Ready to get your groove on? There’s plenty of places to go in the North Bay.
Our quiet North Bay towns are increasingly drawing headline music acts to local stages, as more and more musicians are eager to take a detour from the bigger Bay Area venues for the experience of playing to solid crowds in one of our eclectic venues. This rise in entertainment options isn’t just tied to tourism, either. Many locals appear eager to support these community treasures, with some paying high ticket prices or funding sustaining memberships to ensure high-caliber shows are available nearby. Here’s a look at some of the larger venues that are raising the bar in the local music scene.
Where to go: Sonoma County
SOMO Village Events Center, Rohnert Park
Coming Soon: Michael Franti (8/16); Rebirth Brass Band (9/6); Dark Star Orchestra (9/26); North Bay Hootenanny (10/10)
On the outskirts of Rohnert Park, just down the road from Sonoma State University, lies Sonoma Mountain (SOMO) Village, a 200-acre, mixed-use development owned by Codding that houses small businesses and light industry, with housing developments and further infrastructure planned for the future. SOMO Village Events Center sits in the heart of SOMO Village, and in the heart of the event center sits Sally Tomatoes Cafe and Bar, a restaurant, nightclub and catering company owned by Gerard Giudice and Bill Pettibone.
About three years ago, Giudice was in talks to book a musical act for the nightclub with Morty Wiggins, renowned music promoter and founder of Second Octave Talent, a booking agency and talent management company (previously of Petaluma but now housed in SOMO Village). The two began discussing the untapped musical opportunities in Sonoma County and what could be done with the outdoor space that lay just outside the back door.
Wiggins, also the former vice president of Bill Graham Presents and former general manager of A&M Records, brought in friend Lee Smith, himself the former president and chairman of Live Nation and current head of Prescient Entertainment, the promoter for events at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga. Together, they created SOMO Concerts in 2014, with Wiggins and Smith acting as producers and promoters, Codding providing the venue and Sally Tomatoes and Giudice, as the event center’s manager, covering concessions and event logistics.
Things got off to a memorable start in July 2014 with an inaugural performance by the Goo Goo Dolls. Fifteen concerts are slated for 2015 in the center’s outdoor amphitheater, a large, gated courtyard off the event center. It currently has a portable and retractable stage, but a permanent stage is being considered. The amphitheater can accommodate up to 3,000 guests, with the price point for most tickets at around $30 to $50.
Wiggins says he was drawn to get back in the game in such a big way by a combination of the right people, the venue’s unique location and the development’s overall commitment to sustainability. He appreciates that the amphitheater is in the middle of a commercial space but is surrounded by green space and rolling hills—and that it’s within walking distance of the proposed SMART train station.
“And 90 percent of the complex is solar powered, which means 90 percent of each event is solar powered,” he says. “Probably no other venue in the country can say that. That was a big issue for me.”
Organizers are betting that those same community-minded, environmentally friendly values will resonate with concertgoers. They’re also hoping to build a home for bands that share those values and want to come together with like-minded artists and fans. On May 17, SOMO Concerts hosted Wavy Gravy’s 79th birthday party with a benefit show for Seva, a nonprofit founded by Wavy Gravy that works to prevent avoidable blindness worldwide. Along with Wavy Gravy himself, acts like Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, Steve Kimock, the California Honeydrops and Hot Buttered Rum helped net $65,000 for the charity.
Wiggins and Giudice are also partnering with neighboring Sonoma State University’s business entrepreneur program, Entreprenoma, on marketing strategies, offering students an invaluable mentoring experience. With their support, students Adam Loria and Adam Fong have already organized several events at the center that have been marketed to SSU students. Wiggins refers to concert promotion as “a young person’s game” and is pleased to be advising the next generation.
“It’s important for SOMO Village to develop its microphone, and we think that the event center will be a focal point for the community,” says Giudice. “The talent we continue to bring in will be in keeping with who we are.”
Montgomery Village, Santa Rosa
Coming Soon: Kalimba (8/6); California Beach Boys (8/22); Foreverland (8/29); Tainted Love (9/10); Fine Arts Festival with J Silverheels Band (9/20)
This East Santa Rosa shopping center has evolved over the decades to keep pace with its changing community, and part of that evolution has been to host many special events throughout the year. From free live music to art, fashion and classic car shows, theseevents help create an interactive shopping experience that brings people to the center. Concerts Under the Stars (Thursdays) and Rockin’ Concerts at the Village (Saturdays) welcome local and visiting bands to the stage—and dancers to the floor—for good times and great music. Sunday Concerts at the Terrace are a bit more low-key but still feature top-notch talent. The shows are free, and beverage sales benefit local nonprofits.
Green Music Center, Rohnert Park
Coming Soon: Dwight Yoakam (8/21); Colbie Caillat and Christina Perri (8/23); Kristin Chenoweth (9/25)
Since opening in 2012, the Green Music Center at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park has grown its calendar to bring in a range of popular acts from classical, jazz, country, pop and Broadway. The 1,400-seat Weill Hall, modeled on the famed music hall at Tanglewood in Massachusetts, opens up to become Weill Hall + Lawn from July through September, with room for thousands more at tables and on the lawn. Ticket prices range from as low as $20 outdoors to $175 indoors. A proposed third venue onsite, an outdoor amphitheater on Weill Commons, is still a possibility but isn’t being constructed yet. (See “Beautiful Music,” Dec. 2012.)
