The 10th Annual Petaluma Music Festival – Continuing the Tradition of Keeping Music In Schools |

The 10th Annual Petaluma Music Festival – Continuing the Tradition of Keeping Music In Schools

August 19, 2017

Photos and Review by Linda Tulett  

The 10th Annual Petaluma Music Fest brought the Sonoma-Marin County Fairgrounds to musical life for another weekend of friends and fun, raising money for music in schools. What a beautiful day it turned out to be; sunshine, slight breeze, low 80’s, and hardly a drop of humidity. It definitely can be worse up there near wine country, inland, away from the ocean and bay. One thing I did notice was that they added some shade to the Lagunitas Stage which is right out in the sunshine, and put up a larger VIP area with tents for folks to get reprieve. There is also a large area of picnic tables under shelter of a canopy of trees (called Behrens Park), over by the vending area where the small Petaluma Stage is located. Plenty of bathrooms, water stations, activities for kids (after all, this is a festival to raise money for schools so it is definitely kid friendly), lawn space, risers to sit on to get a better view of the stage, and dancing room galore. What else? Well, with four stages (three outside and a recently added acoustic stage inside Herzog Hall), they did a good job laying down the schedule; well enough for me to wander amongst the stages and catch about 20-30 minutes of each band. I do love this little festival…

I walked through the gates during the tail end of Colonel and the Mermaids was finishing their last note. Literally… caught the very last note. What else did I miss? My apologies to Moonalice (my second year missing them. Nothing personal folks, just not really a morning person so I tend to start slow and run late.), Miss Moonshine, The Bootleg Honeys, The Pulsators, and The Incubators.

As I made my way over to the main, Gardenway Lawn and Stage area where the main Festival Stage is set up to catch Stu Allen & Friends rocking out on Eric Clapton’s, “Got to Get Better.” I also caught their covers of The Beatles, “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” and another Clapton tune, with “Crossroads.” Allen also invited up two roaming guitarists (for lack of better terms) having Dan “Lebo” Lebowitz on stage already when I walked up, and then inviting up Scott Law who joined in on the fun for the last tune of their set.

As mentioned, fundraising is the main reason for this festival. Many local businesses ought to be thanked for their donations and contributions to this festival. The silent auction probably brings in a good chunk of change with all of the lovely wine, jewelry, and musical instruments. The other thing they do is a raffle to win any one of many autographed guitars from bands performing at the festival as well as other musicians in on the cause. Oh, I kick myself for not getting any raffle tickets to win, because, well, you got to be in it. 

After a little reprieve from the sun inside Herzog Hall, I headed back to the Lagunitas Stage to catch a bit of Midnight North. This band is led by Grahame Lesh, eldest son of Phil. They’ve been together a handful of years, and have really gotten their stage legs on by playing at Phil’s place in Marin quite a bit, either in the bar in the restaurant or inside the big Grate Room. They do some covers along with their originals, which are on the Americana side with a big dose of jam. I walked up to the stage as lead singer, Elliott Peck, was belting out, “The Highway Song,” which is one of their originals, released just in June of 2017 on their Under the Lights album. They also gave us a taste of, “Roamin,’” another from their latest release, this one sung by Grahame, who’s got a smoother voice than his Daddy-o. We love Phil, don’t get me wrong, but Grahame’s voice has a smoother tonality to it. Oh, and his guitar playing is really great, so we know the DNA made it down to him. Joining them on guitar was Scott Law (who was also on the bill with another local guitarist Ross James), who also has some incredible skills on the strings. It was a powerful little set for early in the day. They are known around here so they definitely packed the lawn in front of the stage. My favorite cover they opted for was, “Midnight in Harlem,” a song from the Tedeschi-Trucks Band, a song that I just love. It was smooth and light; it soared high and blew in the wind, just like it should.

