Best Arts & Entertainment

Pursuit of Happiness

Greg Urquiaga

Boot Scootin’ Boogie: Readers picked Marty’s
Top o’ the Hill as their favorite country dance spot.

‘Best of’ local culture–
what you see is what you get

Defining Sonoma County culture is a little like writing a dictionary: if you don’t use a lot of words, you’re probably cheating somebody. Our culture is defined in part by our geography, in part by our history, and in part by the names in our telephone books. Our culture is us, we the people of Sonoma County:

We nose-pierced punks, we paisleyed pagans, we pamper-spurning parents. We postmodern packrats, pissed-off pacifists, and pious Panglossians. We paradoxical painters of poppies and pigs, passionately pushing masterpieces in the marketplace. We Pan-worshiping palm readers, practicing Parcheesi. We patriotic pantheists, protesting in public places. We patched-up parachutists, we patchouli-pated pastors, we pet-lovers and past-masters and parolees and passersby.

Put another way: culture is what you see when you walk down the street. Here are a few of our favorite sights.

Best Place to Regain Your Faith in Simple Pleasures of Bat and Ball (and Beer)

Why any self-respecting baseball fan would brave Highway 101 traffic, bridge tolls, and wind-chill factors of minus 20 in San Francisco or Oakland to watch self-aggrandizing millionaires prance and pout for their corporate masters like the prized stallions of some decadent European monarch is beyond us. Not when a much more attractive alternative beckons, in the form of the cyclopean lighting towers that sprout next to the freeway in Rohnert Park like a steel Avenue of the Giants and point the way to the Rohnert Park Stadium, home of the Sonoma County Crushers. Taking on a series of foes who hail from such locales as Reno, Palm Springs, and Bend, Ore., these purple-jerseyed warriors of the Western Baseball League (call them semi-pros at your own risk) are preparing to start their second year of providing local fans with (what they promise will be) high-quality, affordable baseball. And don’t let their poor showing last year scare ya; just think of ’em as our very own Cubs. “Our regular season starts May 17,” says sales and promotions director Kevin Wolski. “But from the 12th through the 16th, our players will be training at the Sonoma Mission Inn, which is where the Oakland Oaks and the San Francisco Seals [of the defunct Pacific Coast League] used to practice. And our teams will be wearing the old Oaks and Seals uniforms, so it should be a lot of fun to watch.” “Where have you been, Joe DiMaggio?,” Simon and Garfunkel once rhetorically asked. If you see them, tell the folksinging duo that in spirit, at least, the Yankee Clipper has taken up residence right here in Rohnert Park.–Z.S.

Best Udder Delight

Forget hackneyed images of grapevines or farms. For many local residents, the spirit of Sonoma County is embodied by none other than that grinning, punning, Jacques Cousteau-defying specimen of Bos taurus, Clo the Cow. Beaming from billboards, staring from the side of delivery trucks, and silently reprimanding you late at night as you drink that 2 percent low-fat straight from the carton when you think no one’s looking, images of the Clover Dairy mascot are as ubiquitous in Sonoma County as Ceausescu’s visage was in pre-1989 Rumania. But unlike the Stalinist dictator who met an untimely end, Clo is a gentler and better-loved embodiment of her homeland, a favorite at children’s Christmas parties, store openings, and other public events. And who among us doesn’t have his or her own favorite Clover slogan, like the picture of Clo in full judicial robes accompanies by the caption “Supreme Quart,” ? (My own personal fave: “Tip Clo through your two lips.”) So to (very loosely) paraphrase George Orwell, if you want a picture of Sonoma County, imagine Clo contentedly chewing her cud amid the cool green grass–forever.–Z.S.

Best Place to Find the Dumbest Educational Offering

Santa Rosa Junior College has a no-doubt well-deserved reputation as a first-rate two-year bastion of higher learning. But it is also home to a lot of lower learning, too, via the curious array of community education classes it offers. The current catalog lists such challenging subjects as “Vegetarian Soapmaking,” “Your Septic System up Close,” “Getting the Most from Your Yellow Page Ads,” and “UFOs: What’s Really Happening,” conveniently scheduled on a Saturday morning, precisely 12 hours after The X-Files airs on Fox-TV. For pragmatism-challenged homemakers, there are courses in “Fun with Family Photos,” “Create Your Own Gift Basket,” and “How to Pack the Perfect Suitcase.” Plus remedial sessions in appreciating detective stories, and the even more basic “Walking Class.” There is a class on “How to Write a Hit Song,” taught by someone who never has written one, a slew of investment counseling courses, and two full pages of dance classes for Arthur Murray dropouts. But the pick of the litter has to be a brand-new offering titled “Women’s Guide for Getting Back to Dating in the ’90s, Men Included.” What more could anyone ask for?–B.R.

Best Place to Revel in Your
Own Emotional Vomit

Sometimes an artist will hit a sort of crucial crossroads in which he or she will be unable to decide whether to spend his or her hard-earned table-waiting tips on psychotherapy or on acting lessons. Chin up, friend, because now you can have it all at Lennie Dean’s Studio Be (709 Davis St., Santa Rosa; 522-9361). Using the technique of emotional check-in developed by Eric Morris and sprung from the Stanislavsky method, students assess and weigh their emotions on a daily basis and use the concrete frustrations of traffic and having been unloved as children as springboards for full-bodied interpretations of fictional characters. Being pissed at your mom 30 years later really does seem to work, as Dean’s students and studio participants are doing some of the most interesting work in the county, including staged readings, a playwrights’ forum, and wine-drenched sing-alongs to Broadway scores.–G.G.