Wells Fargo Center for the Arts, Santa Rosa
Coming Soon: Diana Krall 8/18; George Thorogood & the Destroyers (9/25); Rosanne Cash with John Leventhal (10/16)
Those of us who’ve lived here a while may remember crowding into the church pews of the old Luther Burbank Center to see a show. After several remodels and a name change, some of the old funk of the place is lost, but the intimacy of the venue remains the same. The main event space, the Ruth Finley Person Theater, seats 1,600 people on two levels that arc around the wide stage. There’s wine by the glass in the updated Lytton Rancheria Grand Lobby and a new sculpture garden to wander through before the show. It all adds up to a sophisticated Wine Country experience.
McNear’s Mystic Theatre & Music Hall, Petaluma
Coming Soon: Devon Allman (9/4); The Church (9/5); Wonderbread 5 (9/25)
Since 1911, folks looking for a good time in downtown Petaluma have headed to McNear’s Mystic Theatre. The theater holds 550 guests and offers a solid lineup of alt-rock favorites like Greg Brown, Dick Dale and Chuck Prophet, along with blues, folk, cover bands and a little bit of everything in between, with ticket prices ranging from $16 to $41. Stop into McNear’s Saloon & Dining House next door before a show to start the night off right. It’s the type of place that makes any night of the week feel like Friday night.
Where to go: Napa County
Uptown Theatre, Napa
Coming soon: Mavis Staples with Joan Osborne (9/27); Boz Scaggs (10/01); Chris Botti (10/10); Dave Davies of the Kinks (10/30)
The Uptown Theatre in Napa’s West End district has seen a lot of changes since it was built in 1937. The art deco theater hosted vaudeville performers in its earliest days, began showing films when motion pictures hit the scene and was the city’s four-screen multiplex for a time. In 2000, George Altamura and his business partners bought the Uptown and began restoring the theater to its original purpose—in the process, breathing new life into Napa’s music scene.
Today, the 860-seat venue is drawing a steady stream of headline and local acts, some of whom are booking their next shows at the Uptown before they’ve even left the building. And why are artists choosing to come back? For one thing, the venue’s high-quality sound system and intrinsic shape provide a great acoustic experience for the performers and the audience. Others cite the premium service they receive from production and hospitality staff.
“Everyone says the sound system is incredible, and because the walls are curved a little bit, the sound reverberates all the way around the room,” says Shelby French, operations and marketing manager for Uptown Theatre. “Whether you’re in the back row or the front, the music is going to sound great.”
And what keeps concertgoers coming back? For one, the theater’s shape and sloping rows mean every seat is a great seat. With only 98 feet from the front of the stage to the very back row, the Uptown feels like a small, intimate venue. Because people unfamiliar with the venue are sometimes hesitant to purchase tickets in the last 10 rows for fear they’ll be too far away to really enjoy the show, French says that, if anyone visiting the box office to buy tickets is disappointed by the seats still available, the box office staff is trained to offer to take them up and let them sit in the seat, so they can decide for themselves.
“Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, they’ll say, ‘Wow! This is a great seat,’ and buy the ticket,” she says.
In a smaller market like Napa, the Uptown strives to be competitive with the bigger venues in the North Bay by offering diverse shows that will appeal to locals, tourists and neighboring markets within an hour’s drive. While it often does well with classic rock and roll acts like Boz Scaggs and Lucinda Williams, past headliners have also included the Beach Boys, Merle Haggard and the Psychedelic Furs.
Guests can purchase beer and wine in the lobby, as well as elevated pub food in the attached Suppertime’s Courtyard Café. While previously open only an hour before show times and during intermission, the café’s owner/operator, Mo Savage, began offering lunch service in June. A regular schedule of evening concerts in the covered courtyard may happen in the future, with the café opening up for dinner service on those nights.
City Winery, Napa
Coming Soon: Marc Cohen with Phil Cody (8/14); KT Tunstall (8/31); Marc Broussard (9/22)
Napa’s City Winery is the culmination of founder Michael Dorf’s extensive renovation of the historic Napa Valley Opera House on Main Street. Opened in 2014, it’s a swanky restaurant downstairs, but upstairs is where the music magic happens. With room for 302 people, ticket holders are seated at small tables and can order full dinner, wine and bar service before and during shows. Twice a month, an Emerging Artist Showcase brings up-and-coming musical artists into the spotlight.
Coming Soon: Steve Sage & Friends (8/2); HowellDevine (8/14); The David Landon Band (8/21)
If you like your music up close and personal, it’s time to grab a date (or a friend) and experience Silo’s in downtown Napa. Silo’s serves up small plate cuisine, Napa wines and signature cocktails to a changing lineup of rock, jazz, soul, blues, reggae and cover bands. Live music is offered every Wednesday through Saturday night, some with no cover but most with ticket prices of $10 to $20.