It was tough to walk away from the Lagunitas Stage as Midnight North was just killing it on Crosby, Stills and Nash’s “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” but I really wanted to catch one of my all-time fav bluegrass jambands, Poor Man’s Whiskey. I don’t see them often enough, really, I don’t. I’m reminded of that when I do see them; I love their energy so much, infectious energy, and I love the atmosphere that surrounds them – just good fun. I almost have a hard time photographing them because I just want to dance! And, their set was full of that high-energy sound they put out. I made my way through the food vendor area over to the big stage, just as Poor Man’s Whiskey (PMW) was raging in their own way on Paul Simon’s, “You Can Call Me Al.” I’m not sure I’ve seen them do this before, but I’m sure glad I saw them hit it this time – it really is a perfect song to lay a little bluegrass flair on-top of. Oh, and I can’t say enough how incredible David Noble was on lead guitar for this tune – his solo was uplifting and strong. He really took this song to a new PMW level. I must also mention Jason Beard’s electric solo during, “High on the Mountain,” a song I haven’t heard before; a song that is really big, full of sound, allows the band to settle into some blues and jazz, stretching and elongating the song to a new space and jam. The one other cover I caught was the Allman Brother’s, “Whipping Post,” which was less electric, with David on acoustic guitar and Jason on mandolin, the rolling banjo holding down the groove, and the fiddle swirling around everything, together laying down their version of that Allman sound. But, their originals are just as big and warm and just so full of life and dance. My favorites will always be, “Goodbye California,” “Humboldt Hoedown,” and “Three Years Gone.” PMW invited up Dan “Lebo” Lebowitz to join in on the second half of their set, moving from his guitar over to pedal steel throughout. Lebo, the most invited…. the most joined….. the man who did not put his guitar down all day, sitting in with the likes of Stu Allen, Poor Man’s Whiskey, Scott Law and Ross James’ Cosmic Twang, and The T-Sisters. Second place went to Scott Law, who sat in with Stu Allen and Midnight North in addition to playing in his own. Who knows who else either sat in with, as I missed a few acts that were earlier on in the day (Moonalice, Miss Moonshine, Colonel & The Mermaids…. almost every act on the small Petaluma Stage just because the other two stages caught my ear a little more…..).

Heading back over to the Lagunitas Stage for a spell, I caught some of the Grateful Bluegrass Boys set. Another I haven’t seen before (one of the things I dig most about a festival is getting to see acts I either haven’t had a chance to see or may not have on my radar yet to plan to see), well, you can guess their style and musical influence just by their name. What they also tossed in was a little Van Morrison with, “Into the Mystic”, “I Can See Clearly Now,” written by Johnny Nash but maybe made a little more popular by Jimmy Cliff and a song that will always remind me of my friend Stan….. There we were, sitting outside the last day of a Rainbow Gathering in Georgia (1991 or 1992 maybe?), Stan playing his big old acoustic bass as we sang this song while all of the cars rolled on out. RIP Stan….. [Sidebar: Stan brought his big acoustic bass wherever he went, because, well, he never knew when he’d run into a musician or come upon a spontaneous jam. Sometimes, those folks turned into good friends, who then turned into musicians you all know, such as Keller Williams. Yep, we knew him when he was just a long haired hippy playing his 12-string around a campfire in Indiana with us.] These Grateful Bluegrass boys had to toss in a Grateful Dead tune (well, their name….) and I caught their version of, “Ramble on Rose,” which was followed by a great version of Led Zeppelin’s, “Going to California,” – I mean who does Zeppelin bluegrass style? It sounded really good too, fading out as I made my way back to the main stage….. They were just loads of fun and tons of energy; these guys sure know how to lively up a place! 

Cosmic Twang was putting out some big sound as I headed back over to the main stage area. Their name describes them well, a little cosmic with a lot of twang. Its rough on the edges, good and strong, and makes ya want to roar right along with them. Ross James’ style is just his own, and he’s found a good partner in Scott Law as they play so good off of each other. They covered old stuff, the good shit; “Glendale Train,” “Steelin’,” ”Don’t Let Go,” They also took the prize for the most crowded stage, inviting various musicians and singers to join them – Lebo, Pete Sears and Barry Sless from Moonalice, Adam MacDougall from The Chris Robinson Brotherhood, “CMac” (who sang lead on, “Don’t Leg Go”), and, at the end, the one and only Norman Greenbaum came out and shared his, “Spirit in the Sky,” with the crowd. Definitely a fun and unexpected treat. 

