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The Mid-Week Beat: Sonoma Music Festival

Music >

Sonoma-Poster--smallwebThis Friday and Saturday, the Sonoma Music Festival returns to Sonoma for its second year. The festival was formed by two musicians, Roy Blumenfeld and Kurt Krauthamer, in an effort to fill a gap that was left by the Sonoma Jazz Plus music festival. For seven years, Sonoma Jazz Plus brought big national names to the little town of Sonoma. Unfortunately, they excluded local musicians and vendors and eventually rung up a sizeable debt that they were unable to pay back. The 2011 festival suffered an operating loss of more than $351,000, despite featuring big names like Sheryl Crow, John Fogerty and the Gipsy Kings. After unsuccessfully asking for help from the city, the organizer cancelled their 2012 festival and in stepped Blumenfeld and Krauthamer.

Right away, these new, seasoned, music veterans had a smart approach to building a music festival from the ground up. They started with a modest three-band bill last August and this year will present six bands over two days at the historic Sebastiani Theater. Organizer Kurt Krauthamer told the Sonoma Valley Sun:

“The last thing we wanted to do was create a huge splash, book a bunch of bands and not be able to handle the growth of the event. We want to grow this thing organically, starting out small and taking the necessary steps to increase the talent and the number of performers over time. And rather than do a one weekend a year event, our plan is to do several events throughout the year.”

They kept ticket prices low and featured local talent and vendors. In the same Sun article, Roy Blumenfeld said:

“For many years, the local professional musicians in and around Sonoma have been talking about events that feature local talent,” says Roy Blumenfeld, who has been a Sonoma resident since 1985. “We’ve got a wealth of it here.  We would like to fill the empty shoes of the Jazz fest with a sustainable annual event made up of Sonoma and northern California talent.”

While the economy can certainly be blamed in part for Sonoma Jazz Plus’ failure, the bigger factor may be that they tried to go too big too soon, and by not including local talent, they failed to create a partnership with the region’s artistic community. This is something we’ve seen time and time again at Brown Paper Tickets and Blumenfeld and Krauthamer’s approach should be applauded. By starting small and incorporating the local artistic community, they ensure that the residents of Sonoma are invested in the festival and its future. And, judging by ticket sales, their approach is working!

If you’re in or around Sonoma or the Bay Area, be sure to pick up tickets to this weekend’s festival. I don’t know but, spending the weekend in one of the most beautiful areas on earth, enjoying music in a gorgeous, historic theater sounds like my idea of heaven. Why not hit some wineries while you’re out there?

Want to know more about who’s playing?

Friday night’s headliner Tommy Thomsen grew up in Sonoma at a time when small town values were still a way of life in the Valley of the Moon. As a child, his first instrument was the piano. He studied the classics and worked his way up to performing Franz Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody” at his last recital. After his mother, Jean (aka “Big Red,”) taught him to play a mean Boogie Woogie, he segued into all things Americana. He leapt from Liszt to Jimmy Reed’s “You Got Me Runnin’” and never looked back.  As a teen, he took up guitar and began his first professional band, The Headsman, incorporating Texas blues and rock ‘n roll classics.

He went on to play blues rock with Sammy Hager, Americana with Norton Buffalo, and bluegrass with Rose Maddox. He became hooked on western swing and the works of Bob Wills, Ernest Tubb and Ray Price. By seeking out the greats, he developed relationships with many of the original Texas Playboys.

Tommy toured extensively throughout the world including France, Italy, Denmark and Japan. He has become a hometown legend and enjoys volunteering for local charities—such as the American Cancer Society and the American Liver Foundation, Sonoma Valley Hospital, Hospice Work and various benefits for local people in need.

Tommy headlines Friday night’s show so polish up those dancin’ shoes!

Saturday night’s headliner needs no introduction for those that love rock music from the late-60s psychedelic era. Big Brother and the Holding Company are probably best known as Janis Joplin’s backup band from 1966 to 1968, recording the legendary “Cheap Thrills” album with Janis. That record is considered by many to be one of the masterpieces of the San Francisco psychedelic sound and featured such classic cuts as Joplin’s amazing version of “Summertime” and her signature song “Piece of my Heart.”

Janis left the group in 1968 and the band recorded two more records minus Joplin. They eventually disbanded in 1972 but  reunited briefly for one gig in 1978. The band didn’t full reform until 1987, 15 years after their initial breakup and it’s this incarnation that is coming to Sonoma this weekend. The band features most of the original members and has been touring part-time for the last 26 years, with various singers filling in the role of Joplin.

Don’t miss the opportunity to see these rock and roll legends in person. Tickets for Saturday night’s show are going fast so be sure to pick yours up before they’re gone and support what we know will become a new Sonoma tradition, the Sonoma Music Festival!