The fourth annual Railroad Square Music Festival in downtown Santa Rosa on June 10 features top local bands such as Highway Poets and Sol Horizon, but the most exciting aspect of this year’s event may be that for the first time people can arrive by train.
“It’s so exciting that you can hop on a train in Petaluma or wherever and be dropped directly at the doorstep of this free music festival,” said festival director Josh Windmiller.
Windmiller believes that the SMART train, which began operating last summer, can make the festival much more enjoyable for those who ride the rails.
The festival is not a “car-based event,” he said. “You can get to it very easily through public transportation. We want the arts to be accessible.”
Launched in 2015 by the North Bay Hootenanny, a nonprofit music collective, one of the festival’s goals is to highlight local and regional musicians.
This year’s event features five stages, each hosting four bands; a family area with its own stage and activities for kids; and a musical instrument library where festival-goers can play their own songs.
Circus and aerial acts will add to the fun, and an area called Shop Party will feature local makers and artisans in a “bazaar of homemade goods,” Windmiller said.
Frankie Boots, a longtime North Bay favorite who moved to New Orleans about a year ago, is one of the headliners.
“Frank is a real celebrated figure here, a singer-songwriter who writes immediate classics,” Windmiller said.
“He fingerpicks. He croons. He surrounds himself with some real quality musicians who take his songs and turn them into whole new beasts.”
Another headliner, Highway Poets, evokes the “charm of the North Bay, specifically the hills of Petaluma,” Windmiller said. “They are loud and big, but intimate and honest at the same time.”
Local reggae artists Sol Horizon “are a whole movement in the North Bay,” Windmiller said. “Few bands have such a strong community around them. Their style is reggae, but their vibe is so much more.”
And then there are bands that even many dedicated local music fans haven’t heard, such as San Francisco-based Bikini Complex, an indie rock band with a terrific singer who goes by the name Kiki the Cat.
“No one sings like Kiki,” Windmiller said. “Her voice is so powerful it almost gets into musical theater territory.”
Windmiller has intentionally brought to the festival some lesser-known bands he feels deserve exposure.
“The idea is that hopefully everybody recognizes a few names,” he said, “but it’s really about exposure, inviting people to see new music,” such as bluegrass band One Grass Two Grass.
Odessa, who started out in Santa Rosa, has an ethereal voice and achieved widespread acclaim for her song, “I Will Be There,” from the soundtrack of the 2014 film, “If I Stay.”
“She’s had some national success and now we are welcoming her back to her hometown,” Windmiller said.
Nurtured in part by the North Bay Hootenanny, the North Bay collective that has put on shows at the Arlene Francis Center, the local music community is tight knit.
During the first three years of the festival, musicians occasionally joined one another onstage, and that could happen again this year.
If You Go
Who: Highway Poets, Frankie Boots, Sol Horizon and 17 other bands
What: Railroad Square Music Festival
When: 11 a.m. to to 7:30 p.m., Sunday, June 10
Where: Railroad Square, 4th and Davis streets, Santa Rosa
Admission: Free but donations appreciated at gofundme.com/rsmf2018