Looking at the time and schedule ahead, I just had enough time to head to the back of the festival area to the Petaluma Stage to catch a little bit of Royal Jelly Jive and then over to the Lagunitas Stage to catch a little of the T-Sisters before the headliner was to hit the Festival Stage at 8:00 pm. I walked up about half way through the set Royal Jelly Jive had going, and moved through the dancing bodies to the front of the stage to grab some shots. I can see why my friend enjoys them photographically; for one, the lead singer, Lauren Bjelde, is pretty photogenic, with her command of the stage and mic, her big smile and even bigger voice. And, they are all dressed to the nines, showing some respect to the era when music of this kind was almost performed like an act; they not only have a serious connection with each-other, but they seem to have one with the crowd that is dancing along in front of them. And, well, great energy equals a great performance equals some pretty good photography. I must apologize as I don’t really know their music well enough to tell you the songs they played, but I do know how they played; that, I describe as, old timey jazz and blues with a little sass. Little soul, little rock, little swing, little jive, little blues (doesn’t everything have a little blues in it??)…. they cover all the bases and really offer up some great energy for a dance party frenzy.

Walking away from the stage, that swingin’ jivin’ jazz and blues turned into some folk-tinged harmony based sweet and soulful sounds from the Lagunitas Stage and the T-Sisters. I really walked up at the last few songs of their set, grabbing a few shots and taking in some of their sound. I believe I’ve heard it called, “sassy sister folk,” which is, well, a pretty good description if you ask me! And, if you’ve ever heard siblings harmonize, well, you know there’s nothing like it. It’s like their voices just know how to blend. It’s in their DNA. Reading from their site, “Erika, Rachel and Chloe have been singing and writing music together since childhood….” They also had some major energy in their set, as I walked from one dance party at the Petaluma Stage to another one over with the T-Sisters leading the energy. Their encore was a great choice to match their voices and some of what they’ve been influenced by, as they played, “I Will Survive,” by Gloria Gaynor. It was played with fervor; the harmonies were insanely tight, and the music swelled to an explosive level on the lawn as well as onstage. They were just going for it musically, hitting their instruments with every ounce they had, dancing with hair flying, just putting it all out there. Glad I stopped by!!! 

Final act hitting the stage this year in support of music in schools was The Chris Robinson Brotherhood. First time playing the PMF, they closed out the night with a near two-hour set of both new and more familiar songs from releases both recent and past. Like many in the crowd that evening, I love the groove this band puts out. It’s just the whole package for me; funky, danceable, groovy, jazzy, atmospheric, mind-bending, blues. Tossing in a few new one’s out just this year with, “High is Not the Top,” “Behold the Seer,” “Blue Star Woman,” and “If You Had a Heart to Break” they gave the crowd a good sip of their newest fine release entitled, Barefoot in the Head. I really dig, “Behold the Seer,” because, well, it just full funk and has a sound that brings you back in time a bit. It’s got a great base line and rhythm section that puts the tap in your shoes; there’s a quick rhythm to Chris’s guitar and touches of funky space from Neal; and, well, any song they put out that gives ample space for Adam to tear up the keys or for Chris to shred the harmonica is all good by me, and this gives us both. “There’s still lessons in these blues. We’re still free to choose. So put on your dancing shoes and come on, we’ve got nothing to lose.” The other near half of their songs were a mix of old and not so old, drawing from releases as late as 2016 (“California Hymn,” and “Narcissus Soaking Wet,”) and as early as 2012, with the always fun and bliss generating, “Rosalee.” They also gave up a few covers doing, “Sweet Thang and Cisco,” a hit by Nat Stuckey (which apparently was No. 8 on the charts in 1969), “I Second That Emotion,” by Smokey Robinson and Al Cleveland, and encoring with “They Love Each Other,” from the good ole Grateful Dead. It was Jerry weekend after all. I must say, loving the CRB means looking up a lot of songs on the internet. Man, they find some gems I would normally never have happened upon. I am well aware of their world travels in seek of odd and rare vinyl. Their new release is out now, available at local record stores near you. If not, you can grab it online via a handful of links provided on their website. Dig it. 

So, another Petaluma Music Festival is on the books. In 2016, the Petaluma Music Festival donated over $60,000 to music programs to public schools in the surrounding Petaluma area. In the last 7, they’ve donated over $205,000. That is quite a chunk of change. Here’s to surpassing 2016 and continuing on this great tradition in 2018 and years to come.


Photo Gallery by Linda Tulett


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