. Part of the joy in seeing the Flaming Lips live the second, third or fourth time is watching the reactions of first-timers, particularly the ones on mind-altering substances, which at the Harmony Festival means many. So if you’ve seen the confetti blasts, the giant laser hands, the space ball and the mothership descent before, turn to your right and watch the slack jaws.
This was the case with me, although I can still say the ‘Lips were better than ever. Opening with a blast of hits, including “Do You Realize?!,” “She Don’t Use Jelly,” “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” and “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,” they powered into stranger material from Embryonic and a recent split with Neon Indian. A cover of Pink Floyd’s “Eclipse” followed, the space ball came out, they closed with “Race for the Prize” and everyone left satiated.
There’s a bit of ego tripping in Wayne Coyne’s banter, urging the crowd to get more into their set and be more excited (he must’ve said “c’mon, motherfuckers, c’mon” a dozen times) and it’s irritating that their volunteer dance brigade’s options have gone from full-body bunny suit to ogle-inducing “Sexy Dorothy Costume” in six short years, but they’ve got their shit down, for sure. A key stat: before their set, the lawn was sparse, and I wondered where all the people were. By the end, the crowd couldn’t've been denser, showing that the Harmony bookers took an interesting chance on the band, which worked.
Primus is less of a gamble, since they’ve got deep roots in Sonoma County—something Les Claypool alluded to onstage, citing old stomping grounds like the Cotati Cabaret, the Phoenix Theater and the River Theatre. “You all look like fine people,” said Les Claypool at one point, “I wish I lived around here somewhere.”
Of course, Claypool does live around here—a fact reflected in new song “Hennepin Crawler,” about a contraption made for the Handcar Regatta, and with references to the Russian River and Bodega Bay in another new song, “The Last Salmon Man,” about the population reduction of chinook salmon. (Their new album Green Naugahyde comes out in September, and the rumors are true: It really does evoke the early Frizzle Fry era of Primus.) “Groundhog’s Day” opened the show, and “Harold of the Rocks” and “Tommy the Cat” closed it, with an obligatory “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver” thrown in.
But the highlight, by far, was a version of “Those Damn Blue-Collar Tweekers” that epitomized Primus’ three-piece range, with Larry LaLonde and Jay Lane pounding and skronking around Claypool’s bass during an extended jam. I hadn’t seen Primus live in roughly 20 years since literally worshiping the band during those Phoenix Theater and River Theatre days Claypool had alluded to, but damn if they didn’t still have that same old magic.
And yes, it was the 1990s again, with crowd surfing and a real-live pit.
More Photos Below.
A major coup for the Phoenix Theater: Animal Collective, the experimental-indie Brooklyn ensemble whose crossover hit Merriweather Post Pavilion topped critics’ lists and was named Album of the Year by Spin, Pitchfork and Entertainment Weekly, will be headlining the Petaluma venue on Sunday, April 10. On a brief California jaunt before playing Coachella, the band is sure to sell out the venue immediately when tickets go on sale Thursday, March 10, at 4pm. Hit up the Phoenix Theater site for browser-refreshing action.
Say it together: Primus sucks! And yes, they’re playing at this year’s Harmony Festival. Having last played Sonoma County at the Phoenix in 2003, the band is sure to thrill patient fans as a just-announced headliner. Along with the previously announced Flaming Lips, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, and Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, new additions to the lineup for the June fest include G. Love and Special Sauce, Natcha Atlas, Ghostland Observatory, Roots Underground, erstwhile festival staples Michael Franti and Spearhead and many more. Tickets and full details are at www.harmonyfestival.com.
The Healdsburg Jazz Festival, bouncing back from its near-death at the hands of a now-resigned-in-shame board, boasts a roaring lineup of jazz greats this June: Charles Lloyd with Zakir Hussain and Eric Harland, Charlie Haden, Bobby Hutcherson, Bennie Maupin, James Newton, Fred Hersch with Julian Lage, Arturo Sandoval, George Cables, Pete Escovedo, John Santos, Ray Drummond and many others. See www.healdsburgjazzfestival.org.
