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Sonoma Mountain Village's concert series takes Rohnert Park up an octave

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SOMO SERENADE

Who: Allen Stone with Monophonics

When: 7:30 p.m., Thursday, June 30

Where: SOMO Village Event Center, 1100 Valley House Drive, Rohnert Park

Tickets: $38

Information and full season lineup: (707) 664-6314, somoconcerts.com

It’s just a few hours before show time for a Michael Franti concert at the Sonoma Mountain Village Event Center in Rohnert Park. An impromptu yoga class has assembled just outside the gate when a tall, African-American man joins the group in the plaza in front of the venue.

It’s the headliner, Franti himself, rolling out a mat with concert-goers for a little pre-show stretching.

That yoga session last August is just one distinguishing aspect of the SOMO Concerts produced there each summer by Second Octave Entertainment.

On the former high-tech campus near Sonoma State University that’s being converted to a sustainable community, concert producers are working to create a “pop-up festival experience,” says Bryce Dow-Williamson, marketing director for Second Octave.

On the roster for the 2016 season at the outdoor venue are well-known artists such as UB40 and Franti, who returns Aug. 23, and up-and-coming musicians such as Allen Stone and Grace Potter.

Adding to the scene are local artists’ booths, crafts vendors, gourmet food trucks and art installations such as SOMO-commissioned murals and living walls with hanging plants.

With a capacity of 3,000 people, SOMO’s outdoor space is among the largest concert venues in the North Bay and the perfect location for shows that combine the creativity of events such as Petaluma’s Rivertown Revival with the professionalism of top-tier concert management.

“We really want to distinguish ourselves from other venues in the county,” said Second Octave’s CEO, Morty Wiggins, a Bill Graham Presents veteran. The North Bay has a “really dynamic music scene that’s been developing over here for years.”

He’s joined by former Sony exec Steve Senk, another music-business veteran, as well as production director Josh Windmiller and Dow-Williamson.

“Sonoma County is their hometown, and it’s great to see them come into their own as local music industry executives,” Wiggins said.

Dow-Williamson, 30, grew up in Sebastopol and serves as Second Octave’s spokesperson. Windmiller, 33, oversees the shows’ production and recruiting of unique local vendors. He grew up in Santa Rosa.

“The Bus Shoppe is a favorite of mine, a clothing store inside of a bus,” Windmiller said, along with a vendor who last year brought a giant rideable rocking horse to the festival.

“For the last few years what I’ve really been trying to do is help the North Bay act as big as it is. We have much more diversity, much more artistic content. We are a complex, active community,” he said, noting the SOMO venue is an attractive stop for bands on their way from San Francisco to gigs in Portland and Seattle.

SOMO Concerts is kicking off its third season, though the first had just two shows.

“We have an opportunity of starting a venue from the ground up, which is really thrilling,” Windmiller said. “What I’ve been wanting to do is encourage proactive creation of culture and music rather than just trying to catch up and book so-and-so just because they seem to be popular.”

Windmiller started by producing smaller shows at barns, cafes and private homes, and has been a key figure in the North Bay’s alternative arts scene for more than a decade. He ran the music stages at the Handcar Regatta, a now-defunct Santa Rosa steam punk festival, and is the visionary behind the North Bay Hootenanny, which for years has featured local, down-to-earth musicians at small venues such as Santa Rosa’s Arlene Francis Center.

SOMO SERENADE

Who: Allen Stone with Monophonics

When: 7:30 p.m., Thursday, June 30

Where: SOMO Village Event Center, 1100 Valley House Drive, Rohnert Park

Tickets: $38

Information and full season lineup: (707) 664-6314, somoconcerts.com

“Bryce and I grew up here,” he said. “We know cool people doing weird stuff, and we get them booth space.”

After shows, “everyone leaves with their minds blown a little bit,” Windmiller said.

Added Wiggins, when first-timers come to a SOMO show, a common reaction is, “Where am I? Am I in Rohnert Park?”

More than 90 percent of the energy used at SOMO shows comes from solar power, said Dow-Williamson. “We might be the most solar-powered venue in the United States.”

Wiggins said Second Octave is taking the SOMO concept beyond the Rohnert Park venue to other county locations. The company manages the Railroad Square Music Festival and has produced CD-release parties for artists such as Frankie Boots and Sam Chase at venues such as Petaluma’s Phoenix Theater. “We really feel like we’re occupying space that no one else is occupying,” Wiggins said.

The company’s combination of experience and local roots is valuable because eco-consciousness and yoga classes aren’t enough to build a sustainable business, Senk said.

“We have to be competitive to be viable. No one is going to come because we want them to have a community experience, not even Franti.”

Presenting popular artists who will draw well gives SOMO the option of also bringing in musicians such as the young soul singer Allen Stone, even though he’s not likely to sell it out.

“Allen Stone is a rising star … he’s pretty ‘rised,’ I guess,” Windmiller said. “I stumbled upon him at the High Sierra Music Festival. When you see a really good soul singer who’s communicating with the crowd, preaching love, that is the perfect artist to be at our pop-up festival.”

Although SOMO Concerts must be conscious of economic realities, that doesn’t mean it will grab any popular artist, said Dow-Williamson.

“Top 40 radio is not what Sonoma County wants,” he said. “(We want) to have something that communicates with your heart and makes you feel like moving.

“Steve and Morty have the experience, and they’re willing to let us do our dream jobs,” Dow-Williamson said, bringing a unique blend of music, art, food and drink to Sonoma County in a venue that knocks your socks off.

A full schedule and information is available at 664-6314, somoconcerts.com.

Michael Shapiro is the author of “A Sense of Place: Great Travel Writers Talk About Their Craft, Lives, and Inspiration.” He writes about travel and entertainment for national magazines and The Press Democrat.

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