I meet singer and songwriter Jesse DeNatale at Wildwood Cafe in Graton for coffee. By the time our cups arrive, we’re already steeped in a discussion about the philosophical nature of music.
“It’s magic in a modern world,” says DeNatale. The local musician, now living in Sebastopol, is pondering what he calls a compulsion to document and connect. For DeNatale, music is as essential as food and shelter, a malleable but intangible force he can’t live without.
Born in San Francisco, DeNatale is a soulful folk artist who’s been widely praised for his natural crafting of deeply felt, personal stories in the tradition of troubadour artists like Bob Dylan and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. DeNatale’s two albums, 2003’s Shangri-La West and 2006’s Soul Parade, are adored by critics and fans alike.
DeNatale doesn’t currently have plans for a follow-up record, though he continuously writes new material and prefers to engage with live audiences, even performing unannounced to allow unsuspecting crowds to discover his music without preconceived notions. “Sometimes, when you discover a new song, it feels like it discovered you,” says DeNatale. “And maybe sometimes it does.”
A longtime North Bay local, DeNatale first lived in Point Reyes Station when he moved from San Francisco, a community he is still closely connected with. “You can fall in love with a place, but it’s the people that keep you there, it’s their joys and struggles you celebrate.”
Case in point: This past January, the Porrata-Powell family learned that their youngest child, four-year-old Ezequiel, was diagnosed with a rare cancer, rhabdomyosarcoma, and would require chemotherapy. A month later, husband and father Roneil Powell passed away in his sleep. He was only 43.
When news of this tragedy reached DeNatale, his immediate impulse was to help. Now, with the generous support of the community, DeNatale is performing a special benefit concert on Sunday, Aug. 10, at Toby’s Feed Barn in the heart of Point Reyes Station. For the show, DeNatale is playing with a full band and has recruited one of his favorite songwriters, Jonathan Richman, to open with drummer Tommy Larkins. Richman is best known for founding the proto-punk band Modern Lovers, and his influence is widespread.
Beyond the fundraising aspect of the show, DeNatale hopes the show will act as a display of support and solidarity for the Porrata-Powell family, and he guarantees that at the concert there will be at least one song that I will love. “And what’s better than finding that one song?”