Three Sonoma County music talents flying high
Wine Country always has been fertile ground for talented people, from horticulturist Luther Burbank to cartoonist Charles Schulz, and the current crop includes restaurateur and TV personality Guy Fieri.
But there is always new talent growing up in our midst, and while locals know who has what it takes, it sometimes takes the rest of the world a little longer to find out. Singer-songwriters McKenna Faith, David Luning and Pete Stringfellow are not newcomers. They all have strong local followings and each has had some national exposure, but 2016 could be a big year for them.
January is a major month for McKenna Faith. The country music singer, who has grown up in front of North Bay audiences, passes a milestone on Jan. 6. She turns 21 and intends to celebrate all month.
“I’m going to hang out with family and friends that weekend and the weekend after I’m going to Idaho, my most favorite place on earth. I’m going to snowboard and play in the snow,” she said while running errands in her native Ukiah. On her to-do-list? Drop CDs off at the post office.
Faith has two upcoming gigs booked in Ketchum, Idaho, near Sun Valley, one a 21st birthday party at Whiskey Jacques.
Then it’s on to Nashville for another milestone. She’ll be moving permanently to the Country Music Capital in February.
“Everything in country music is going on in Nashville. This expands my options. You get to meet and mingle and make connections. That’s the place you have to be to do that,” said Faith, who has already been spending a lot of time in Nashville and will be sharing a house with friends.
It will be Faith’s first time living completely on her own and so far from home. But she’s more excited than nervous.
“I see all the new opportunities that are going to open up for me,” she said.
One of the things she loves to do with other musical artists is to participate in writing circles, where people gather to kick around ideas and get input or feedback. And in Nashville, the town is filled with talented country artists to collaborate with.
“You get more creative. It’s a different experience than writing alone. We just throw out ideas,” she said. “When you’re a songwriter, when you hear something or when something pops in your head, you write it down. I have all these notes in my phone. I bring them to a writing session. Or say you need a chorus or help with a finish.”
Nashville friends Caleb Sherman and Monique Staffle helped her co-write and produce “Somethin’ Somethin’?” which became a breakout single off her CD, “Seal it with a Kiss.” Faith scored when Jerry Duncan, the big-wheel promoter who has worked with the likes of Blake Shelton, Brad Paisley, Tim McGraw, Toby Keith and Martina McBride, picked up the song and promoted it on radio stations, enough to make a heartening 117th on the country charts.
Among her notable gigs last year was the big benefit at Wells Fargo Center in November for victims of the Valley Fire in Lake County. Faith appeared in a lineup that included legends like Norman “Spirit in the Sky” Greenbaum, guitarist Robby Krieger of The Doors and drummer Danny Seraphine of the band Chicago.
After finishing high school on independent study, she plans to take online classes through Mendocino College. But her goals are bigger than an associate’s degree. She figures, why not shoot for the moon?
“I definitely want to be a household name. That would be pretty awesome to headline my own tour and have a Number 1 song. I’d love to perform on The Grand Old Opry.” And she added, after a pause, “maybe Female Country Artist of the Year.”
David Luning, the 28-year-old singer and songwriter from Forestville, got national exposure - and took some teasing about his snap-brim fedora hat - when “American Idol” televised his audition and interview two years ago.
That was as far as he got on the show, and then he came home and went back to work on his music career.
“I wanted to do ‘American Idol’ just to get exposure. It wasn’t to win. I was.in the top 100, and I made it to Hollywood. I got a lot of press,” Luning said. “Ultimately, it was a boost for me, and I made some good contacts. Now I have a booking agent, and there’s a publicist involved.”
Continuing to perform locally and nationally - from Houston, Texas to Toronto - both solo and with his band, Luning hopes to expand his reach soon, and step up from nightclubs to bigger venues.
“This year, I plan to be touring in the United States, Canada and Europe,” he said.
Luning is finishing up his second locally recorded, independently produced album, “Restless Wanderer,” this month for spring release. The album includes his original blues-rock song, “In Hell I Am,” which he performed at his “American Idol” audition. His first album, “Just Drop On By,” came out in December 2012.