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Music to Our Ears

Author: Louisa Hufstader
June, 2009 Issue

NorthBay biz takes a look at Summer 2009’s numerous music festivals, which will undoubtedly stimulate local economies and provide plenty of fun in the sun.


Virtually every kind of musical entertainment is on the Wine Country menu for the next few months: There’s jazz and blues, chamber music and symphonies, pop, rock and world music. If you can’t find at least one concert to enjoy out of this season’s jam-packed schedule, then you’re simply not a music fan. But there’s another reason to appreciate summer festivals: They pump money into local businesses and donate to nonprofit foundations, leaving their economic mark on the regional community long after the season has ended.

Though the festival performers (and some attendees) may come from around the world, they’re fed by North Bay caterers and housed in North Bay lodgings. Music presenters turn to local firms when they need to rent furniture, tune pianos and make signs. Concert venues forge partnerships with local vendors for everything from food and beverages to merchandising, printing and ticketing services; some events rent space to small businesses and nonprofits to exhibit their wares and services and find new customers.

Many festivals contribute to local scholarship funds and other foundations: Over its 40 years hosting concerts in Oakville, the Robert Mondavi Winery Summer Music Festival (June 27-August 1) has raised close to $2 million for causes including the Napa Valley Symphony and the 17,000-student Napa Valley Unified School District. Also in Napa County, the Music in the Vineyards Festival (August 5-23) awards merit scholarships to high school seniors throughout Napa Valley, while in Sonoma County, the Healdsburg Jazz Festival (May 29-June 7) helps fund jazz education for schoolchildren. And even the venues themselves are teaming up. It’s not unusual to see a performance hall cross-promoting a winery concert, and vice versa.

“We’re seeking new partnerships to help expand our reach and visibility,” says Evy Warshawski, artistic director of the nonprofit Napa Valley Opera House, which is presenting Motown great Smokey Robinson at the Robert Mondavi Winery August 1, as the finale of the 40th Mondavi Summer Music Festival. Warshawski chose Robinson to perform, and the Opera House League, which will be responsible for Robinson’s fee and an amortized cost for production expenses, will raise funds with a silent auction prior to the concert. Both Mondavi and the Opera House will promote the event. But there’s more to the relationship.

“Part of our partnership includes providing ticketing services for the Mondavi series,” continues Warshawski. Having the Opera House handle its festival tickets is a plus for Mondavi, too. “It’s a nice symbiosis, especially with Margrit Mondavi on our board of trustees,” Warshawski says. Not only that, but when the Opera House reopened in 2003 for the first time in nearly 90 years, its second-floor performance space was formally named the Margrit Biever Mondavi Theatre in tribute to the Mondavis’ 1997 donation of a $2.2 million challenge grant toward restoring the historic hall.

Traveling music

Another “symbiosis” the Opera House enjoys is with the annual Music in the Vineyards Festival, which owns its own nine-foot Hamburg Steinway grand piano. “We house their piano for 11 months a year,” Warshawski says. “They’re kind enough to let it be used by the Opera House, and we share the upkeep.” That means hiring a local piano tuner to tune the instrument before each concert. “Some people like it tuned at intermission, too,” she adds. “We have so many wonderful artists who use it and love it, and some of them have very strict tuning requirements.”

Among the Opera House performers who have signed the inside of the Steinway, Warshawski says, are Ellis Marsalis, Dave Brubeck and Ahmad Jamal; George Winston and Philip Glass have also played the instrument. “The Steinway grand is revered by our visiting artists,” Warshawski says.

The piano only leaves the Opera House in August, for the Music in the Vineyards Festival, but during those three weeks the Steinway really gets around—to the benefit of a local moving firm. Music in the Vineyards’ PR Manager Natasha Biasell says that last year, the festival spent more than $12,000 with Napa-based Holmes Van and Storage to move the piano up and down the Napa Valley for performances; this year, the series has 13 concerts scheduled at 11 different venues, from as far south as Hess Collection Winery on Mt. Veeder to the up-valley Clos Pegase Winery in Calistoga.

Music in the Vineyards also banks locally, using Wells Fargo in St. Helena for its main account. “Wells Fargo is a long-time supporter of our music merit award program,” Biasell explains. “They help support the local community through the program, and we, in turn, help support them by using them as a bank.” Music in the Vineyards also banks with Napa’s First Republic Bank: “They sponsor our Kitchens in the Vineyards Preview Party event in April, and we bank with them for savings and stocks,” Biasell said. Other local businesses also benefit from the festival.  Music in the Vineyards rents chairs, wine glasses and staging from Sonoma-based Wine Country Party and Events and prints its letterhead stationery at Napa’s Minuteman Press.