Other quick mentions of upcoming note: The Kate Wolf Festival brings back Taj Mahal, Los Lobos, Mavis Staples, Bruce Cockburn and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in June. The Uptown Theatre in Napa has Gretchen Wilson (March 20), the Psychedelic Furs (May 5) and a strong comedy lineup with Lisa Lampanelli (April 1), Bob Saget (May 6) and Joan Rivers (Aug. 26; tix on sale March 10).
Get out those giant inflatable space balls and nun puppets covered in blood—the Flaming Lips have been confirmed as headliners at this year’s Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa! Running June 10–12, 2011 in Santa Rosa, the festival lineup also includes Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, whose hit “Home” shows no sign of fading; Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, fresh from a rare small show at the Hopmonk Tavern earlier this week; Kirtan yoga darling Krishna Das; Maui’s Lost at Last and Americana heroes Railroad Earth. More artists are to be announced in the coming weeks, and “sneak peek” tickets are on sale now at www.harmonyfestival.com.
In more festival news, the Sonoma Jazz+ Festival has announced its headliners—who, as many are quick to point out, would never be filed in the “jazz” section of any record store or iTunes playlist. Still, a sold-out crowd is expected for Sheryl Crow (May 21), John Fogerty (May 20) and the Gipsy Kings (May 22), all under the big tent. Opening acts and side-stage artists, traditionally more representative of jazz, will be announced soon. As is the fest’s custom, tickets for Sonoma residents go on sale one day early, Feb. 14, while tourists have to wait until Feb. 15 at www.sonomajazz.org.
The long-hoped-for resurrection of Lauryn Hill, a dream seeming to slip further away with each year and each incoherent concert, took a giant step closer to fulfillment tonight at the Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa.
We may never know what exactly has plagued Hill these last eight years, forcing her to shirk the limelight, cancel tours and sabotage her reputation, just as we may never know how she became capable of triumphantly returning to the stage in 2010. One thing is evident: in Santa Rosa, of all places, the 35-year-old singer finally showed she craves dearly to be taken seriously again. Reinvigorated with enthusiasm, she inhabited the music, conducted the band, belted improvised shout-outs and thanked the crowd—all in the first song. “I love you,” she exclaimed to a field of fans. “It’s so good to see you.”
If it weren’t for the harlequin outfit, bulky hoop earrings and heavy metal guitar solos, it was almost like seeing the Lauryn Hill of old.
Outwardly struggling with fame, Hill has long evinced a complete dread of pleasing the public (see: Unplugged 2.0), but in a 75-minute set of Fugees classics and Miseducation tracks in Santa Rosa, she refreshingly aimed to do just that. From breakneck set opener “Lost Ones” to the slam-dunk closer “Doo Wop (That Thing),” Hill showed a genuine desire to again fulfill her talent.
It started rough. Scheduled to go on at 6pm, Ms. Lauryn Hill, as she requires to be billed, came onstage only after her DJ bored the crowd with a half hour of clunky, unblended snippets from the likes of “Purple Haze,” “Another One Bites the Dust,” “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” “Pass the Dutchie” and “Bam Bam.” The presence of two large teleprompters at the foot of the stage, for lyrics, added to the slowly mounting despair. By 6:29, when instructed to make noise for the umpteenth time, the teeming crowd could only wonder if Hill would arrive at all.
But grandly arrive she did, in an ’80s multicolored full-body jumpsuit that was only moderately silly in light of the get-ups donned by the average Harmony Festival attendee. “Lost Ones” set things straight in a ten-minute version that twisted through five different arrangements, and Hill’s recently-faded voice showed rejuvenated form with “When It Hurts So Bad.” By the beautiful “Turn Your Your Lights Down Low,” the crowd was in the palm of Hill’s hands, and comeback was in the air.
