Question! Third Eye Blind sang a) “Barely Breathing,” b) that “It’s 2am I Must Be Lonely” song, c) “Steal My Sunshine” or d) that one that goes “Doot-Doot-DOOT! Doot-Doo-DOOT!-Doo, Doot-Doot-DOOT! Doot-doo-DOOT!-Doo.” If you don’t know the answer, don’t worry! It’s easy to find out by walking down to the Sonoma County Fair, standing outside the fence of the Chris Beck Arena and listening as the quasi-funky drums, plaintive acoustic guitars and impassioned harmonies of one of 1997’s biggest bands blast from the stage, rebound off the rodeo grandstand and dissipate, unlistenably, into the sky over Brookwood Avenue.
Because “the Chris Beck concerts are restricted from press,” they tell me (oh really?), this happens to be my only option. Last year, for Huey Lewis & the News, this wasn’t such a bad thing, and I was still able to find some insight for a review while standing outside the gates. But I suspect that Third Eye Blind’s genius merits a closer analysis that can only be ascertained by witnessing the band visually, because on the other side of the barbed-wire fence it was hard to understand what the half-full grandstand was cheering for.
Did you know that if you have no ticket to see Huey Lewis & the News when they play at the Sonoma County Fair, there are perfectly dependable other options for enjoying yourself? For example: Standing outside the Chris Beck Arena with all the other ticketless Huey Lewis fans! And let me tell you, readers, it’s just as good as watching the show from inside. I mean, Huey Lewis isn’t exactly the hunk he used to be, and there’s only a few other guys in the band still around from the classic Sports era—you wouldn’t recognize anyone else anyway! (And don’t even think about getting the Tower of Power horn section or the guys from the 49ers, either!)
What you will get is near-perfect sound, depending on the wind. Every word of “The Heart of Rock ‘n’ Roll” will be audible! You’ll also totally be able to see the stage anyway, because the front doors to the arena will be wide open. Best of all, you’ll get the fun-loving company of the average Huey Lewis fan in the year 2011. (They wear “vintage” repro shirts that say “I Heard the News”; they fist-pump while mouthing the words to “Jacob’s Ladder”; they dance poorly, and smoke!)
But you will also recall the glory days of the band, and lament that those days are over. Forty-five painful minutes will go by while Huey Lewis & the News play mostly cover material from their new ‘soul’ record. You will start counting the times a John Deere tractor drives by outside the gates to amuse yourself, or wander down near the livestock pavilion. “Why in the world,” you will think, “don’t they scatter a hit in here? Why is he ‘getting back to his roots’ when the cool thing about Huey Lewis & the News was that they implemented elements of their roots—soul and new wave and doo-wop and Thin Lizzy—and created something greater than the sum of its parts?”
All this will go through your head while Huey tries to pull off a Joe Tex song, and you’ll be glad you didn’t buy a $40 ticket from the bored-looking teenager sitting inside the fairgrounds ticket booth… but then… what’s this? The opening strains of “Heart and Soul”?! Yes! Finally! Who cares that Huey can’t really hit the high notes anymore—it’s friggin’ “Heart and Soul!”
You will hope at this point that it’s gonna be hit after hit, and even though the flow is interrupted by more new songs and a guest singer from Vallejo, they’ll start rolling in: “I Want a New Drug,” “Do You Believe in Love?” Huey’s patter will be uninspired—he’ll make comments like “Have I plugged our new album yet?” when he’s already plugged it five times—but it’ll really get miserable when he starts with the older hits. “We wrote this song 25 years ago in Marin County,” he’ll say at one point, sounding weary, “and we never would have guessed that we’d have to play it every… single… night.” (Cue intro to “The Power of Love,” cue Huey mentally committing hari-kari.)
You will then realize that all Huey Lewis wants in life is to be in a bar band again, and then you’ll feel bad for Huey Lewis because he can never, ever go back to that. This sympathy will conflict with your resentment over his refusal to perform hit songs, and you’ll start counting the ones up he hasn’t played yet: “If This is It,” “Hope You Love Me Like You Say You Do,” “Doin’ It All for My Baby,” “Hip to be Square,” although maybe they stopped playing that last one since that horrible scene in American Psycho. You’ll sort of feel bad if that was the case. But you’ll also want “Walking on a Thin Line.”
Then you’ll remember that if someone searches your own name on YouTube, what pops up is “Walking on a Thin Line,” which leads down the inevitable path of nostalgia and how much Huey once meant to you. How seeing him in Petaluma in 1985 was your first concert ever. How your family listened to him constantly in the car. How you once entered a talent show lip-syncing “Bad is Bad.” How you once wrote that column summing up all your thoughts on Huey Lewis, and how it could have gone on five times longer. How the baby boomers like your parents needed Huey Lewis in the ’80s—he made them feel awesome for growing up and being 35 and getting married and having kids and buying houses and being domesticated. Where is the goddamned Huey Lewis for your generation, now that you’re in your 30s? Where, you’ll wonder?
But then! You’ll be snapped back into reality by the encore. “We’re going to bring out a very special guest,” Huey will declare from the distant stage, as the roller coaster rattles in the background. “Ladies and gentlemen, the bad boy is back! Mr. Mario Cippolina!”
You will then flip out, because Mario Cippolina was always your favorite, and you’d felt so bad when he ran into some trouble with drugs, and stealing remote-control cars, and you will run up to the fence that separates yourself from Mario Cippolina and you’ll jump up and down a little. They’ll play “I Know What I Like,” but then that’ll turn into the song you most wanted to hear, the song that makes the whole cold, silly, stupid evening spent outside the fence at the Sonoma County Fair completely worth it. “Workin’ for a Livin'” will sound awesome, and the smoking 52-year-olds in their “I Heard the News” T-shirts will pump their fists and sing along, and you will sing along too.
And that’ll be your night.
Aw, hell yeah: the announcement is in, and Miranda Lambert is headlining the Chris Beck Arena at the Sonoma County Fair on Monday, August 2!
I’ve gushed a bit about Miranda Lambert before—she’s a young Nashville singer who actually writes her own songs. When she decides to do covers, she chooses John Prine (“That’s the Way the World Goes ‘Round“) and Fred Eaglesmith (“Time to Get a Gun“). For anyone who’s grown up in a small town—and let’s face it, sometimes Santa Rosa feels like Mayberry—she’s also got “Famous In a Small Town.”
It’s hard to write about Lambert without mentioning Taylor Swift, but judging by the results of the Academy of Country Music Awards this past Sunday night, Lambert could be surpassing Swift; she took home Album of the Year, Video of the Year and Top Female Vocalist honors. (Swift ain’t even in the results at all.)
Tickets are $25 for the grandstand and $40 for the floor. They go on sale at the Fairgrounds box office with no service charge on Saturday, May 15. Online sales don’t start until May 17! “A lot of people like to purchase their tickets in person,” says Fair publicist Marlina Harrison, “or as incredible as it seems, don’t have access to a computer.” Right on!
Harrison also says they’re working on booking another rock headliner for the Chris Beck Arena, but can’t reveal any names right now. Stay tuned.
(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.