Like many other regional events, Music in the Vineyards is also an annual client of Ken Tubman, owner of Bell Signs in Napa, which does a steady business in festival banners—the ones you see overhead as you drive along the main street in virtually any North Bay town where a public event is afoot. “I do banners for most of the nonprofits,” Tubman says. “I keep about 45 banners in stock from organizations, and when they need to change the dates, I change ’em every year.” Including the cost to put the banners up and take them down, that’s about $400 a shot.

Sweet Sole music

Another Tubman client is Festival del Sole (July 17-July 25), the high-end international classical fiesta that’s returning to the Napa Valley for its fourth year despite the fact that its founder, hedge-fund executive Barrett Wissman, has pleaded guilty to securities fraud. The concert series that CNN has called “an international music summit” aims to attract a well-heeled crowd with a 2009 line-up that includes world-famous soprano Renée Fleming and an appearance by Robert Redford narrating a performance of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” at the faux-medieval Castello di Amorosa winery on July 21.

More than 40 wineries and resorts are taking part in this year’s festival, which includes receptions, luncheons and dinners, wine tastings and educational activities. To attract high-rolling culture tourists, the luxurious Carneros Inn is offering a 10 percent discount to Festival del Sole guests, while Napa’s new downtown hotel, Avia, is wooing ticket holders with a 20 percent discount. Festival del Sole will also shed its grace on the struggling Napa Valley Museum in Yountville, hosting a July 19 reception to open the museum’s summer exhibition “Portals to the Past: California Art, History and Culture.”

The Napa Valley Vintners is another local partner, helping to promote Festival del Sole to its winemaking community. (Although many summer concerts take place at wineries, the number of wineries that are permitted to host such events is limited to those that were already doing so before Napa County passed its Winery Definition Ordinance in 1989; as a result, most wineries are shut out of the concert business.)

In return for the Vintners’ support, festival organizers have donated tickets to overseas Festival del Sole events as auction lots for the Vintners’ annual Auction Napa Valley, which raises millions for health care, affordable housing and youth service nonprofits in Napa County. “They help us raise money at the auction, and we help provide them access to the community,” says the Vintners’ Communications Director Terry Hall. “It’s been a great partnership for us.”

In perfect harmony

While Festival del Sole may be the glitziest of the summer festivals, Music in the Vineyards the most piano-moving and Mondavi the most venerable, the 31-year-old Harmony Festival (June 12-14) is by far the most action-packed. The three-day affair, which has been described as “a hybrid of Burning Man and Bioneers,” is a progressive-minded, camper-friendly fiesta at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa that could also be compared to an all-ages Lollapalooza for the socially conscious and their families.

Along with a robust lineup of musical acts including indie rockers Cake, reggae/hip-hop artist and social activist Michael Franti and soulful singer-songwriter India.Arie, the festival schedule lists speakers such as “eco-activist and neo-Pagan author Starhawk, spiritual mystic and author Gahl Sasson and organic and living food nutrition expert David Wolfe.” Also expected, organizers say, are Lori Grace, Charlie Gay, Spencer Sherman, Dreaming Bear, Happy Oasis and Ming Tong, “who will lead a large-scale group prayer.” If you’d rather twirl than pray, the festival’s celebrated Mystic Beat Lounge-Techno-Tribal Dance will infuse the evenings with rhythm music from the likes of Balkan Beat Box, Medicine Drum, U.K. chillout pioneers The Orb and Hasidic reggae/rapper Matisyahu, as fire jugglers enliven the scene.

But music, dancing, flaming objects and motivational speeches are just part of what makes the Harmony Festival unique among this summer’s many offerings. Because it takes place in one massive location over a single weekend, with camping available onsite, the festival is essentially able to create its own temporary Utopia complete with a kids’ play area, a youth-oriented “action sports village” and more than 300 vendors selling food and merchandise.

Among the Harmony Festival’s many longtime exhibitors, Affinity Solar Energy of Windsor will be returning this year to advertise its expertise in solar, wind and hydro power for residential and commercial properties. “We bring our products in,  and we talk to people about renewable energy,” explains Sandi Rebich, Affinity’s director of business development. “We educate people about the renewable energy by displaying the products that we use,” she says. “If we’re able to discuss with an owner what will work best for them, then the show is worth it.” Last year, Affinity Energy’s Harmony Festival display earned three jobs for the solar-electric specialist, says Rebich, who adds that working the festival booth is always “a lot of fun. You have the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life.”