Where to go: Marin
It would be hard to miss the rebirth of Marin’s music scene in the last five years, with innovative new venues opening each year and old favorites reemerging with the support of loyal music lovers and a new group of young, local talent. In 2013, NorthBay biz even dedicated an article to this “Marin music renaissance” and many of these Marin hot spots (see “The Beat Goes On,” June 2013).
Those five venues called out in the piece are still going strong today. Hopmonk Tavern in Novato is a microbrewery, restaurant and live music hot spot with additional locations in Sebastopol and Sonoma. Terrapin Crossroads in San Rafael, founded by Phil and Jill Lesh, is a farm-to-table restaurant and a community gathering place where artists from many musical styles and generations come together to jam.
At the Fenix in San Rafael, visitors can enjoy the eclectic shows and top-of-the-line audio system along with upscale Southern cooking. In Fairfax, 19 Broadway has been offering live music every night for more than 30 years, with a bit of rock, rap, blues, soul and reggae thrown in for everyone. The Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley, opened in 2012 in the same location as the previous landmark Sweetwater venue, welcomes a mix of music legends and bands dreaming of getting discovered.
We’ve seen that this growth in the number of local venues is a boon for fans of live music, but it also means that venues have to be increasingly competitive to secure acts, even ones they’ve worked with for years. Many are finding new ways to market shows, including relying heavily on social media. Many of the larger houses have also turned to stand-up comedians to make up a larger percentage of their calendars. With all the work that’s happening behind the scenes to bring amazing music to the area, the least we can do is show up and dance.
Some of these Old School spots have stood the test of time, offering locals a place to kick up their heels for decades. Others just feel like they have. All of them are guaranteed to make you feel right at home.
Peri’s Silver Dollar, Fairfax
Peri’s has been in business in Fairfax for more 80 years, welcoming ranchers, hippies and tech millionaires with the same cold beers and bar stools. Owner Chuck Peri, who took over the bar from his father Charles, has made Peri’s the “dive bar” destination everyone should have in their back pocket. There’s live music seven days per week, with regular events like the monthly “Sexy Sunday,” a showcase of women rockers. Just follow the neon martini glass down Broadway and you’re there. (www.perisbar.com)
Twin Oaks Tavern, Penngrove
When long-time music talent buyer Sheila Groves-Tracey bought the Twin Oaks Tavern in October 2013, she was committed to bringing along a heaping dose of live music to the roadhouse bar, which has stood along Old Redwood Highway since 1924. You’ll find bands playing almost every night of the week, generally with no cover, either on the indoor stage or outside on the back patio. Yes, there’s country and honky-tonk music, but also plenty of rock, soul and blues. Head in on a Wednesday night and you’ll find a $12 special of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and corn added to the kitchen’s comfort food menu. On Sundays, it’s Rasta Dwight’s barbeque. (www.twinoakstavernpenngrove.com)
Rossi’s 1906, El Verano
It’s a barbeque joint, bar, outdoor beer garden and dance hall all in one. In a structure built in 1906 that once housed local favorite Little Switzerland, Rossi’s has a 2,000 square foot dance hall and dining room, and a stage featuring rock, blues, reggae and zydeco beats. While you’re there, dance up an appetite for authentic fried pickles, deviled eggs and pulled pork sandwiches. (www.rossis1906.com)
Zodiac’s has taken up residence in the former site of Kodiak Jack’s on Petaluma Boulevard and traded in the honky tonk for a mix of local names and national touring bands, representing rock, funk, blues, soul, reggae and world beats. Owners Kristen McMaster and John Jones are putting together a gathering spot for the community to show their artwork, have a meal, taste beer brewed in-house, see music-themed documentaries and discover great live music. (www.zodiacspetaluma.com)
Rio Nido Roadhouse, Rio Nido
When you’re tired of taking your friends to tasting rooms, take them to the Rio Nido Roadhouse, a double-wide trailer turned friendly, local bar and live music joint. In the warmer months, shows are held on the outdoor stage, where you can enjoy the music from the dance floor or from under one of the heaters on the patio. (This is Sonoma County we’re talking about.) With covers ranging from $5 to $15, the Rio Nido Roadhouse promises good food, a night under the redwoods and music you can dance to. (www.rionidoroadhouse.com)
Dinner and a Show
In the mood for a night out that includes dinner and a live show? Stop in to one of these restaurants, where some of our best local talent are singing for their suppers.
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Located at 1410 Neotomas Ave. in Santa Rosa,NorthBay biz magazine is a monthly business-to-business publication covering Napa, Sonoma and Marin counties. This year, the magazine is celebrating 43 years of continuous operation. It originally hit the stands in 1975, when it was called Sonoma Business, and only covered Sonoma County. Norm and Joni Rosinski and John Dennis, acquired it in 2000 and changed its name to cover an expanded market. Today, the magazine is part of Amaturo Sonoma Media Group. More here..