Sonoma State has paired its fourth annual bluegrass festival with its craft beer extravaganza, setting the scene for an ideal afternoon of music, suds and sun.
The Green Music Center’s elegant Weill hall has extraordinary acoustics that should impress bluegrass enthusiasts, while the lawn is the ideal setting for a picnic.
Headlining the July 15 festival is Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, superstars in both country and bluegrass.
Berkeley fiddler Laurie Lewis & the Right Hands play the middle set, while Texas-born fiddler Phoebe Hunt opens the show.
The Grammy Award-winning Lewis has won wide acclaim for her songwriting and shows with the Right Hands and other collaborators.
Linda Ronstadt, according to Lewis’ website, says Lewis’ voice is “a rare combination of grit and grace, strength and delicacy. Her stories are always true.”
The craft beer fest starts at noon, two hours ahead of the music, and features 23 breweries and cider makers, many of them local.
The roster includes Windsor’s Barrel Brothers; Plow, and Cooperage, all based in Santa Rosa, Petaluma’s Ethic Ciders and and HenHouse of Petaluma and Santa Rosa.
Admission to the beer festival is $30 on top of the concert ticket and includes a tasting glass and unlimited pours.
The Bay Area bluegrass trio Fog Holler, discovered while busking at San Francisco’s Ferry Terminal in June by Green Music Center executive director Jacob Yarrow, will play at the beer fest.
Casey J. Holmberg, Fog Holler’s banjo player and singer, grew up in Petaluma and now lives in El Sobrante.
Skaggs, who has won 14 Grammy awards, was a musical prodigy who got his start onstage when the founding father of bluegrass, Bill Monroe, performed near Skaggs’ hometown in rural Kentucky.
The crowd “wouldn’t let up until Little Ricky Skaggs got up to play,” says the bio on Skaggs’ website.
Monroe put his own mandolin around Skaggs’ neck, adjusting the strap to fit Skaggs’ small frame. Skaggs was just 6 years old but impressed Monroe and the crowd.
He’s worked with Ralph Stanley and Emmylou Harris, playing mandolin, fiddle, guitar and banjo, but the versatile Skaggs made his fortune in as a solo artist in country music.
Lewis, who plays just before Skaggs, didn’t grow up in bluegrass country, but her love for the music is just as pure.
Raised in Berkeley, Lewis first heard bluegrass “as a kid – there was something about it that just spoke to me,” she said in a phone interview.
At the Berkeley Folk Festival she heard the legendary Doc Watson, Reverend Gary Davis and Mississippi John Hurt.
“It just totally busted my ears open and got me really excited about folk music,” she said.
“I just loved it. I started trying to play banjo when I was about 14. It wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I started playing fiddle and working in bands.”
Though there are “efforts within bluegrass to modernize the music,” Lewis said, “that’s not what I fell in love with. She’s always “loved the mountain-y, lonesome sound.”
“Every instrument in a bluegrass band has its role,” she said, creating “beautiful tapestry of texture.”
If You Go
What: SSU Bluegrass and Craft Beer Festival
Who: Ricky Skaggs, Laurie Lewis and Phoebe Hunt
When: 2 p.m., Sunday, July 15 – beer fest starts at noon
Where: Green Music Center, 1801 East Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park
Tickets: $25 to $55, discounts for SSU students and children; beer festival $30