Best Culture

Best Culture

Feelin’ It

Music from her breast vibrating/ Soundseared into burnished velvet./
Silent hips deceiving fools./ Rivulets of trickling ecstacy/
From the alabaster pools of Jazz.

–from “Jazz Chick” by Bob Kaufman

Photograph by Michael Amsler

Best Place to See More Art than You Can Possibly Imagine

Want to be brought up to speed on what’s been happening in the Bay Area art scene for the last 40 years? The impressive di Rosa Preserve in the Carneros region near Napa has over 1,900 works by 650 artists displayed in 25,000 square feet of gallery space. The former winery houses the collection of René (depicted above) and the late Veronica di Rosa and includes the work of such well-known Northern California artists as Chester Arnold, Roy DeForest, Robert Arneson, William T. Wiley, and David Best. The 81-year-old René di Rosa has long been seen as a champion of Bay Area art, and his support has aided the careers of numerous emerging painters, sculptors, and photographers. The preserve is open to the public on a limited basis. Tours of both the gardens and the galleries are conducted on select days, and advanced reservations are required. Regular tours are 9:25 a.m. and 12:55 p.m., Tuesday through Fridays; and 9:25 and 10:25 a.m. on Saturdays. Cost is $10.

5200 Hwy. 121, Napa (across from Domaine Carneros). 707/226-5991 –B.E.

Best Place to Channel Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood has a fondness for North Bay roadhouses. The celebrated movie star once shot scenes for one of his films at Joe’s Crossroads in Novato–a glorious little dive bar nestled on the outskirts of town (the sign read Joe’s XX, or Joe’s Double-X, as we used to call it). It was demolished long ago to make room for a cutesy office park. The place had black-and-white photos of Clint and longtime co-star Sandra Locke on the wall. But as anyone who suffered through the 1999 film True Crime knows, the wrecking ball can’t stop a he-man like Clint Eastwood–Marin County might have gone and gotten all cutesy (though there are still some great dive bars around), but Sonoma County is loaded with roadside joints loaded with character. Specifically, the Washoe House in Petaluma, a onetime stagecoach stop built in 1859. Ten-year-old Cadillacs in the parking lot. Dollar bills dangling from the ceiling. Ranch hands at the bar. The Washoe House is a real blue-collar slice of life. Yeah, suffer a little and rent the True Crime video to catch Clint as a hard-drinkin’ (and, I mean, drinkin’ at his desk!) crime reporter who sidles up to the dark oak bar of this rustic restaurant for a stiff jolt before running off to save the day. But be prepared to suspend your disbelief: the joint is supposed to be on the outskirts of Oakland. Or just stop by for a steak and Stoli. Tell ’em Clint sent ya.

Stoney Point and Roblar Roads, Petaluma. 707/795-4544 –G.C

Best Place to Grill Big-Name Authors

Any good reader has them–those burning questions we long to put to our favorite big-name authors. We could sit around waiting for National Public Radio to ring up and ask us to fill in for Terri Gross on her interview program Fresh Air. But, despite our qualifications, Congress will probably yank NPR’s funding before that happens. For a more realistic alternative, head over to the Literary Arts Series at the Marin Center. There you’ll find some of the biggest names in contemporary literature–folks like Michael Ondaatje, Russell Banks, and Seamus Heaney–sitting on stage, engaged in unusually candid conversation with knowledgeable hosts. Best of all: the evenings conclude by offering audience members a chance to pose questions of their own to the authors. How else would you learn that Ondaatje (author of The English Patient) really, really admires the recent film adaptation of American Psycho? The series continues on April 6 with an appearance by storyteller Bailey White.

Marin Center, Avenue of the Flags, San Rafael. 415/472-3500. –P.S.

