First Sonoma Harvest Music Festival starts strong and sunny

By the time the Southern folk rock band The Avett Brothers closed the first day of the inaugural Sonoma Harvest Music Festival, at the end of a long sunny Saturday at B.R. Cohn Winery in Glen Ellen, they had the crowd of 3,000 clapping, cheering and singing along.

The fans had reason to be content, after a full day of beautiful weather, tasty food, choice local beers and wines and five strong bands.

The stars of the day, the Avetts, opened their 90-minute set with the foot-stomping “Satan Pulls the Strings” from the 2016 album “True Sadness.” After being called back for a three-song encore, they closed with “No Hard Feelings” from the same collection. They played a number of songs from that recording, including the daydreamy “I Wish I Was” and the anthem-like “Ain’t No Man,” as well as older tunes like “Orion’s Belt” and the wistful confession “Shame.”

But there was more to this event than one name-band concert.

“It’s never too early to boogie down,” Sonoma singer Lauren Bjelde told the crowd as she kicked off the festival late Saturday morning.

The terraced lawn facing a brand new stage built for the event was already filling up with fans when Bjelde, in a bright yellow flowered outfit, and the Royal Jelly Jive band came on at 11:30 a.m.

Organizers predicted a total attendance of 3,000 for the first day of the long sold-out two-day festival. It is being produced by Dave Graham, Justin Dragoo and Jason Scoggins, who put on the much larger BottleRock Festival in Napa every May.

Matt Page, 60, of Santa Rosa, who has been to BottleRock a few times, liked the option of a more relaxed, smaller festival closer to home.

“Look at this view,” Page said, as he lounged on a towel and gazed at the rolling hills of vineyard above and beyond the stage. “I love being outdoors and the music is uplifting .”

By the end of the Royal Jelly Jive set, when Bjelde sang “Stand Up,” the crowd gladly complied.

“It’s such an honor to be here,” the 23-year-old singer said later in the day. “Our favorite bands are playing here today.”

The Houston soul band The Suffers followed, and lead singer Kam Franklin confided to the crowd that their song “After the Storm” is not about their home city rebounding after Hurricane Harvey, as some music bloggers would have it, but rather it’s about seeking solace in sex during a natural disaster.

Shovels & Rope - husband-and-wife duo Michael Trent (in a white suit) and Cary Ann Hearst (in a black dress and cowboy boots) from Charleston, South Carolina - delivered a powerhouse performance of their 2014 hit “The Devil Is Around.” The eclectic Boston band Lake Street Dive was next, with lead singer Rachael Price charming and rousing the crowd, ending the set with the band’s popular cover version of the Jackson 5 hit “I Want You Back” and the group’s signature song “You Go Down Smooth.”

Many festivalgoers looked forward to the headliner closing act, The Avett Brothers from Concord, North Carolina. Among them were Christina Glen, 38, of Sunnyvale, and Amy Moore, 37, of San Jose, who came a long way to attend the Sonoma Harvest Music Festival.

“We’re not really into the big festivals,” Glen said. “We don’t like the big crowds. This seems like a sensible-sized festival.”

In true BottleRock tradition, the food was more upscale than typical festival fare and very local, with vendors including Hog Island Oysters, The Girl and The Fig and The Farmer’s Wife.

Despite some grand old oak trees on the winery property, there was more sun than shade, with temperatures in the mid-to-high 80s and blue paper parasols were a popular item as the temperature rose into the mid-80s.

The festival continues today with headliners The Head and the Heart, plus Rodrigo y Gabriella, ZZ Ward, Rayland Baxter and Con Brio.

Dan Taylor

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.

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