Music fans took over Johnson’s Beach in Guerneville on Saturday, kicking off the annual Russian River Jazz and Blues Festival.
Lenny Williams, the former lead singer of Tower of Power, was the first to take the main stage at the two-day event, which ends Sunday with blues performances.
“I don’t care if you’re a size 3 or 33, you’re a sexy mama,” he hollered to the women in the crowd before jumping into the song, “I’m Sorry I Didn’t Know It Was Your Mama.”
Fans gathered around the stage, bouncing to his music while some clapped and cheered from boats and inner tubes on the river. Others mellowed out on the beach, leaning back in their lawn chairs sipping beer. Fans came from throughout the Bay Area, some just for Saturday’s jazz and others for the entire weekend.
“I’m just looking for some good music that I can move my body to,” said Charlene Washington, a Berkeley resident planning to stay for the whole festival. “I found the right spot.”
It was the first time Washington, 67, attended the event. She was invited by her friend, Debi McIntyre, who has been going to the festival for the past three decades. The warm weather and cool music and atmosphere bring her back each year.
“It’s a mature crowd,” said McIntyre, 64, of Berkeley.
The event drew about 3,500 fans Saturday, said Rich Sherman, who puts on the festival. He expects a similar crowd Sunday.
Saturday’s highlights included performances from Mint Condition’s Stokley Williams and Stephanie Mills, who played Dorothy in the original Broadway production of “The Wiz.”
Sunday’s lineup is dedicated to the blues. Performers include the Oakland rhythm-and-blues band Tower of Power, Beth Hart, Con Brio and the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band.
“There’s really nothing like it,” Sherman said. “Everyone puts this festival on their calendar every year.”
Shelley Higgins, who lives part of the year in Monte Rio and the other part in Baja California, has attended the festival since nearly its inception 41 years ago.
“You get to dance, sing, drink beer and meet great people,” said Higgins, 68.
She and her husband, Mark Higgins, like to come out for the music, but also for the scenery. They said the location is what makes the event special — on the river surrounded by towering redwood trees and blue skies.
“You can just jump into the river,” Mark Higgins, 65, said.
“What else could you ask for?” his wife added.
You can reach Staff Writer Eloísa Ruano González at 707-521-5458 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @eloisanews.