Best Surly Local Celebrity

Before the Whole Foods invasion, I was a cashier at Food for Thought in Sebastopol. The highlight of my week was when Tom Waits came in to shop. He usually wore the porkpie hat and filthy denim jacket that seem to be his trademark. He and his wife would shop for hours, filling up their grocery cart so high that it began to resemble the leaning tower of Pisa. Tom Waits would wander dreamily up and down the aisles, taking things off the shelves apparently at random and scrutinizing a package for a good 10 to 15 minutes. Sometimes he would take the thing over to his wife, if she was in the vicinity, and they would look at it together for another long while. The thing, whatever it was, would usually get placed upon the mounting tower of groceries already in their cart. Having been a fan since I was 7 years old (and having often heard of Tom Waits sightings at Jabba the Hut in Freestone or Copperfield’s Books in Santa Rosa), I would watch and wait, hoping that Waits would come through my line. He never did. Not surprising, considering that he’s a celebrity who despises recognition. One day, after I had been staring as hard as I could, he whipped his head around after writing a check for 16 bags of groceries and leveled his gaze at me, staring as directly as I’d been doing for the last few hours. I flushed with shame, realizing how rude I’d been, and tried not to stare at Tom Waits anymore when he came in. Although he never did come through my line, once he came running back into the store, straight up to me. “Can I have a freezer bag?” he rasped, grabbing one. I didn’t have time to think of a clever response before he was gone, throwing a “thanks” over his shoulder. I suppose his ice cream was melting. –E.L.

Best Place to Enjoy Free Music and the Great Outdoors

The joy of connection is the answer. The question is: Why would 75 professional musicians be willing to play without getting paid? An all-volunteer orchestra is not the world’s easiest project to undertake, but in Cotati–the musical heart of Sonoma County–such a beast not only exists, but flourishes. “This is an opportunity for people to experience creating something,” says Gabriel Sakakeeny, conductor of and inspiration for the Cotati Philharmonic Orchestra. “As artists, we don’t have that many opportunities to do what we do. So why aren’t we just giving it away?” If that sounds idealistic, it’s nothing compared to the sound of the orchestra itself. Since its first free concert two years ago, CPO has been drawing packed houses and rave reviews for the polished passion of its musical selections. “It’s not like this is a great way to make money,” says Sakakeeny. “Most of us in the orchestra have day jobs. But there’s something special that comes from volunteering. The pressure is off, and you’re just doing it out of love.”

Cotati Philharmonic (), 201 W. Sierra Ave., Cotati. 707/792-4600, ext. 664. –Y.B.

Best Place to Pour on the Art

When wealthy Swiss entrepreneur and winery founder Donald Hess decided to blend his two passions, art and vino, under one elegant roof, he hit upon an intoxicating idea. Napa’s Hess Collection Winery boasts more than wine; it also houses a permanent exhibition of contemporary art, which Art in America magazine calls one of the top 200 collections in the world. Hess’ personal collection consists of about 140 pieces on two main floors of gallery space, including works by such internationally acclaimed artists as Francis Bacon, Robert Motherwell, Frank Stella, Magdalena Abakanowicz, and Gerhard Richter. The gallery is spacious, airy, and minimalist, with a soaring entryway. It’s all crisp white walls and ceilings, subdued lighting, and huge stretches of bleached oak floor, as polished and expansive as an ice rink. The Hess Collection Winery is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily for winetasting (minimal charge) and free self-guided art tours. No appointment is necessary to view the art.

4411 Redwood Road, off Hwy. 29, Napa. 707/255-1144. –P.H.

Best Place to Check Your Opera Chops

Care to step up and unleash an aria? At Saturday Night Opera at the Jarvis Conservatory in Napa both amateur and professional opera singers get up before an open microphone on an unadorned stage and sing their hearts out. The action happens at the whim of the piano player Richard Evans or one of the many other accompanists who participate. “Think of it as a piano bar for opera singers,” Evans tells the audience. For the last four years opera singers and fans have come to this small jewel of a theater to celebrate their favorite musical form. Most performances are sold out and feature 15 singers per evening. Singers are selected before the performance and then randomly called to the stage by the piano player adding excitement and drama. Some of the singers are great, and rarely is someone truly bad. Unlike stand-up comics, who all think they’re funny, most aspiring opera singers tend to undervalue their talents. Saturday Night Opera is held on the first and third Saturdays of the month. The cost for the audience is $15.