Best Place to Get Down

Though some prefer to stroll through those big, glossy, corporate-owned, everything-in-its-place type of cemeteries, there are those who prefer a graveyard that’s a little more, um, down to earth. There is no bone zone more low-profile than the Druid Cemetery in Occidental. Parts of the fraternity-owned landmark look more like arts-and-crafts demonstrations than final resting places, and therein lies the charm of the place. Some of the tombstones are extremely creative and often quite moving. There are hand-carved planks of wood propped up with rocks, and one twisted tree stump is hung with potted plants and bedecked with a sign: “We Love You, Mom.” An offbeat cultural treasure, it must be seen to be believed.–D.T.

Best Place to Snap Your
Fingers in an Inner Tube

Sonoma County has its share of great outdoor festivals, celebrating everything from the Bard to beer. But the annual Russian River Jazz Festival is still the best place for lovers of America’s classical music. It’s all hot sun, sweat, and swimsuits, not to mention the steamy sounds emanating in the late summer air from the stage at Johnson’s Beach in Guerneville. Where else can your kids splash in the water for hours (and don’t forget that sunscreen) while mom and pop and their pals soak up the scintillating sax solos of Joe Henderson and other world-class musicians? For those who have grown weary of the pat format of San Francisco’s jazz clubs or the dearth of really great jazz year-round in the North Bay, the Russian River Jazz Fest is sweet music to the ears. For some reason, everything tastes better outdoors, even a sizzling samba beat.–G.C.

Best Politician to Send Straight
to Hell, Do Not Pass Go

You’ve gotta love Rep. Frank Riggs, R-Windsor. This second-time freshman, born-again conservative Republican legislator is such an easy mark. There isn’t a day that goes by when this office isn’t deluged with miles of faxes from liberal organizations throughout the United States blasting Riggs for his often Neanderthal stands on the environment or AIDS funding or whatever–in fact, sometimes you get faxes blasting him for a mix of things: a desire to rid the planet of old-growth redwoods, health care for the poor, and seniors, for instance. And then there’s the money. Lotsa money. Most of it from big-business interests like RJR Nabisco (and those ain’t just Joe Camel bucks either), Louisiana-Pacific Corp., Shell Oil, General Atomics, and the National Beer Wholesalers Association (a whopping $6,000 between Jan. 1 and June 30, 1995). But don’t get the idea that Frank is just a hack for Newt and the rest of the Capitol Hill gang; heck, he’s got principles–he took money last year from both Republicans for Choice and the National Right to Life PAC.–G.C.

Best Way to Keep on Truckin’

The Dead live on despite Jerry Garcia’s recent demise, thanks to the miles of Memorex that have captured virtually all of the guitar noodling, interminable drum solos, botched lyrics, and flat harmonies of the band’s long, strange trip together. Locally, tie-dye-hard Deadheads can get together to relive (or try to recall) the past at one of the periodic Grateful Dead Dances in Sebastopol (call 829-1213, for info). Local tape maven Barry Chertov (a city planning commissioner in an alternate dimension) replays an entire good Dead concert “at concert volume,” adding a pseudo-psychedelic light show for good measure. And in the communal spirit of the band, you’re also welcome to “bring your tape deck and patch in.” The three shows to date have been held in the Sebastopol Community Center, but there are plans afoot to move the next couple outdoors at Ives Park. Tentative dates are May 11 and the summer solstice in June.–B.R.

Best Place to Pull a Rabbit from a Hat

The Sebastiani theatre (476 First St. East, Sonoma) is not only one of the oldest (it was built in 1933) and most beautiful movie theaters in the county, it is also one of the coolest. It is certainly the only theater around where you can see a flick and get a magic show thrown in for free. Every Friday and Saturday (and when the mood strikes during the week) Sebastiani proprietor Roger Rhoten mounts the stage, dressed in his finest magician’s garb, and thrills the popcorn-crunching crowd with mind-boggling magic tricks. You may even find a live guitarist or local folksinger on stage–one never knows. So why does Rhoten take such pleasant but unnecessary pains? “It’s no trouble,” he humbly explains. “And people do seem to enjoy it.”–D.T.

Best at Acting Out

He of the rubbery face and goofy disposition, she of the sultry voice and slinky good looks, J. Eric Cook and Guenevere Wolfe have won your approval as the best actors in the county. And we have to agree. As members of Main Street Theatre and the Sonoma County Repertory Theatre’s acting stable, Cook and Wolfe exemplify that which we can greedily take for granted in this county–fine community theater. While theatrical efforts bloom mightily on many different stages (and outdoor prosceniums and high school auditoriums), MST and SCRT consistently produce the finest productions of them all, and these two have much to do about it. Wolfe is slapping her bare feet around the SCRT theater as Manson main-squeeze Squeaky Fromme in Assassins, and Cook dons a hunny-colored suit every Saturday through June to give a deep, wrenching portrayal of A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, making these busy artists highly visible to audiences in coming weeks. Our readers take the time to support local theater. We should all bless ourselves that performers of this quality aren’t across any bay or bridge but right here at home.–G.G.

From the March 28-April 3, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent

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