Across generations, that sound now called Americana recalls popular songs of youth, no matter which generation of the 20th century a person was born into. This demonstrates why the Second Annual Sonoma County Americana Music Festival at Santa Rosa’s The California is designed to appeal to all.
“Like a lot of what is called American music nowadays, you hear a rock and roll influence, you can hear a country music influence, you can hear a blues influence,” said Kevin Russell, co-organizer of the event, “[or] an element of all of them.”
The event will be held at The California in Santa Rosa for the second straight year. Maria Maldaur played last year to an enthusiastic crowd. Having a hit headliner is important, but Russell also wants to “introduce people to music and to bands that I think are great.”
He is particularly proud of the lineup of talent for the show.
“Well, this year, we’re opening the show with John R Burr and Mads Tolling, and they’re a piano violin duo… fantastic stuff,” said Russell, who first heard them while DJing on KRCB radio, another of his music projects. “Mads Tolling is a fabulous violinist in everything from jazz to pop to classical, and John R is, I got to tell you, he’s the most brilliant piano player I’ve ever heard.”
No less exciting is returning headliner Maria Maldaur. “Maria was such a hit last year. My God, she just did a bunch of shows, [but] she is like dynamite these days,” Russell said of the classic American singer with her own eclectic style.
Listening to the Americana music all around Sonoma County, I always hear an echo of the radio in my mom’s car, me eager for Johnny Cash or John Denver to come on. Yet she had similar memories. And as today’s folk punks and jug band fans attest, the hard-to-define sound continues to be a touchstone of youth across generations.
“I come from a bit of a musical family. I came home from school, and my mother had gone out and bought a set of drums and placed them in front of our family stereo so she could play along with Buck Owens and Merle Haggard,” recalled Russell with a laugh. “It was wild.”
“Died in the wool honky tonk players and singers would show up at our house a couple of times a year,” said Russell, everyone playing and singing together. “So, that started me down the road to music, [which] has just been one of those things that I fell in love with quite early, and probably saved my life a number of times.”
Now in its second season, The California hosts plays, comedy nights and a regular blues night on Mondays. And lots of music.
“It has a dance floor and a new sound system, a great stage. It is very cozy, very comfortable,” said Russell.
With the success of the festival and other shows Russell has hosted, he has founded a nonprofit committed to bringing roots music to live venues in the area.
“I’ve got two shows in November coming up,” said Russell, always ready to promote the cause.
One of the shows is particularly interesting. On Nov. 11, the California Bluegrass Reunion plays at The California. Attested Russell: “If you like bluegrass music, these are some of the top players in the country.”
The Second Annual Sonoma County Americana Music Festival starts at 7:30pm on Saturday, Oct. 7, at The California, 528 7th St., Santa Rosa. All ages. Tickets through the venue online start at $28.