“We gonna do some old stuff,” Hill proclaimed, “but, but, but, but… there is a ‘but’… we gonna do some old stuff kinda new. Is that okay with you?” A medley of Fugees tracks followed, with Hill even taking over some Wyclef and Pras verses and singing OG sample material (“I Only Have Eyes For You”). And despite a generation’s collective memorization of the album versions, reworked songs with reggae and hard rock elements electrified Hill, who nailed every segue and spat out lightning-fast lines quicker than the crowd could sing along.
There were, sadly, two immediate drawbacks. One, Hill clearly has no concept at all of how live sound operates. Both between and in the middle of songs, she constantly complained about the stage and house mix, chiding the soundman to keep turning up every instrument and microphone according to her fleeting whims. The result was a washed-out din.
The other problem was that Hill is perhaps now too eager for public approval. From the ultra-fast tempos which, even with the teleprompters, she at times struggled to keep up with; to the claustrophobic arrangements for two guitars, two basses, two keyboards and three backup singers; to the “whooooo!”s and the “yeeaahhh!”s and the hasty leg-kicking, the concert had the effervescent taint of a Vegas show.
Realizing that Hill is simply giving people what they want—in preparation for her Rock the Bells dates, no doubt—is a blessing and a curse. She admirably tried for a time to break from fame’s mold, but it only resulted in bad music and psychological deterioration. With this greatest-hits set out on the road, her old fans are certainly satisfied, but what about staying true to one’s muse?
The question was forgotten each time Hill eagerly jumped into each song. “Pop this one, c’mon, let’s go!” she told her band, and “Doo Wop (That Thing)” set an entire field of festival goers aflame. “Thank you so much,” she said, as a sea of arms applauded wildly. “Thank you for your patience with us. Good to see you. Hope to see you soon.”
Lauryn Hill hasn’t made fans’ patience an easy task these last eight years, but let’s hope we see her in this kind of form again soon. Her emancipation might still not fit some people’s equation—I’ve already heard from people who were disappointed with the show—but the trainwreck curse is over and the resurrection is afoot. Now the fine-tuning begins.
When It Hurts So Bad
Turn Your Lights Down Low
How Many Mics / I Can’t Stand Losing You
I Only Have Eyes For You / Zealots
Ready or Not
Doo Wop (That Thing)
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Bare midriffs, sandals and burning sage galore! I stopped by the Harmony Festival tonight just in time to see a guy recite a song about hacky sacks, a clown-nosed Wavy Gravy ramble about yippie tomfoolery from 1968, and Dweezil Zappa lead his band in “Peaches En Regalia” while girls in fishnets and angel wings twirled near the pulsing lights. Later, over in the Grace Pavilion, the Jazz Mafia took the stage with ‘Brass, Bows & Beats,’ which you can read about in this week’s Bohemian column. “I wanna say thanks to the Harmony Festival,” said Adam Theis before the opening notes of his hip-hop symphony, “for taking a chance on something different.”
Theis is an avid skateboarder who always takes his board on tour; “if you don’t,” he told me, “you end up pulling up to the venue and there’s a skatepark next door.” That was the case tonight, since Jon Lohne and the rest of the Brotherhood Board Shop crew have assembled a mini-ramp and street course behind the Grace Pavilion. There’s even a VW bug car jump! But the real treat, at least to anyone who skates, is the fact that John Cardiel is DJing. No shit.
The beginning of the great Vice documentary Epicly Later’d: John Cardiel shows Cardiel in his room, flipping through Barrington Levy 45s and talking about how everyone expects him to like heavy music, like Slayer, to match his intense skating style. “I mean, I love Slayer, I love hard music,” he says, “but really, where my heart’s at, if you want to talk about some shit, let’s talk about some reggae.”
Tonight, Cardiel spun reggae and hip-hop records on a small stage next to the mini-ramp while festivalgoers in all manner of ridiculous costume walked by. Here’s one of the most influential and inspiring skaters in recent history, whose career was cut tragically short when he was accidentally run over by a trailer in Australia, DJing in Santa Rosa! Earlier in the day, fellow skate legend Ray Barbee played a 45 minute jam on the same stage, wailing on a Gibson guitar. Omar Hassan’s there tomorrow, and hell, even Tommy Guerrero is gonna be skating there on Sunday, so who knows what kind of musical mayhem will go down?