Another Harmony Festival regular is Carrie Moore, proprietor of The Elixir Café in Sebastopol, which creates botanical ingestible and body products using flower and gemstone essences including nonalcoholic cordials, oral sublingual drops, mists and creams. As a practitioner of what’s known as “vibrational medicine,” based on the theory that everything in the universe—including the body and mind—resonates to a precise frequency, Moore has built an upper-end wholesale, retail and online business: She names trendy East Coast retailer ABC Home, the Ventana Inn and Spa in Big Sur and Tonic Oxygen/Elixir Bar in Boulder, Colorado among her clients. But although her firm’s emphasis has shifted from retail to wholesale, Moore still stocks two 10-by-10-feet booths at the Harmony Festival, serving up specialties like “Lavender Fields Bliss Botanical Cordial,” handing out samples of her elixirs and cordials and offering test spritzes of the energizing body mists and lotions she has for sale. “We do really well,” she says. “Most festivals love having us, because we’re really different.” Although Moore used to exhibit at many festivals every year, she’s a lot more choosy now: She says she’s down to about four hand-picked events, of which Harmony Festival is a perennial. Not only does she enjoy visiting with festival-goers, but there’s another advantage to staffing a booth in the busy vendor area: “It’s a gathering place for people all over the county who run businesses, so I tend to get many new wholesale customers and connections each year,” Moore says.

So when you buy your tickets to the summer festival of your choice, you’re not just handing over cash to a production company in exchange for a day, evening or weekend of live entertainment: You’re adding fuel to an economic engine that many North Bay companies and foundations rely on to help them keep moving ahead long after the bands have packed and gone. Seen that way, it’s practically your civic duty to get out there and hear some music—fortunately, with a dozen festivals to choose from, it shouldn’t be much of a chore.


Outside Lands Outstanding

By Julie Fadda

Just a hop across the Golden Gate Bridge from the North Bay, the second annual Outside Lands festival takes place this year in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park August 28-30. During the event, the park is literally transformed into a festival that’s a feast for all the senses—and North Bay businesses are helping to make it happen.

Produced by Another Planet Entertainment, Starr Hill Presents and Superfly, in partnerships with the San Francisco Parks and Recreation Department, Outside Lands features 65 bands spread over six stages throughout the park’s midsection. This year’s top acts include Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews Band, Beastie Boys, Black Eyed Peas and Thievery Corporation, among others, and more will be announced as the festival draws near.

There’s also an incredible amount of artwork installations, many of which are multimedia and/or interactive. The truly tech-savvy can visit the Crowdfire tent, where the term “crowdsourced” really comes alive (see “Wetpaint and 99Designs” TechTalk, May 2009). Participants can upload audio, video, images and text, and some are then broadcast on video screens near the stages.

The food vendors are made up of local restaurants and resources (think “festival gourmet”), and the WineHaven tent—probably the most North Bay-esque part of the experience—features artisan winemakers showing off their wares. To mention only a few, at last year’s event, Foggy Bridge (San Francisco), with winemaker Daryl Groom, was sharing its wines sourced from hand-picked North Bay and other California vineyard locations; August West wines (San Francisco) was pouring its Pinot Noir from the Graham Family Vineyard in Green Valley; Peay Vineyards (Cloverdale) was showcasing its Sonoma Coast offerings, and Harrington (Sonoma) was pouring its Pinot Noir. This year, the festival expects to double the amount of wines available due to its great success last year. It also features Hog Island Oysters and charcuterie from the Fatted Calf.

PG&E sponsors the festival’s Eco Lands area, an interactive “green” experience featuring tips on water conservation, solar power (including a completely solar-powered stage, and solar-powered cell phone charging stations), alternative transportation and more. Throughout the festival there are trash, recycling and compost bins in equal numbers, greatly reducing its carbon footprint as a whole.

Speaking of footprints, my advice to you if you decide to attend: wear good shoes. There’s a lot of walking involved in this eye-opening music, food, wine and art adventure—and you’ll be glad you did.


Summer Festivals at a Glance

Sonoma Jazz +
May 21-24, Sonoma

Healdsburg Jazz Festival
May 29-June 7, Healdsburg

Harmony Festival
June 12-14, Santa Rosa

Robert Mondavi Winery Summer Music Festival
June 27-August 1 (Saturdays), Oakville

Rodney Strong Vineyards Concert Series
June 27-September 7, Healdsburg

Festival del Sole
July 18-25, Napa Valley

Music in the Vineyards
August 5-23, Napa Valley

Cotati Accordion Festival
August 22-23, Cotati

Outside Lands
August 28-30, San Francisco

Russian River Jazz and Blues Festival
September 12-13, Guerneville

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass
October 3-5, San Francisco

B.R. Cohn Fall Music Festival
October 3-4, Glen Ellen




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