1711 Main St., Napa. 707/255-5445. –B.E.

Best Place to Discover Regional Writers Both Famous and Not-So-Famous

Jack London was the first writer to make a million bucks for his literary efforts, but the North Bay has been the home to many famous and not-so-famous authors over the years. Now the Jean and Charles Schulz Information Center, on the campus of Sonoma State University, has gathered together a collection of writers from London to sainted food writer M.F.K. Fisher and given them a space of honor. The newly opened $41.5 million center contains 600,000 books, but it’s the acquisition of a nearly $500,000 collection of autographed and inscribed works by London donated by a Minnesota collector that really makes this regional writer’s collection such a standout. It includes rare first editions of nearly all of London’s titles, along with signed letters and original magazine articles. The center has also collected the works of many other notable Sonoma County scribes and will offer tutorial services for fledgling writers in the student body. A special writers’ room is in development and will provide a quiet place where the works of these regional writers can be read and appreciated.

1801 E. Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park. 707/664-2161. –B.E.

Best Mom-and-Pop Baseball Franchise in the North Bay

OK, it’s the only mom-and-pop baseball franchise in the North Bay. Bob and Susan Fletcher are now familiar faces on the North Bay baseball scene. After six full seasons of Western Baseball League action at the Rohnert Park Stadium, the Fletchers have had more than their share of home runs and bad hops. They won WBL Championships in 1998, had ex-major leaguers on their rosters as players and managers, and have seen many of their league competitors perish on the harsh yoke of small business realities. But the Crushers have survived and even thrived because of their close link to the community. Susan Fletcher is actively involved in finding host families for the Crushers players during the season. Players make around $1,000 a month, and most can’t afford the high rents in Sonoma County. “The host families have been great,” Susan says. “But it’s a real challenge to place the right player with the right family. And what do you say to a child when the Crusher in the guest bedroom gets traded?” The Crushers have signed Tim Ireland as their new manager for the 2001 season. Ireland has played in the major leagues and in Japan and Italy. With his extensive managerial career (1994 Minor League Baseball Manager of the Year), he’s sure to bring an exciting group of players on board. “Tim is a proven winner,” Bob Fletcher says. “He’s well connected in the baseball community, which is key to locating the best available players.”

Rohnert Park Stadium, 5900 Labath Ave., Rohnert Park. 707/588-8300. –B.E.

Photograph by Michael Amsler

Best Place to Play Pinball with Skateboarders without Having to Pay for a Pizza

Sure, sure. The Phoenix Theatre may be the best all-ages music venue in Sonoma County, if not the entire Bay Area. It may be famous for having been the first one of the stages on which Green Day and Primus and Metallica ever played. It may also be haunted, but that’s another story. The real reason to go to the Phoenix is for what goes on when no bands are playing. A vital after-school hangout for North Bay teens (including Danielle Haywood, left, Jesse Figone, and Katrina Rossman), the lobby hosts a number of pinball machines that usually work pretty well and provide a benign focal point for kids’ attention, in between gossiping, skate-boarding in the auditorium, and trying to borrow change from manager Tom Jaffe. It’s no Chuck E. Cheese, and that’s a very good thing.

101 Washington St., Petaluma. 707/762-3565. –D.T.

Best Place to Get Bitten by a Snake while Listening to Indie-Rock Bands

“Bitten by a snake?” you exclaim. “But isn’t the Old Vic an English pub?” Indeed, it is. And one of the house specialties is a snakebite: a pint of Red Rocket ale and Ace apple cider, mixed. It’s quite delicious. Also recommended are black-and-tans and black velvets (Guinness and Bass, and Guinness and cider, respectively). But what’s really fine is the Old Vic’s music. It’s the only live-music venue left in downtown Santa Rosa, and one of the few in the county. If you’re searching for the place that has the highest concentration of hipsters per square foot, the Old Vic is it. Local bands like Cropduster and Army of Ants are regulars, and sometimes Sonoma County gets an out-of-town treat like Black Heart Procession, the supertalented indie-rock band out of San Diego (of all places for indie rock!). When dining there, be sure to ask the jovial and usually soused owner about Ma.

