Sugarloaf has lost its groove.
The state park near Kenwood is no longer staging Funky Fridays after efforts to keep the popular summer concert series there stalled. Instead, the concerts are being moved to the grounds of Hood Mansion, off Highway 12 across from the Oakmont Village subdivision, starting Memorial Day weekend.
Concert organizers on Monday said the new setting on Sonoma County property offers more parking and easier access. But the concerts will lose their spectacular amphitheater setting at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, and park officials their largest fundraising event.
The Funky Fridays series was a novel approach to generating more revenue for the state park which, like many California parks, struggles to pay for services and maintenance. A consortium of nonprofits took over management of the park in 2012 to keep the gates open.
But as the Friday night concerts grew in popularity, so too did concerns the events were negatively impacting the environmentally sensitive setting. A labor union representing current and former state parks employees brought those concerns to Sugarloaf’s nonprofit managers last July, prompting the group to implement a cap on attendance. That ultimately led to the event’s eviction from the site.
The main hurdle to continuing the concert series at Sugarloaf is parking, officials say. As the events grew in popularity — the July 3 concert drew a record 511 people — parking space became more of an issue, as did navigating the narrow and winding road leading to the park.
John Roney, a Sonoma Ecology Center employee who manages the park for Team Sugarloaf, a partnership of five nonprofit groups that oversee the park, said the group is seeking approval from the State Parks department to increase overflow parking in order to accommodate up to 400 people for a future series of concerts, starting in 2017. He said there wasn’t enough time for the two parties to consider and act on such a request to potentially keep Funky Fridays from leaving the park, at least temporarily.
“It’s complicated,” he said.
Funky Fridays generated about $86,000 for Sugarloaf over the three years the series was held in the park. Nearly half that amount — $40,703 — was generated from the 2015 season, a sign of the event’s growing popularity at the venue. Longtime park volunteers Bill Myers and his wife, Linda Pavlak, started the event in 2013.
Myers said the couple were not part of the discussions over the event’s future at Sugarloaf. Asked via email whether he felt Team Sugarloaf and State Parks did not move fast enough to resolve the parking issues, Myers answered, “Yes.”
Roney said Team Sugarloaf’s focus is on gaining state approval to host a smaller series of concerts on Saturday evenings this summer. He characterized the loss of Funky Fridays as a minor problem for the park from a financial standpoint, saying revenue from the concerts comprised about 5 percent of Sugarloaf’s operating budget of about $460,000.
“It was nice to have, but it wasn’t crucial,” Roney said of the concert revenue.
State Parks officials did not immediately respond Monday to a message seeking comment.
Myers and Pavlak said they harbor no grudges over not being able to stage Funky Fridays at Sugarloaf, and they remain committed to helping the park, including with smaller-scale performances. But their main focus now is on bringing the funk to its new location.