What’s part vintage country fair, part weekend music festival, family friendly, with old-timey vibes and art that Burning Man would love to ignite?
For those who guessed Petaluma’s 12th annual Rivertown Revival, they are correct.
The beloved festival returns to the David Yearsley River Heritage Center on the McNear Peninsula during the weekend of July 22 and 23. The annual two-day event celebrates the Petaluma River and the vibrant community that surrounds it with art, music and more.
Since 2010, the popular and admired community festival has focused on a place-based, local lineup of musicians, artists, vendors and activities. The organizers have a deep sense of what makes the Petaluma area special. Accordingly, Rivertown Revival consistently highlights the plethora of talented musicians, artists, dancers and more in the community. This year’s lineup features 98% local art and music over the laid-back, weekend-long, summertime extravaganza.
One would expect nothing less from a place with a dynamic sense of place and a consistently growing art and music scene.
According to Josh Windmiller, the event’s music director, the arts of all kinds in Sonoma County have only become more vibrant in recent years. “When we look up on the stages,” he says, “we are seeing our neighbors.”
Indeed, more than 20 bands—mostly Bay Area notables—will play on the stages over the summer weekend, with Ben Morrison & Friends closing out Saturday night and The Rivertown Revue, featuring The Crux with special guests, closing out the festival on Sunday night. Also playing will be Foxes in the Henhouse, Kayatta, Hubbub Club, Barrio Manouche, John Courage and many others.
If one already loves or is curious about local music, this is a great place to experience a wide cross-section of the area’s best. “This year, we might be having our most diverse musical experience ever, with salsa, cajun, Americana, rock, hip-hop and fusions of all of these,” says Margaret Kuffel, one of the event’s organizers.
But it’s more than a music festival.
“We also have large artworks returning from Kevin Clark, including the popular giant rhino, the wedding chapel and the front barn stage, which resembles a small church,” Kuffel elaborates, “and we are excited to present Sierra Camille and her aerial acts.” And one won’t want to miss the massive vibrant interactive art piece from Tony Speirs.
While many festivals end up being really for adults, even if they technically allow kids, this one is different. Here, one can actually bring the family. With more than a face painting booth, the lively kids play area features imaginative and thoughtful activities to engage the smallest family members. The whole family can enjoy the kids’ stage. And if someone needs a second away from the hubbub, a shady parents’ tent is provided for changing a fussy baby, nursing quietly or just taking a break. Just leave pets at home please, per food vendor regulations.
Speaking of food, the wide selection of ecologically-minded food and drink vendors will assure that one will stay hydrated and keep up their blood sugar, even being outside all day. They will be able to savor delicious lunch, dinner and dessert fare, and enjoy libations of all kinds from local purveyors while there.
The eco-friendly event begins even before everyone shows up, and encourages all to bring water bottles to reduce waste, and to arrive by boat, bike, train, bus or foot if possible. And for those who’d like to dress up in their best Rivertown regalia, that is encouraged too.
As festival goers will always be comfortable dressed up or down, Rivertown Revival is filled with people wearing amazing costumes to enjoy seeing, making it even more fun to dress up too. If one doesn’t have anything at home, never fear; an entire section of the festival is devoted to beautiful and unique crafts, including but not limited to: costumes, corsets, hats, masks, parasols, jewelry, art, face painting and more to complete a desired look.
Whether or not one is wearing a corset and sporting a parasol, make sure to head over to Michael Woolsey and Tyler Young’s iconic photo booth, always a favorite of festival attendees every year.
“You can be anybody of any background and age, dressed up or dressed down, and feel comfortable at Rivertown Revival,” says Kuffel.
And of course the weekend isn’t complete unless someone gets married. That’s right, those who have been thinking about tying the knot with their partner are out of excuses. One of the most unique experiences offered at Rivertown Revival would have to be their $5 weddings on the hill. A regular feature of the festival, one can actually legally get married, symbolically get married or simply renew vows.
The venue provides an outdoor floral covered chapel space with ample seating for wedding attendees, a dressing tent where happy couples can get ready and an officiant in the style of Rivertown Revival, making for a wedding ceremony that won’t soon be forgotten.
Born from the community in 2010, the outdoor festival has always been a community-built affair. There are no slick event organizers; instead, a staff of devoted organizers from diverse backgrounds handcraft the event each year.
“We welcome the rawness that comes with everyday people lending a hand,” says Kuffel. “At Rivertown, you can pretty much expect all things weird and beautiful.”
And raw, reciprocal and beautiful it is, starring interactive artworks alongside innocuous and delightful moments to discover. One might come across a dog riding a pony, a woman holding an alligator, even a small boy standing on his head for a dollar donation, or a Unicorn Brigade.
“Celebrating art, music and nature transcends our differences, and that generates a deeper feeling of belonging to this community, which is especially needed right now,” says Kuffle. “The combination of celebrating our river and our community in this beautiful place is in itself magic.”
It’s generally agreed that part of the magic of Rivertown Revival comes from the spirit of David Yearsley, who passed away in 2011.
“David founded Friends of the Petaluma River to help conserve the river and its wetlands, educate the community about its importance and, perhaps most importantly, to celebrate it as the beautiful center of our town that it is,” Kuffel explains. “His vision, and what continues to be the vision of Friends and Rivertown Revival, is that if you can create a space for people to celebrate and fall in love with the river, they will want to protect it.”
If the past 12 years are any indication, it’s working.
Rivertown Revival runs from 12 to 8pm, Saturday, July 22 and 12 to 7pm, Sunday, July 23 at the David Yearsley River Heritage Center, McNear Peninsula, Petaluma. Two Day Presale Pass is $41.25 and $55 at the door; a Saturday Presale Pass is $30 and $40 at the door; and a Sunday Presale Pass is $22.50 and $30 at the door. Kids 16 and under are $5. For tickets and more information, visit RivertownRevival.com.