731 Fourth St., Santa Rosa. 707/571-7555. –E.L.

Best Place to Wallow in the Mud

Want to have some good filthy fun? Does the idea of straddling a slippery pole and knocking your neighbor into a muddy bog hold a certain appeal? Then this midsummer event is not to be missed. The World Pillow Fighting Championship in Kenwood offers people from all over the world the opportunity to go to war over a riverbed of muddy slime. It all happens on the Fourth of July when the population of this small wine country village swells from 1,200 to over 12,000. Many contestants consider this event to be serious business and train for it. Some have competed in the mud fights for decades and come to win. But for most people it’s an occasion for drinking beer and wine, eating classic American food, and listening to some great music. The pillow fights are the centerpieces for an all-day celebration that includes a parade of classic cars and a 3K and a 10K run. Entrance to the pillow fights is $4.

Kenwood, on Hwy. 12 between Santa Rosa and Sonoma. 707/833-2440. –B.E.

Photograph by Michael Amsler

Best Place on the Street to Draw Attention to Your Art

How about hitting the streets with your artistic aspirations? On one weekend in early June, pastel artists from all over the world are set free to decorate select streets in downtown San Rafael. In 1994 Youth In Arts imported this Italian form of street art known as madonnari to the North Bay. More than 300 muralists cover around 30,000 square feet of blacktop with designs ranging from classic Renaissance images to Japanese animation. In addition, over 1,300 kids create a patchwork of color squares on what is called Children’s Avenue. The public is invited to roam the streets to watch the various masterpieces evolve. You can meet the artists and perhaps serve as an inspiration to their creation–one artist at the center of the event was including portraits of the crowd in his mural. When the festival is over, all the work is quickly washed away–but not before it’s admired and photographed by over 40,000 visitors. During the Italian Street Painting Festival artists work from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday.

Fifth Avenue and A Street, San Rafael. 415/457-4878. –B.E.

Best Place to Have a Sunset Picnic and Be Run Over by Stray Dogs

At Marin County’s legendary Film Night in the Park, you can experience all of the above, plus great films and plenty more. Held every summer and fall, the long-running series features classic movies shown beneath the stars in a number of well-manicured Marin County parks. The schedule is posted online in late spring (at ) and alternates between serious stuff, like last year’s Tuskeegee Airmen, great family fare like Grease, and The Princess Bride, and, um, scary stuff like The Thing. Films are often preceded by short talks from local filmmakers and seasoned movie critics, and there’s always a cartoon or two. Admission is three bucks for adults and free for kids, who will love the adventure of it all, not to mention getting to stay up late. –D.T.

Best Unknown Dance Club

Situated inconspicuously next to the Sonoma Taco Shop (which, incidentally, has some of the best Mexican food around) on Third Street and Brookwood Avenue in Santa Rosa, Anthony’s Music Box keeps up a good front as a honky-tonk dive. The bouncers have mullets and Raiders jackets, and the jukebox just inside the front door features mostly Dwight Yoakam discs. Step inside on a Wednesday or Thursday night, however, and the music and crowd tell a different story. Every other Wednesday, Anthony’s hosts a score of talented DJs from Sonoma County, San Francisco, and beyond. The cover charge is cheap and so are the drinks. A fervent critic of the rave scene, I was skeptical until I walked inside and saw every single one of my friends there. After recovering from my rage that they’d been keeping their fun a secret for so long, I proceeded to get down and boogie. I have dubbed Thursdays at Anthony’s “booty night,” because that’s where the 20 to 30s in Santa Rosa come to try and get some. I’ve been once with a couple of girlfriends, and while I really enjoyed the music (a DJ playing Top 40 hip-hop), I haven’t been back because of the amount of times I was picked up with “Wassssuuuuuup, baby, do you have a boyfriend?” (five times).

