Music Lives: Rohnert Park’s Green Music Center

This Q&A is part of a series we’re calling “How We Work Now,” which explores how Covid is impacting the ways we work and how we do business—possibly forever.

Performing arts organizations were hit particularly hard during the pandemic, in large part because quarantines and social distancing aren’t conducive to convening an audience in an enclosed space. Many pivoted into virtual events, others shuttered. As it nears its 10th anniversary, the local cultural juggernaut known as the Green Music Center, at Sonoma State University, is among the survivors. What follows is a conversation with the center’s Executive Director, Jacob Yarrow, who joined the staff in June 2017.

Annually, Yarrow oversees 50–70 performances, and hosts over 100 other concerts by resident companies including the Santa Rosa Symphony and student groups. Yarrow is also a member of the SSU Cabinet.

Bohemian: Here’s the obvious question—how did Covid affect the GMC?

Jacob Yarrow: The pandemic struck at the heart of our work, which is pulling groups of people together to experience performances in real time in the same space. We canceled scores of shows. We also created a set of online programs, called The Green Room, that continued to engage our audiences through conversations with artists and videos of their best performances. We presented 23 online shows and also had 40 zoom events where artists visited Sonoma State classes, community groups and other partners to host discussions and workshops.

B: How has your reopening been? What’s different from previous seasons?

JY: Our first performances have been exciting for everyone, as we’re all thrilled to be experiencing live shows again. The artists and audiences have been enthusiastic and also thoughtful about health and safety procedures. Everyone has been keeping some distance, wearing masks and generally helping to take care of everyone else.

B: It seems to me that live music, perhaps now more than ever, has grown in cultural importance. In the Age of Spotify, it seems live performances are the last tangible vestige of how we used to experience and appreciate music. Moreover, the pandemic has spurred pent-up desire to do something with—lots of!—other people. Any thoughts on this?

JY: I love recorded music. I love that I have access to most any recorded music I want to hear through my phone and the internet. It’s remarkable. I love live music even more. Nothing can replace the visceral excitement of being part of an audience, in the same space as the performers, feeling and witnessing the power of live performance. Shared experience builds community and a sense of belonging.

B: It’s August, and your summer program still has so many great events in store—can you highlight a few that you feel have particular resonance for local audiences?

JY: “Summer at the Green” is full of exciting shows. I’m particularly looking forward to Tower of Power on Labor Day Weekend. They’ve been a Bay Area institution for over 50 years, are widely influential to musicians around the world, and still have a fresh feel at every show.

B: How important are collaborations between area arts organizations these days? I’m thinking about your upcoming Jurassic Park Live event with the Santa Rosa Symphony—“music finds a way…” right?

JY: We take great care to support the local arts ecosystem by partnering with other organizations and also celebrating their accomplishments. We are lucky to have so many wonderful arts groups in Sonoma County and we want our arts and culture scene to continue to thrive.

B: What are you personally listening to right now?

JY: I’ve been listening to Nickel Creek this week, on the heels of a great performance at The Green by the Watkins Family Hour last Sunday. [They are 2 of the 3 members of Nickel Creek.] I’m also listening to the audiobook of Liz Lerman’s Hiking the Horizontal, which was just released. We’re doing a major project with Liz, and her new dance-theater piece, Wicked Bodies, (Sonoma) premieres here in April. The ideas in the book have influenced my approach to my work as much as anything. To hear them read in Liz’s voice is a treat.

Green Music Center | Sonoma State University, 1801 East Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park. 707.664.3258. www.gmc.sonoma.edu

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

SCALED UP Music finds a way.

Upcoming GMC Highlights

Neon Trees

Following four years out of the spotlight, the multi-platinum, genre-busting alternative quartet brings back their rock spirit, pop universality, and disco ball-drenched grooves that millions of fans fell in love with while infusing a lot of wisdom and a little more wit earned along the way.

7:30pm, Thursday, Aug. 19, Weill Hall + Lawn. $30–$75.

Jurassic Park In Concert | Santa Rosa Symphony

Francesco Lecce-Chong conducts John Williams’ epic score performed live by the Santa Rosa Symphony in tandem with the original film on the silver screen as the 80-musician orchestra provides the iconic musical backdrop live on the Weill Hall stage.

7:30pm, Saturday, Aug. 21, Weill Hall + Lawn. $30–$85.

Tower Of Power

The renowned horn-driven soul/R&B/rock/pop/funk outfit Tower of Power has rocked their sound since 1968—infusing soul into the music industry for 52 years. Fast forward: after celebrating their 50th Anniversary, Tower of Power delivers a new genre-blending explosion of

sound with their latest album—Step Up.

7:30pm, Saturday, Sept. 4. Weill Hall + Lawn. $30–$85.

The Beach Boys

As the Beach Boys mark more than a half-century of making music, the group continues to ride the crest of a wave unequaled in America’s musical history. The Beach Boys are synonymous with the California lifestyle and have become an icon to fans around the world. Dozens of the band’s chart-toppers are now eternal anthems of American youth, including “Surfin’ USA,” “California Girls,” “Good Vibrations” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.”

7:30pm, Saturday, Sept. 17. Weill Hall + Lawn. $30–$110.

Boz Scaggs, Out of the Blues Tour 2021

Scaggs has continually refined his musical approach throughout a five-decade musical career defined by a personalized mix of rock, blues and R&B, along with a signature style of ballads. 

7:30pm, Saturday, Sept. 18. Weill Hall + Lawn. $30–$95.

Daedalus Howellhttps://daedalushowell.com
Daedalus Howell is the editor of the North Bay Bohemian and Pacific Sun. He is the author, most recently, of Quantum Deadline and is the writer-director of the feature film Pill Head.
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