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Back from ’70s, back from The Farm (w/video)

  • Walter Rabideau, left, and Mike Sullens from the The Farm Band practice at Walter's home in Petaluma on Friday, August 6, 2014. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

Just before Walter Rabideau packed up his belongings, turned over all his money and followed a spiritual leader to live on a commune in Tennessee, he gave away his guitar.

“I gave up playing music,” he said. “I gave the guitar to someone and said, ‘Here, I’m not gonna need this where I’m going.’”

But Rabideau, 67, of Petaluma, would soon mix the two at the commune, now world-renowned, known as The Farm. Founded by enigmatic guru Stephen Gaskin, The Farm swiftly rose to wide-spread fame in the early 1970s for its back-to-the-land philosophy, pioneering midwifery services, marijuana cultivation and bottomless consumption of tofu.

The Farm Band

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Sure, many people at the time dismissed them as a bunch of wild hippies. But defying the narrative of growing up and selling out, the members of The Farm held on to their ideals. Wrote Jim Windolf in a 2007 Vanity Fair profile: “The Farm isn’t where you go to dream your life away in a 1960s-besotted haze. The place is active, fully engaged with the world. And it has a strong backbone in the form of 10 nonprofit companies and 20 private businesses.”

After Gaskin decreed that a rock band would attract more converts, it also became known for The Farm Band.

With Rabideau on lead guitar, The Farm Band released four albums and toured the U.S. and Europe to spread the commune’s message of peace, love and communion. (It achieved enough notoriety that a record label in Italy recently reissued most of its output.)

Now living in Petaluma, Rabideau finds it easy to reminisce about the idealistic commune that hosted The Farm Band, which will reunite for its first performance in decades on Aug. 16 in Sebastopol.

“It was real natural for electric rock ‘n’ roll music to be at the center of our trip,” said Rabideau.

Gaskin death

The band’s manager, Paul Mandelstein, 68, of Half Moon Bay, estimates that more than 200 ex-Farm residents now live in Sonoma County, and their ranks have been abuzz with the news of Gaskin’s death last month at age 79.


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