53 Montgomery Drive, Santa Rosa. 707/575-9140. –E.L.

Best Place to Catch Up on Tchaikovsky under the Summer Sky

The second annual Festival on the Green–which in a few years will move into its stylish new state-of-the-art concert hall at the Donald and Maureen Green Music Center at Sonoma State University–promises to blend world-class performances with educational opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds, and to become a major cultural arts festival. Very ambitious, indeed. And with Santa Rosa Symphony conductor and pianist Jeffrey Kahane, himself a world-class act, at the helm, that is a promise that you can bank on. The four-weekend-long event will feature the “Youth Festival Weekend” (July 27-29) that includes the Santa Rosa Symphony Summer Music Academy, Young Artists’ Chamber Ensembles, Santa Rosa Children’s Chorus, EXCEL music and drama classes, Summer Arts for Youth, Singabout! The Z Festival, and special guests; “Independence Day on the Green” (July 4), with Kahane conducting a swing-era patriotic program; “A Midsummer Night on the Green” (Aug. 11), highlighting the Santa Rosa Symphony in an all-Tchaikovsky program; and “Jazz on the Green” (Aug. 11), with a major guest artist yet to be announced.

SSU, 1801 E. Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park. 707/546-8742 or 415/931-3924. –G.C.

Photograph by Michael Amsler

Best Place to Work on Your Tan While Grooving to the Blues

Remember when we gathered as a tribe to boogie to the sounds of our favorite bands? If you want to recapture that old Golden Gate Park music vibe from the ’60s, check out the Russian River Blues Festival in Guerneville. Last year blues singer Etta James got down with the Average White Band, Tommy Castro, and a number of other hot acts to rock the Russian River for an entire weekend of sun, swimming, and funky live entertainment. For the last five years, thousands of people have sat side by side in lawn chairs and on blankets as they grooved to the acts performing on the large stage on the beach. The festival includes winetasting from the likes of Kenwood, Davis Bynum, and Ravenswood wineries, plus a small city of tents overflowing with gourmet foods and local crafts. Be sure to bring blankets, swimsuits, sunscreen, and wide-brimmed hats. Leave the video cameras and audio recording equipment at home because neither is allowed. The festival runs on both Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $45 for one day, $85 for a two-day pass.

Johnson’s Beach, Guerneville. 510/655-9471. –B.E.

Best Local Rabble Rouser

Lynn Hamilton, a former mayor of Sebastopol, settled in Occidental three years ago and became a driving force behind the movement to stop widespread vineyard conversions. Before that, she spent several years in South America working for Ashoka, the Washington, D.C.-based non-profit that promotes social change by funding creative people who have come up with new ways to help the poor and improve social systems in their countries. Now she is applying her expertise to the Town Hall Coalition, a loose-knit group of environmentally minded Sonoma County residents intent on battling big wine interests to preserve their quality of life. “Working for Ashoka and meeting social entrepreneurs from around the world has helped me be more effective,” Hamilton, 53, told reporter Sara Peyton. Seeing the Napa-based Phelps Vineyard preparing a golden Freestone hillside for grapes and hearing about widespread forest conversions–including a plan to clear-cut 4,000 acres of coastal land for the largest vineyard conversion of all–got Hamilton thinking. In 1999, she and her husband, Frank, celebrated their marriage with a party at their home. In lieu of gifts, they asked for donations to start a fund to protect watersheds and forests in Sonoma County. The money raised (about $1,500) helped underwrite the cost of the first town hall meeting. Now the coalition has inspired similar groups in Sonoma and Healdsburg, and a spin-off organization–the No Spray Movement–is gathering support throughout the North Bay in its bid to stop forced-spraying of pesticides to combat the glassy-winged sharpshooter, a tiny pest that the Sonoma County grape growers fear will infect vines with the shriveling Pierce’s disease. “The purpose of the Town Hall Coalition is to effect social change,” Hamilton explained. “We’re giving people information so they can come up with new proposals, write a letter, testify at a hearing, or reach out to a neighbor. This is not a protest movement–it’s a social change movement.” –G.C.

