By Jason Walsh – Editor – Sonoma Index Tribune
“Don’t be the best in the world at what you do; be the only one in the world who does what you do.” – Bill Graham
Leave it to an ornery rock concert promoter dead 25 years to perfectly describe the Sonoma Music Festival.
The first ever SMF (well, after about three decades as the B.R. Cohn Fall Charity Music Festival) dug its rockstar stilettos into the downtown this weekend, bringing back the kind of big-name classic rock and $7 beers to the Field of Dreams not seen since Jazz Plus packed up its tents in 2011.
I attended Saturday, better known as Ringo Night.
Aside from bringing a Beatle to Sonoma, here’s what struck: All the things Aspen-based Jazz Plus did its first year to “seem” local, SMF didn’t have to do; it simply is local.
From the ‘tween band emcees to the volunteer “security” to the food trucks, wine and beer, it was essentially run by a bunch of people who could probably hear “Don’t Pass Me By” from their backyards, if they weren’t already at the show ushering people to their seats. And the level of the bands that played needs to be mentioned once again.
Chicago, Gregg Allman and the Doobies are all veterans of the arena circuit. And, OK, Ringo is a Beatle, we get that. But even the “side musicians” in the Oct. 3 show included Greg Rolie, the voice behind “Black Magic Woman” and “Evil Ways,” Todd Rundgren whose 1973 album “Something/Anything” and a resume as one of the best record producers of the 1970s are a good argument for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, plus Toto lead guitarist Steve Lukather and Mr. Mister frontman Richard Page. The catalog of hits played this weekend is deeper than an octopus’s garden.
The weekend of shows was raising money for Fisher House, which serves veterans seeking mental health treatment by providing comfortable digs for their loved ones near their medical facilities. Festival officials say they’ll have the fundraising numbers once the dust (and other substances wafting through the air) clears.
Peripherally, the festival almost certainly also raised no small amount of funds for nearby businesses – notably restaurants and wine venues, which bustled in the pre-Chicago and Ringo dinner hours on Friday and Saturday, not to mention Sunday evening’s post-Doobie come down.
At press time, the festival still lingered in its honeymoon glow, as did Jazz Plus following its higher-love inducing first year with Steve Winwood. Good vibes are largely being reported, say pleased SMF officials, a complaint about parking here and there.
Of course this is also when lofty expectations by the locals start happening and soon Bruce Cohn, et al, will have to start brainstorming about how to top a Beatle. But maybe that’s a conversation for another day.
Because right now, Sonoma just had a festival with ticket sales that may have topped the population of the city.
Best in the world at what they do? Leave that for the Coachellas and SXSW’s to argue over.
The Sonoma Music Festival brought a Beatle to Sonoma. And it’s the only festival in the world that has ever done that.