Behold the mythic summer festival, that great American pastime fueled by warm weather, long days and our passion for music or food or race cars or poetry by the Bard.
In this age of niche attraction, if you can’t find a festival to match your taste then maybe you’re better suited for winter hibernation.
Before you lather up with sunscreen and load up the picnic blankets and carefully measured lawn chairs (no higher than 18 inches), here’s a top 10 summer festival list with an eye on the North Coast and beyond:
The Band Perry, Jake Owen and Brantley Gilbert headline this Santa Rosa twang fest, which once again attempts to fill the void of country summers at defunct Konocti Harbor in Clearlake. Look for up-and-coming local musicians on the secondary Santa Rosa Stage between big acts. Wondering what to wear? The festival website sells “Ride a Cowboy — Ladies Booty Shorts.” June 5-7. Sonoma County Fairgrounds, 1350 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa. $69 day pass. countrysummer.com.
Kate Wolf Festival
By far the best destination fest for families, this annual tribute to sorely missed folkie Kate Wolf tops the bill with Smokey Robinson, Steve Earle and Angelique Kidjo. Don’t forget to bring your guitar for the late-night fire circle jams and your radio so you can listen to the occasional show from your campsite. Kids always love the hay-bale slide, and Mom and Dad can’t get enough of those hot morning showers. June 25-28. Black Oak Ranch, Laytonville. $200 two days, $275 four days. katewolfmusicfestival.com.
Drawing more than 100,000 fans over the three-day weekend, the Toyota/Savemart 350 is more than just a race — it’s the best people-watching spectacle of the year. Just a survey of the tattoos on display is worthy of the ticket price. Not to mention it’s local hero Jeff Gordon’s last chance to trade paint at the always unpredictable pretzel known as the Sonoma Raceway road course. June 26-28. 29355 Arnold Drive, Sonoma. $49-$140 for Sunday race, $95-$180 weekend pass. racesonoma.com.
Sonoma County Fair
In an era of ultra-lounges and oxygen bars, if you ever need a reminder of Sonoma County’s agrarian roots come drop a few dollars on Hogzilla, horse racing and deep-fried Oreos. This year’s musical lineup boasts Montgomery Gentry, Thompson Square and Bridgit Mendler. And not to worry — the vomit-inducing 35-mph swinging Dance Party ride is back. July 24-Aug. 9. 1350 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa. $11 ages 13 and older, $5 ages 7-12, free for 6 and younger. sonomacountyfair.com.
Sonoma Wine Country Weekend
Billed as Sonoma County’s largest charity event, this pairing of elite chefs and winemakers is a decadent Labor Day Weekend feast. Friday kicks off with Sonoma Starlight dancing at Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Saturday’s Taste of Sonoma raises the art of grazing to a new level at MacMurray Estate Vineyards and Sunday’s Harvest Wine Auction tries to top last year’s $4 million haul. Sept. 4-6. $85-$500. sonomawinecountryweekend.com.
Russian River Jazz and Blues Festival
Chicago blues legend Buddy Guy and jazz smoothie Dave Koz anchor this perennial end-of-summer blowout by the river. Come by car or bike or boat — either way it’s always a great escape for families, with plenty of options for cooling off. And make sure to say hi to former owner Claire Harris, who has promised he’ll still be working behind the boathouse counter this summer. Sept. 12-13. Johnson’s Beach, Guerneville. $55 day, $90 weekend. russianriverfestivals.com.