Robert Earl Keen headlines sixth EarleFest

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EarleFest, a day of Americana music to benefit the Earle Baum Center for people with sight loss, started out as an enjoyable way to support this worthy organization and spend a weekend afternoon.

Now in its sixth year, EarleFest has become a showcase for some of the best roots music this side of San Francisco's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival.

And unlike that free concert in Golden Gate Park, EarleFest isn't huge, attracting about 1,200 people last year on the center's spacious lawn. So on Saturday, you can get up close to the stars, including Robert Earl Keen and Ray Wylie Hubbard.

"The spirit and energy of the event are exceptional — we get more renowned entertainers every year," said Earle Baum CEO Allan Brenner. "We always include at least one local band, often it's a lesser-known band, and give them the opportunity to perform with some of the great artists in the business."

This year, that band is Frankie Boots and the County Line; they'll kick off the main stage show at noon.

"I'm honored to be part of it," Boots said. "It's a great event for a good cause in an intimate setting."

Between the main acts, other musicians will play on a smaller stage sponsored by the HopMonk Tavern. Lagunitas is donating beer and Rodney Strong is contributing wine for sale with all proceeds going to the center.

The event has two goals: First, to raise some money, "but we don't make much," Brenner said, and second, to heighten the profile of the center.

Founded in 1999 and located between Santa Rosa and Sebastopol, the center assists up to 1,500 sight-impaired people a year. Named for blind farmer Earle Baum, it focuses on independent living skills, mobility and adaptive technology.

Keen, the headliner, is known for his storytelling and up-tempo songs. In a phone interview this month, Keen, 57, spoke about how he packs so much story into his songs and how he feels about the road after touring for more than three decades.

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