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).
(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.
“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.