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Whatever floats your boat goes at Rivertown Revival

  • Josh Windmiller from the band The Crux touches revelers at the group's Tent Revival performance at Saturday's Rivertown Revival in Petaluma. (CONNER JAY / The Press Democrat)

Marriages on the cheap officiated by a California state senator. Revealing costumes. A boat “race” featuring vessels crafted out of suspect materials, such as a couch, and allegations of cheating.

Saturday's fourth annual Rivertown Revival festival in Petaluma again pushed the boundaries of polite society, which is what people have come to expect of the popular event.

“It's the unique combination of being family-friendly and a little punked out,” said Rocky Rohwedder, a Sonoma State University environmental sciences professor.

Rivertown Revival


Thousands gathered Saturday at Steamer Landing Park. Parasols and self-serve water stations were again popular, although the weather wasn't nearly as stifling as last year's scorcher.

The revival harkens back to the early 1900s when the Petaluma River teemed with flat-bottomed schooners shipping eggs, grain and livestock from the south Sonoma County port town to San Francisco.

Saturday's art-boat race featured a replica of the 59-foot scow Alma, which used to deliver oyster shells and chicken feed weekly to the town's thriving poultry farms.

Leonard Page and Ron Smith of Petaluma fashioned their version of the Alma using an aluminum-hulled boat and sailcloth tied to a tree stake. A fake chicken charted the course from its perch inside a lofted cage.

Page and Smith crossed the finish line first, just ahead of a paddle boat piloted by Santa Rosa artist Robert Van de Walle. However, Van de Walle claimed victory, saying Page and Smith “cheated” by not going around a buoy that marked the turn-around point.

Van de Walle credited his victory to the angled paddles of his boat, which he said he tested in his bathtub and improved upon on a century's worth of paddle-wheel design.

“It shoots the water like a jet,” he said.

Van de Walle also designed a vessel that featured a Victorian couch mounted to fiberglass pontoons. “It attaches with some wingnuts,” he said.

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