Railroad Square Music Festival boogies on despite sizzling temperatures

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Following his 45-minute set in furnacelike conditions at Sunday’s fifth annual Railroad Square Music Festival, Elmar Kurgpold found a folding chair behind the Bottle Barn Stage on Fourth Street and commenced chugging water.

The mercury hit 93 in downtown Santa Rosa, although it often felt warmer as heat refracted off the unshaded pavement serving as dance areas for the dozen bands who played on four different stages on and around Railroad Square.

Asked if he’d ever played a hotter venue, Kurgpold, bassist for a blues band called the Dylan Black Project, recalled his days playing saxophone for USC Trojans Marching Band. “We’d be out on the field some days in 105-degree weather in full wool uniforms. But I was younger then.”

While plenty of folks braved Sunday’s Hades-like conditions, the crowd appeared to be around half of what it was at last year’s festival. “If the numbers are down,” said Josh Windmiller, founder and director of the event, “it’s probably because of the heat.”

For those who braved the blazing sun, he added, “it made the experience that much more special.”

Music-lovers found partial relief under parasols and wide-brimmed chapeaux. Whether it was in the lee of buildings or beneath trees, shade was at a high premium.

A woman selling straw sun hats did a brisk business, as did the bar beneath the Lagunitas tent. But no one served more customers, on this day, than the Wicked Slush truck, where the number of parched patrons in line seldom dipped under 20.

Windmiller, a Sonoma State grad and member of the local band The Crux, founded the festival to showcase other local talent.

The mission, he said, is to, “in one day, bring out all the beautiful stuff that’s just under the surface in this community, and make it public, make it free, make it really accessible.”

Coming off the Out There SR Stage after his set, A.J. Ayez, the keyboardist and lead vocalist for Down Dirty Shake, said this festival is helping to energize the music scene in Santa Rosa.

While it finished with a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain,” the band’s best song was an original called “Sun Cheyenne,” which bass player Tommy Anderson described as kind of love song and ode to the sun goddess.

“Although today,” he added, referring to the weather, “we might have done better to skip that one.”

Back at the Bottle Barn Stage, the Dylan Black Project lead singer Terry Sanders turned in a remarkably high-energy performance. An Oakland firefighter who lost his Fountaingrove home in the 2017 wildfires, Sanders recently moved to downtown Santa Rosa, where there’s “a lot of musical talent,” he said, “but painfully few places to play.” A lot of clubs are looking for cover bands, “which means doing original material is kinda out,” said Sanders.

What he loves about the Railroad Square Music Festival is that it allows, and encourages bands “to be creative” — such as the last song in their set, a blues-infused synthesis of Deep Purple’s “Hush” that merged seamlessly, somehow, into The Beatles’ “A Day In The Life.”

A surprising number of people danced along. Those hearty souls tended to avoid the middle of the street, however, gravitating instead to the shade.

You can reach Staff Writer Austin Murphy at 707-521-5214 or austin.murphy@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @Ausmurph88

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