It seemed like an improbable dream; organize a music festival in downtown Santa Rosa with multiple stages and a stellar lineup of the Bay Area’s hottest folk and revival acts, and make it free for all to attend. Yet, this year’s inaugural Railroad Square Music Festival was an outstanding success that brought together a friendly, communal and musical vibe that was positive as it was invigorating.
The all-day lineup of bands featured a host of performers who are beloved in the North Bay and beyond with headliners like the Brothers Comatose, T Sisters and the Sam Chase all on hand. I arrived just in time to see Santa Rosa’s own John Courage fronting his blues rock trio the Stone Cold Killers and playing an electrified set of sizzling solos and groovy jams on the Traveling Spectacular Stage, a vaudeville-inspired mobile set up that transforms from a truck into a full-on stage experience.
The main stage, donated by the city of Santa Rosa, saw Santa Cruz’s Marty O’Reilly and the Old Soul Orchestra perform the slowest burning set of the day. The young, but experienced group took traditional rhythms and infused them with a emotional and strained energy for supremely satisfying pay offs. The Old Soul Orchestra will be back in the North Bay on Saturday, June 20, performing at the Big Easy in Petaluma to raise funds for a European tour they have planned in the coming months.
The neighborly feeling at the festival extended from audiences to the bands, with special appearances and pairings; such as when enchanting singer Sally Haggard jumped in with Frankie Boots and the County Line for a ditty, or when the main stage was packed full of performers at the close of the show. The Brothers Comatose held crowds captive with their fast fiddling and multi-part harmonies, and many attendees stayed past the 7pm end time to contribute to an ebullient sidewalk chalk jamboree.
The Festival’s ultimate success was due to the tireless work of the North Bay Hootenanny’s Josh Windmiller and an army of volunteer staff who made the whole thing a smooth and easy experience. Food and drink lines moved quickly (even as 32 kegs of Lagunitas beer sold out in the early evening), kids and families hung out in the shade of the Big Tree kids area, and Wilson Street turned into an art walk with live art sessions by Luddart artists and wares from local vendors. Kudos to all involved. Here’s hoping the Railroad Square Music Festival returns next summer. If you’d like to contribute to the local music scene and events like this, you can donate to the North Bay Hootenanny, a nonprofit group, by clicking here.