Celebrate spring at these festivals in Napa, Mendocino counties

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It’s spring: time to dust the house and dig in the garden. But don’t forget to ditch the chores, crank open the sunroof and head someplace exotic where you can smell the flowers without thinking about fertilizer and snail bait.

Napa and Mendocino counties have come up with a cure for spring fever: both have cobbled together arts festivals during the month of April that offer quirky, colorful and edgy events that will take you to the fringe of Bohemia and back, without the high cost of the usual wine-and-food events. In fact, many of the events are free.

The first “Almost-Fringe Festival” in three different regions of Mendocino County, for example, offers a Trash to Fashion show Friday, March 31, a goat festival and wildflower show April 22 and 23 and the 15th annual UkiaHaikU Festival on April 30, celebrating the Japanese poetry form (and the fact that Ukiah is “Haiku” spelled backwards.)

“We want this to be an inclusive festival where all the creativity that is found in Mendocino County, from arts to agrarian, can be celebrated,” said Luz Harvey, events coordinator at Visit Mendocino County. “We decided to divide the county into main travel corridors so each corridor could have a dedicated weekend.”

The Redwood Corridor, from Hopland to Laytonville, will be spotlighted this weekend, March 31-April 2; the Mendocino Coast gets two weekends: the North Coast will be featured April 7-9, and the South Coast on April 28-30; and Anderson Valley along Highway 128 will get its moment in the sun on April 21-23.

If that isn’t edgy enough, head over to Napa County for the seventh annual Arts in April. New this year are five anchor events in five different cities, starting this weekend, March 30-April 2, with “Sarafornia” in Calistoga and ending with “Flow: Arts at the River” in Napa on April 30.

Organizers sat down with volunteers from each city — Calistoga, St. Helena, American Canyon, Yountville, and Napa — to decide on each community’s separate contributions to the culture and arts of the county.

“I sat down with people who are arts and culture stakeholders, and we talked about the unique contributions of Calistoga,” Smith said. “Calistoga has more of a Bohemian spirit … so we decided to use that as a guideline for that event.”

Artistic smorgasbord

“Sarafornia” provides visual, literary and musical smorgasbord of art highlighted by the third annual Engage Art Fair at Calistoga’s Napa County Fairgrounds Friday through Sunday, March 31 to April 2.

“They take over the building and turn it into a SoHo Art event, with a New York art work vibe,” said Danielle Smith, producer of Arts in April, a collaboration between Visit Napa Valley and the Arts Council Napa Valley. “It’s called engage because the artists are actually working on their craft, so you can see them at work and engage them in a discussion about their processes.”

This weekend, Calistoga will also host Flower Bomb, a floral exhibit that interprets iconic artwork from great masters.

“It’s a send-up of the de Young Museum’s Bouquets to Art,” Smith said. “There will be eight florists responding to 12 works of art.”

Because the spa town also boasts a literary tradition — think of one-time resident, novelist Robert Louis Stevenson — there will also be a vibrant Storytelling Speakeasy held in the back room of the Tank Garage Winery at 6 p.m. Saturday, April 1, that highlights the spoken word in the spirit of the popular podcasts “This American Life” and “The Moth.”

“There’s going to be live music interspersed between the storytellers,” Smith said. “Our themes will be life in a small town, and life in the Napa Valley.”

In honor of National Poetry Month, the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference will host an evening of readings and discussion about the role of poetry on April 15 featuring California Poet Laureate Dana Gioia of Santa Rosa, who served as chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts from 2003 to 2009. The event takes place at Napa Valley College in Napa.

“It’s back to the idea of standing up for arts and culture,” Smith said. “This event underscores that poetry is this essential thing that is a huge part of the human experience … and it’s being threatened. So it’s a great chance to hear art but also have a call to action to help save the NEA.”

Of course, many of the museums and wineries of Napa are also hosting events, including St. Supery Estate Vineyards and Winery in Rutherford, which will exhibit artwork from the renowned cheese artist, Mike Geno of Philadelphia, and serve it up with a selection of cheeses from top Bay Area creameries along with their own wines.

“They have a gallery at their winery and are major supporters of the arts,” Smith said. “They always try to do something unique and new.”

Music events

During the festival’s final weekend in the town of Napa, Flow: Arts at the River will highlight buskers on the Oxbow River switchbacks, music events at the Oxbow Commons (in front of Copia) presented by Festival Napa Valley and arts activities designed by Napa high school students. There will also be a couple of public art projects taking place in the new Rail Arts District in the industrial section of town.

“They are enhancing the environment with artists from all over the world and locals too,” she said. “You can sort the tiles from the debris created by the 2014 Napa Earthquake for the Quake Mosaic … and Cinta Vidal, a Spanish street artist, will be doing another mural.”

When it was launched seven years ago, the idea behind the Arts in April Napa Valley festival was to attract visitors during a time when the region wasn’t all that busy.

“The month of April has historically been a shoulder-season month,” Smith said. “It was conceived to fill a niche and highlight a reason to come to Napa.”

Nowadays, however, April marks the kick-off of tourist season, so you may want to make reservations for ticketed events — and local restaurants — ahead of time.

For a complete program schedule, go to artscouncilnapavalley.org/artsinapril.

For a complete schedule of the Almost Fringe Festival in Mendocino County, loosely based on the original Edinburgh Fringe Festival, go to visitmendocino.com/fringe.

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56.

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