Teaming up with musician Eric D. Johnson, formerly of the Shins and later Fruit Bats, Bundschu started booking indie-rock bands like Vetiver, J. Mascis (and later Dinosaur Jr.), Fruit Bats and Blitzen Trapper — names you don't often see on winery marquees. It was a welcome generational twist on the wine-and-song market long dominated by boomer blues and smooth jazz at venues like Rodney Strong Vineyards or Robert Mondavi Winery.
Before the fifth annual Huichica Festival goes down in Sonoma this weekend, with David Longstreth (from Dirty Projectors), Mount Eerie, Vetiver and more, Bundschu took a break from the cellar to chat about Topanga Canyon, parents who buy wine and what it means to be a musician's festival.
<b>Q: How did you team up with Eric Johnson and make the music work with the wine?</b>
A: The first thing we wanted to do — right after making sure we were delivering an amazing cultivated and curated experience — was to make sure that everyone who comes, the performers, chefs, everyone at the winery, is approachable and accessible. The fear early on with the kids who listen to young, emerging artists was a) would they buy wine? or b) would they at least bring their parents who buy wine? Luckily for us, both have been the case.
<b>What kinds of bands are you looking for every year?</b>
The stuff we're doing at Huichica now is not necessarily all emerging. There's a pretty decent contingent of artists who have made a career by following their own path. It's a magical collection of artists.
<b>I'm looking at Michael Hurley on the bill. Talk about old school, he goes way back to the 1960s folk scene.</b>
Exactly. He's the epitome of what we're talking about. Michael Hurley was someone who Devendra Banhart had rediscovered, who'd been in Greenwich Village in the early '60s with Bob Dylan. You can see that connection go through to Vetiver who's playing again this year. And they play a lot with Kelly Stoltz. There's a big Bay Area and Northwest contingent. Some people call it "freak folk," but it's almost a Topanga Canyon, post Brian-Wilson sound that we tend to get here — kind of jangly, non-jam, approachable music.
<b>Vetiver is returning after kicking it off five years ago. What's gonna be different this time around?</b>
Ironically, it's not much bigger in size. It's basically much more put together. The first year we called it a festival. It had maybe six bands. We had around 200 to 300 people show up. What we have now is a lot more in the way of handpicked food offerings and the whole package. You'll see musicians right there with the fans, watching the bands.
At the end of the day, it's become kind of a musician's festival, where everybody respects one another. You could see it last year when (former Grateful Dead member) Bob Weir showed up unannounced to play with Jonathan Wilson. And then he stayed around and introduced two other, more up-and-coming bands. I thought that was amazing. Unlike other festivals, where artists are backstage until it's their time to play, to have these guys out there really watching and appreciating each other — it's really fun when it all comes together like that.
<i>Freelancer John Beck, author of the "2014 World Cup Survival Guide," writes about entertainment for The Press Democrat. You can reach him at 280-8014 or firstname.lastname@example.org.</i>