Howling Coyote Tour returns to Sonoma County with sounds of Southwest
When you think about musicians going on tour, it’s easy to picture a customized bus followed by a truck full of sound equipment. Based on how the big names operate, we’re conditioned to assume everyone travels in high style.
The Howling Coyote Tour operates on a smaller scale. Imagine three singer-songwriters grabbing their guitars and piling into a car together to go play eight shows in intimate venues scattered around Sonoma and Marin counties.
Headquartered in Prescott, Arizona, Howling Coyote Tour is marking its 17th year and is set to perform in the North Bay from Nov. 4 to Nov. 11, led by tour founder and performer Jim Sobo and featuring two other singer-songwriters.
This year, his guests on the tour are Stephy Leigh Griffin and David Whitley.
“When I moved to Prescott 20 years ago, I saw all this incredible talent,” Sobo said. “I didn’t want to start a band, so I decided to create a singer-songwriter showcase tour.”
While life in Arizona is less hectic, Sobo enjoys his annual sojourns north. He targets the North Bay for his tours every year because he fondly remembers his time in San Francisco during the late ’80s and early ’90s.
“I’ve always tried to work with kind folks, and the people throughout the Bay Area have been wonderful to work with,” Sobo said.
Bringing the Southwest singer-songwriter style north makes sense to Sobo because its tradition is so rich. But his cohorts also bring their own influences.
Griffin is a classically trained trumpet player and music teacher from small-town Ohio who settled in Prescott in 2010.
“Even though my beginnings were in classical music and jazz, you can’t live in the Southwest and filter out that Southwest vibe,” she said. “I’m a mixed bag now. I’ll include songs by Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen for content, but I don’t imitate their sound.”
Even as she channels the spirit of Townes Van Zandt and others, she doesn’t deny her jazz side. She still plays trumpet in one of Arizona’s few 1920s-style hot jazz bands, King Copper.
Whitley crafts his own interpretations of work by John Prine, Blaze Foley and Van Zandt, adding his original tunes. A man of few words, Whitley lives in a rural area outside Prescott.
“The way I write and play is really simple. It’s all kind of folk-style,” Whitley said. He likened his style to a road, saying, “It’s not a two-lane highway. It’s a driveway. There’s no rage.”
The format for the tours is also simple. Each artist performs two 30-minute sets per night. The three artists each take a turn in the first 90 minutes, then return in a different order for the second half of the show.
“This format exposes people to as many artists as we can in the first hour and a half,” Sobo said. “We play wine bars, tasting rooms and brewpubs, and the people there come and go.”
Sometimes, the musicians on the tour collaborate with each other, but it’s not necessarily part of the format, Sobo explained.
“I try to let that happen organically,” he said.
This is the first time on the Howling Coyote Tour for both Griffin and Whitley, although Sobo already knows them and their work.
“Most of the folks I take on tour I’m already a fan of, I admit,” he said.
This time, there will a fourth member of the company: Griffin’s 9-month-old cattle dog pup, Dottie.
“The only way I’d travel is with her,” Griffin said.
You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-521-5243. On Twitter @danarts.
Arts & Entertainment, The Press Democrat
Do you take fun seriously? I know I do. Tell me what you want to know about arts and entertainment in the North Bay to make the best use of your leisure time and money. As a longtime local arts journalist, I have learned where to look and who to ask.