Santa Rosa’s quirky Winterblast marches to own beat

Questions, questions, persistent as the syncopated drum beat filling South A Street, popped into newcomers’ minds Saturday night at the 10th annual Winterblast festival near downtown Santa Rosa.|

Questions, questions, persistent as the syncopated drum beat filling South A Street, popped into newcomers’ minds Saturday night at the 10th annual Winterblast festival near downtown Santa Rosa.

“What is this?” Amanda Karpeshov of Rohnert Park asked a bearded man with a full-length gown, a crown with a miniature gazelle’s head and a staff with a dozen “ribbon wands” fluttering atop it. By “this,” she meant the collection of people, plus a few gargantuan-sized puppets, milling around the center of South A.

The costumed man, William Bacon of Santa Rosa, explained he was also new to Winterblast. “This is the wrong guy,” he told her, and by “this” he meant himself, the self-described “King of Imagination.”

Soon enough, the assembly took shape. An eclectic band rapped out a catchy beat and a parade comprised mostly of sofas began rolling past onlookers lining both sides of the street.

The route took up less than a half-block each of South A and Sebastopol Avenue. But the parade, slated to appear again in two hours, became the centerpiece of a nighttime festival featuring avant garde art galleries, live music and local foods. And hundreds of visitors took part, descending on the neighborhood south of Juilliard Park.

But back to those questions. Lee Gregorio’s friends likely were asking how she ended up walking in the parade holding a pole with an attached cutout of a chicken. Gregorio, a Santa Rosan, had come to the festival for the first time Saturday to meet up with friends and hand out fliers for Sonoma County Roller Derby. But a “complete stranger” had handed her a pole and directed her to line up behind the Hubbub Club marching band, described on its website as “a cross between a New Orleans marching band and a Fellini movie.”

“That was hilarious,” Gregorio said afterward. “I had no idea what I was getting into.”

As the parade proceeded down South A, a young woman asked another question: “What’s with the couches?”

The woman, who wished to remain anonymous, was told that the couches were actually “sofas,” presumably in the parade because of the name of the event’s sponsor, SOFA, or the South A Street Arts District. SOFA is the collection of artists, galleries and businesses that promote the neighborhood south of downtown.

Some parade-goers may have had another question: How was that one sofa able to propel itself forward and twirl in place? The sofa, fashioned upon a motorized wheelchair, carried two mannequins and artist Mario Uribe, who served as well as anybody in summing up what the event was all about.

“It’s just so much fun,” said Uribe, who has his studio in the neighborhood. “We started doing it as a lark.”

More questions: What was that miniature bicycle rink set up in the middle of Sebastopol Avenue, the one with cyclists zipping upon its fence-like, enclosed track?

That, said owner Mike Solari of Santa Rosa, is the WhiskeyDrome, a ring made of more than 260 wooden 2-by-4s. Together the boards form a track that has an 18-foot diameter at the bottom but spreads out at the top near eye level to about 26 feet across.

“It started as a backyard toy,” said Solari, who rode upon it with both hands off the handlebars as friends David Maffia and Drew Merritt circled their bikes with him - all fast enough to become blurs in photos.

Final question: How hard is it to ride the WhiskeyDrome?

“If you believe in yourself,” Merritt said, “you can do it.”

You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 521-5285 or On Twitter @rdigit.

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