Lagunitas concert series brings stars, rising talent to Petaluma

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Lagunitas Brewery is gearing up for its sixth season of free outdoor concerts with a roster of bands that ranges from Oakland blues-roots singer Fantastic Negrito to gritty Americana songwriter James McMurtry.

The 14-concert series kicks off Memorial Day, May 28, with blue-eyed soul band St. Paul and the Broken Bones and concludes Oct. 2 with indie rockers The Front Bottoms.

“It’s a beautiful season,” said Karen Hamilton, Lagunitas’ director of communication.

Some music fans might not recognize several bands in this summer’s lineup, which is by design.

“We look for up-and-coming artists that haven’t hit it big yet, but are amazing talents. You can discover your next favorite band,” she said.

“It’s a win-win,” for the band which gets great exposure and for audience members who get to expand their musical horizons.

The concerts take place in a cozy outdoor amphitheater at Lagunitas’ brewing facility in northern Petaluma. A flat dance area at the front of hard-back dirt is backed by a sloping lawn. Bar grub and Lagunitas beer, including seasonal varieties that may only be available for a short time, are for sale in the taproom alongside the grassy theater.

This season some of the proceeds from beer sales will be donated to organizations helping the North Bay rebuild after last fall’s fires, and to other local groups such as Redwood Empire Food Bank, Hamilton said.

Admission is free, but typically concert-goers need to get tickets ahead of shows because capacity is limited to 400 people.

In the early years, Lagunitas directed people to the bands’ sites to get tickets, but the brewery now offers them through its own website.

Shows typically start at 6 p.m., and by curfew must end by 9 p.m. Doors open at 4:20 p.m.

Concert-goers often arrive well before the opening act starts playing, to lay down their blankets and soak up the atmosphere.

Parking was tight during the first years of the series, but Lagunitas has opened a new parking lot for this season, she said, less than a 5-minute walk south of the brewery on McDowell Boulevard.

Blankets and low-back chairs are welcome but high-backed chairs, which block others’ views, are not. Outside food or alcoholic beverages are not allowed.

Lagunitas doesn’t want to interfere with concert offerings at other venues so the company tries not to book acts that are playing nearby, said marketing manager Laura Muckenhoupt when the series launched.

Shows take place on Monday or Tuesday evenings when there’s not a lot of action at other clubs and theaters.

The lineup is intentionally eclectic with a wide variety of performers, Hamilton said, reflecting the broad demographic of Lagunitas’ customers.

It all started a few years ago during construction on the Petaluma brewery’s property when Lagunitas founder Tony Magee noticed a mound of dirt that had been excavated and had a vision for an amphitheater.

Magee was so enthusiastic about the project that he hopped on a backhoe and started moving dirt, Hamilton said.

Beyond offering free music, Lagunitas has for many years donated beer to nonprofits for fundraisers.

“Tony always believed you should bring gifts to the community,” Hamilton said. The concert series is “a gift we can bring and has become part of the company culture.”

Lagunitas was acquired in full by Dutch brewing giant Heineken a year ago, and many of the craft brewer’s devoted patrons feared the free-spirited company’s rogue culture would change.

Yet the concerts are evidence that the show will go on.

In addition to the summer concert series, there’s free live music in Lagunitas’ tap room featuring local musicians, Wednesdays through Fridays starting at 4:20 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays starting at 3 p.m.

Other bands playing this year at Lagunitas’ amphitheater include quirky Americana singer M. Ward (July 17) and the eight-piece New Orleans brass ensemble The Soul Rebels (Aug. 13).

The combination of under-the-radar music, craft beers and the outdoor setting, Hamilton said, add up to more than the sum of their parts.

When a band is jamming, the sun is setting and fans are swaying, everything comes together, she said. “It’s big magic.”

Lagunitas is located at 1280 N. McDowell Blvd., Petaluma. For this season’s complete lineup and ticket information, see:

Michael Shapiro saw soul singer Charles Bradley perform at Lagunitas in 2016 and was there last September when Tom Waits joined Mavis Staples on the brewery’s stage to sing “Respect Yourself.”

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