Best Artist to Find Rooting through Your Trash Can

He’s the best. In so many ways. David Best, the infamous Petaluma-based junk-artist/sculptor/raconteur is a modern master of assemblage art, capable of creating whimsical sculptures–from twisted-metal Christmas trees to television totem poles to some really trippy auto-body work–all out of scraps and bric-a-brac and broken stuff he might have found in your trash can. Not only is Best an inspiration to other artists, a living example of how you can do more with quite a bit less; not only is he a very happening dude, with an eccentric flair and a knack for tangential rummage sale conversation; David Best is also a nice guy, a tireless supporter of the arts, a mentor to aspiring junk artists–and musicians, for that matter–around the North Bay. Last year he came up with a doozy of a fundraiser for the struggling Phoenix Theatre: he built an eight-foot tall phoenix sculpture out of little cast-off pieces of wood. Painted fire-truck red, the big bird was put on public display at Petaluma’s closet-sized Live Art gallery, then auctioned off to the highest bidder. That’s when the story gets special, because the high bidder didn’t get to take the thing home. Instead, Best hosted a little dinner party for the winner and a few friends, at the Sonoma Mountain home Best shares with his wife. After dinner, in the flames of a ceremonial bon-fire, the phoenix sculpture was reduced to a pile of ashes, a testament to the ephemeral nature of art. That’s the Best art tale we’ve heard in a long, long time. –D.T.

Best Evidence We’re Living in the End Times

The End-of-the-World-As-We-Know-It may not have arrived during the whole Y2K computer fizzle, but the apocalypse is definitely coming, “not with a bang but a whimper.” Consider these depressing facts: Lexuses (or is that Lexi) are now the predominant automobile in the parking lot at the once-earthy and tie-dyed Marin Summer Music Festival. In a desperate attempt to garner a feeling of positive community good will, supporters of the questionably imprisoned Leonard Peltier have adopted a highway, resorting to picking up trash along 101. A seriously babbling man with a Let’s Make a Deal complex–he likes to shout about what’s “hidden behind three doors”–has taken to disrupting North Bay events, barging his way into everything from local Martin Luther King celebrations, to the annual conference of the Jesus Seminar, to Sunday services at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. Not only has the Petaluma Safeway unveiled a new indoor Starbucks store–to compete with the Deaf Dog just outside–but it’s installed little coffee cup holders in most of their grocery carts, to further encourage the purchase of Venti lattes. –D.T.

Photograph by Michael Amsler

Best Place to Ogle Erotic Art

You may not know the difference between art and a dirty picture‚ but if you yearn for smoldering images, the annual Erotic Art Show at the Soundscape Gallery in Santa Rosa is not to be missed. Over the past six years, this event has gained a reputation for pushing the boundaries of artistic expression. Most of the year Soundscape offers high-end audio/video entertainment systems, but for two months in late summer the walls and floors are graced with carnal images. Over 20 artists in a variety of mediums contributed to last year’s event. Owner Marc Silver says he is proud of presenting real erotic art. “I want to do something that pushes the envelope. I put warning signs up, but innocent people still wander in.” The show features everything from Hustler-like photographs to erotic edibles. The viewer is left to determine what is art and what is pornography. The Erotic Art Show is held from late August through the end of October. Parental guidance is strongly recommended.

314 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa. 707/578-4434. –B.E.

Best Reason to Love the Net

Rohnert Park’s ragtag PBS radio station KRCB (91.1-FM), in an attempt to take its public broadcasting efforts to a larger audience, has installed a new transponder–accessed at 90.9-FM–that makes it possible, for the first time, to hear the station in Petaluma. Unfortunately, what’s good for KRCB–an undeniably good-hearted and worthy resource for arts and news–is pretty damn bad for fans of quirky student-run radio. The new transponder has resulted in a complete local obliteration of the signal from the unique Berkeley-based indy station KALX (90.7-FM), among the oldest college radio stations in the country. Fortunately, owing to the dual miracles the Internet and streaming audio, we can now hear KALX on the Web at . –D.T.

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Staff Picks

From the March 22-28, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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