Click here for a full .pdf schedule of the skate area events.
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It’s official: Lauryn Hill is the headliner at this year’s Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa.
The former Fugee who struck out on her own with The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill rarely performs live; the Harmony Festival is her only planned summer festival appearance.
The lineup also includes Steel Pulse, Galactic, Slightly Stoopid, Rebelution, the Expendables, Dweezil Zappa, Jai Uttal, Fishbone and 7 Walkers, led by the Grateful Dead’s Bill Kreutzmann.
Chali 2na and Lyrics Born are performers at the annual Techo-Tribal Dance, along with DJs Tipper, Ott, Beats Antique, Lynx & Janover and Galactic.
This year also marks the return of the Harmony Fetsival’s skate area with a public skateboard course, numerous speakers including Dr. Bruce Lipton, mycologist Paul Stamets, acivist Caroline Casey, author Dan Millman, peak oil theorist Mike Ruppert, healer Nicki Scully, political satirist Swami Beyondananda and “world-renowned saint and divine guide” Pujya Swami Chidanandji.
For more information, see the festival website.
Jazz lovers can pick their jaws off the floor with the announcement of the Healdsburg Jazz Festival (June 4–13), which delivers a rich lineup of vibrant jazz talent. Charlie Haden leads a group with Ravi Coltrane and Geri Allen; Jason Moran plays with Bill Frisell; and red-hot sensation Esperanza Spalding returns. Other names include George Cables, Dafnis Prieto, Pete Apfelbaum and more.
This year’s Sonoma Jazz+ Festival (May 21–23) features headliners Crosby, Stills & Nash, Earth, Wind & Fire and Elvis Costello & the Sugarcanes. Openers Lizz Wright, Poncho Sanchez and the Neville Brothers also appear. Hope for jazz springs obligatory when Costello will doubtless sing Charles Mingus’ “Weird Nightmare.” . . . The Kate Wolf Festival (June 25–27) has Ani DiFranco, Steve Earle, Robert Earl Keen, Greg Brown, Little Feat, David Grisman, the Waifs and many more up at Black Oak Ranch in Laytonville. . . . The Harmony Festival (June 11–13) has confirmed some initial performers, including Steel Pulse, Galactic, Rebelution, Slightly Stoopid, Dweezil Zappa, Jai Uttal, the Jazz Mafia, the Expendables and Fishbone. A “very special headliner” will be announced this week.
While the Santa Rosa Symphony hosts Ute Lemper singing Kurt Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins (May 8–10), the Wells Fargo Center bounces back from recent personnel shakeups with John Prine (April 11), David Spade (May 20), the Barenaked Ladies (May 25) and the still-fantastic Smokey Robinson (May 28). The cozy Napa Valley Opera House brings Elvis Costello playing a solo evening (April 8th) as well as jazz guitar legend Pat Metheny (April 25) performing with an ensemble of animatronic instruments controlled by Metheny’s guitar. Crazy!
The Sonoma County Blues Festival, long a staple of the Sonoma County Fair, moves to the Earle Baum Center (July 31), which already has headliners Dave Alvin and James McMurtry confirmed for its EarleFest in September. . . . Resurrected local favorites Victims Family play a free in-store to celebrate the re-release of White Bread Blues at the Last Record Store for Record Store Day (April 17). . . . Fret-tapping phenomenon Kaki King plays the Mystic Theatre (May 20) and Joan Jett rides the popularity wave of The Runaways starring Kristen Stewart by playing at the Sonoma-Marin Fair (June 25).
Joe’s Taco Lounge, Mill Valley.
Trash, Pt. Reyes Station.
K’naan, Harmony Festival.
Techno-Tribal, Grace Pavilion.
Vivona, on his shit.
Killah Priest, an unexpected highlight.
Eddy & Fillmore, San Francisco.
Sun Ra, the Magic City.
V.C. Johnson, no one like him.