Petaluma’s Rivertown Revival pairs whimsy and weddings for waterway’s benefit

The makeshift chapel alongside the Petaluma River was surrounded by all manner of spectacle Saturday for Petaluma’s annual Rivertown Revival.|

Matt Kessler and Lois Horeftis were just about to exchange rings Saturday along the Petaluma River when the Hubbub Club started playing their brass- and percussion-heavy tunes, all but drowning out the wedding underway.

The happy couple and those watching them barely seemed to notice amid the eclectic array of competing activities at Petaluma’s annual Rivertown Revival at Steamer Landing Park.

The makeshift chapel atop a straw-covered hill in the midst of the park was surrounded by all manner of spectacle, from magicians to puppeteers bearing giant animal heads on poles, belly dancers and a guy playing tunes on a saw blade.

Kessler and Horeftis had just sealed their nuptials when a bizarrely costumed man on four camel-like legs made of crutches and stilts strode into the shade of the wedding area.

Lisa Reyes, the creature’s handler - and wife to the man inside - said her companion was named Bub. “We don’t know what she is other than pure beauty,” she said.

Around them, people of every age and in all manner of eccentric hats, goggles, corsets and other steam-punk garb wandered grounds festooned with interactive artistic endeavors and scenic experiments.

In one area, kids and grown-ups vied for seats on two very large seesaws, one with intricate carvings portraying the history of the Petaluma River. Nearby, tots poured water into funnels that drained through a tangle of PVC pipe. Others stamped barefoot into a mud and straw mix used to craft cob bricks.

Musical groups and other performers appeared on five stages, including an elaborate, drivable, welded contraption with interior seating and brocade curtains. It was called the Rhino Stage because of its remarkable resemblance to a flesh and blood beast.

The rhino art car was originally created for the Burning Man festival in Black Rock City, and was said to be capable of shooting flames out of its front horn.

“It’s very creative,” said Lucas Penales, who with fellow 11-year-old Bella Sierra was relaxing on cushy seats inside. “It’s very peaceful in here, and shady.”

The 8-year-old daylong festival draws up to 10,000 people each summer to the Petaluma River, a tidal slough that runs through town, supporting recreational vessels and commercial traffic.

Participant Mike Brennan praised the waterway Saturday as “the lifeblood of Petaluma.”

Rivertown Revival is sponsored by the Friends of the Petaluma River, a 12-year-old nonprofit organization dedicated to watershed access, conservation and education. The event “brings the best of Petaluma together: art, music and community,” said Eric Backman, board secretary.

Also, it is a call to action and stewardship, with the belief that those made aware of the river environment will be more likely to take care of it, Backman said.

It seems to be working, he said.

“We have seen a real up-tick in the number of people showing up for the river clean-up days, especially among young people,” Backman said.

Overlooking the river Saturday, Brennan, 40, recalled fishing from the banks as a kid, picking up anchovies at a nearby market to use as bait.

“I don’t think people know about it,” his girlfriend, Veronica Blaustein, said. “They have the misconception that it’s dirty.”

The couple said they enjoyed witnessing some of the weddings and renewed vows in the chapel, each arranged for a ?$5 fee, all 13 time slots reserved in advance.

Kessler’s blushing bride, Lois, wore a ruffled, black dress and floral head wreath. Her red wristband, the sign of paid admission, complemented the burgundy shirt worn by her spouse under black suspenders.

The couple chose to wed at the River Revival in part because it could be done so inexpensively, and came with a reception “already built in.”

But it also “seemed like a fun and appropriate event for us,” Lois Horeftis-?Kessler said. “It’s something we felt akin to.”

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or

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