Saturday, June 15, downtown Cotati, alive along Redwood Highway with brunch walkers popping in and out of the main street’s restaurants and taverns, stirred by the excitement of set up activity just north across West Sierra at La Plaza Park. Overcast skies with a sun wanting to break through the clouds as the park filled with concession stands and the sound system called a sort of midday reveille with “Testing, testing.” Cars and trucks passed beneath the banner extending from the park to the rear of the fire station that announced “The Cotati Music Festival.”
The Cub Reporter’s main assignment: Discover why Jud Snyder’s beloved “Cotati Jazz Festival” has been changed to “Cotati Music Festival.” Feeling the honor and the pressure of fulfilling such a worthy assignment, the Cub checks in with Liz Derammelaere at the Chamber of Commerce who points to Neville Hormuz, owner of Loud and Clear, Cotati’s renowned music store.
Hormuz unable to contain himself, erupted with enthusiasm, telling much about the bands that he booked, their style of music, his love of animal rescue and Sonoma County musicians, and his desire to see a festival filled with people moving freely and swaying with the music. Hormuz developed the poster, served as the master of ceremonies, hired the main stage and the help and set up the sound system along with booking the bands.
Nate Lopez, bearded with checked shirt, sunglasses and faded jeans, working with drummer Libby, started the park jam. Lopez works hard, mostly with his eight-string guitar performing solo. The man and his swift moving, adept fingers play 250 gigs per year. The crowd danced around the main stage, the park vibrated with the strings and the accompanying percussion. And Lopez introduced the next song, “Inspired by ‘Nightrider,’ a little tune called “2000.” He hit the bass with the low sounds and the melody with the high ones. Libby, who worked with many bands and recording sessions, complimented Lopez nicely with a slow blues tune from his youth. Lopez tapped his instrument as he strummed and told how the movie “Us” inspired his song “Them.”
Hormuz promised no gaps in the music. The Bluebyrds delivered working an alternative stage between headliner performances. Based on the crowd’s response, The Bluebyrds seemed to be a fifth headliner group. Billed as a “Folk/Rock Reprise,” they promised “a tribute to the roots of folk/rock the jangle and harmony of: The Byrds, Crosby Stills & Nash, Buffalo Springfield, The Lovin’ Spoonful and many more.” The music never ceased, the crowd danced and swayed and sung to many familiar tunes. The Bluebyrds could have entertained the music lovers all afternoon.
Hormuz told more about why the jazz festival became the music festival. In the last years of the jazz festival, attendance fell to 100-150 and jazz was not actually being booked. People seemed to like rock and wanted to dance. Vendors dwindled. But this second year of the music festival revived the sounds in the park and brought back more vendors.
Vendors horse-shoed from across the park from the left to the right of the stage. The Bus Shoppe, a mini-school bus painted white and light blue presented a mobile fashion boutique displaying fancy and unique clothing that appeals to music types explained its proprietor. Just as I spy a flashy rack of men’s clothing, along comes Cotati City Manager Damien O’Bid and his family. I suggest, “Damien, buy some of these spicy duds to put some Tabasco into your city council meetings.”
Walking the horseshoe, I encounter a variety of snack booths from Filipino adobo to Aunt Betty’s Gourmet Hot Dogs. The Chamber of Commerce and the Bear Republic offer enticing libations. Have dessert with Fruity Moto, smoothie or a fruit bowl or a frozen delight. Still hungry, grab a slice from Mountain Mike’s, many offerings from Down to Earth Café, or roasted almonds from Bryerton’s.
More delight for those who love chatting with non food vendors: music lessons from School of Rock, stun guns and pepper spray from Damsel in Defense, skin care from Gina’s Journey, jewelry, tattoo information, t-shirts, nail polish, window replacement, music at the Green Center, property from ReMax, children’s boutique from a family RV, pendants, wood art, and more musical information from SOMO Village Event Center.
Back to the main event and now appearing on the mainstage, Hangman’s Daughter, a name familiar to Cotati music goers during the past several decades. The lead singer, Sherrie Phillips, reminds the audience this band that has been together for 30 years has just returned to the Sonoma music scene after several years in Nashville.
The group, alive with more than just sound, all dramatize their sounds as they move lively across the stage. Along with Phillips, two guitarists, a drummer and a tambourine playing back up singer are up and dancing throughout the performance. Phillips belts out Janis Joplin’s “Say that it’s over baby” as she makes contact with every eye in the crowd. Ann Kay, hearing Hangman’s Daughter for the first time, swings her dark red hair soulfully as she says, “I go all over the place for music and will next see Smashmouth in Santa Cruz!” She likes to dance on the side and have one-to-one communication with the performers.
Phillips gives background for each of the other members of the band. She emphasizes the family nature of the group as she talks about 21 year old Zoe, her backup singer and protégée, daughter of one of the musicians, who grew up as part of the band.
Phillips, heated from all of the dancing, dramatizing and singing, patiently responded to the Cub Reporter’s inquiry: “Where does all of the energy come from?” And she replied, “It comes from my soul. I take from the audience and give back throughout the performance.” She improvises gestures, expressions and dramatics as she feels vibrations from the crowd and from her band.
Following another Bluebyrd interlude, Gator Nation, a zydeco washboard group with Southern sounds from New Orleans and Cajun Country, gets everybody up dancing as the crowd swells with the progressing of the afternoon. Everybody sways to the accordion player’s “Momma’s got a squeeze box, Daddy never sleeps at night.”
In the crowd, two men, volunteers from the Sonoma County Bird Rescue, walk with an owl and a hawk tethered to their arms. Donors line up at the sound booth to contribute to the raffle to help fund a building at the old Cotati golf course. Organizer Hormuz has set up a 50/50 split between the bird rescue center and the lucky donor. The pot, at $440, ready for drawing, produces $220 for the lucky winner, Margie Mendes, and another $220 for the rescue center.
More fun with The Bluebyrds and Big Fit, funky and fun out of Sebastopol, cap a very successful music festival.
Headed to my car, I pass the Jim Boggio statue, think of Jud Snyder’s love for the jazz festival and realize that his true love was music, festive atmospheres, and people having fun. The Jazz Festival lives through The Cotati Music Festival. While some things change, simple things continue to make life good.