As the North Bay’s music scene opened back up last month, one Penngrove venue became infamous online—and not for their vaccination policy.
In late July, Frankie Boots, John Courage and Francesco Echo, three musicians with roots in Sonoma County, took to social media to share how a night at the Twin Oaks Roadhouse, a historic tavern and music venue, suddenly turned violent.
Although the musicians all say they are used to defusing threatening situations at bars, this conflict escalated suddenly when a man took a running start and “sucker punched” Boots before hitting the other two men.
Social media posts by the three musicians describing the July 15 incident quickly drew hundreds of comments. An online fundraiser to cover Boots’ medical care—including a broken nose, fractured cheekbone and split eyebrow—has amassed over $25,000, far more than the original goal of $10,000.
However, the victims say that they don’t want the conversation to stop there. In an exclusive interview with the Bohemian, Boots, Courage and Echo said they hope that the assault—and the subsequent conversation online—propel the North Bay’s music scene toward practices that foster safety and inclusivity.
For Boots, a white man, the assault served as a reminder that if he is unsafe at a venue, people from marginalized identities undoubtedly experience worse threats.
“I’m about as cisgender white male as they come and never really feel too threatened wherever I go, and I’ve been alone, performing in honky tonks, dive bars, and venues all over this country. I can’t imagine how some of our LGBTQ+ or BIPOC friends and family must feel at times,” Boots wrote in a July 19 social media post accompanied by a photo of his bruised face.
So, in addition to asking for improved security at local music venues and bars, the musicians urge business owners to help foster a thriving scene by listening to people who report feeling unsafe or uncomfortable and, in some instances, paying for inclusivity training for employees.
The musicians’ initial goal is to make music venues safe and accessible for everyone. Ultimately, they want venues which allow artists to make boundary-pushing art without fear of harassment.
“I want extreme safety, but the base level hasn’t even been met, where people of color feel safe coming out to a show, or trans people feel comfortable in the crowd at a concert at a bar here in Sonoma County,” Courage told the Bohemian. “I’d love to see it get to that hyper-level of safety because that’s when a community can really flourish, and art can go in all different directions.”
In several public statements since the event, Dean Biersch, the managing partner of the Twin Oaks and the HopMonk Tavern chain, apologized for the lack of security at the July 15 event and pledged to assign a door guard at all nighttime events moving forward.
Biersch said in a July 29 public statement that he and the company’s other owners decided not to fire the bartender working on the night of the assault because “we realize that we put her in an untenable situation that could not be properly handled by one individual.”
Biersch later told the Bohemian that the bartender did not witness the assault, but acknowledged that the bartender should have called law enforcement when they heard about the incident.
In late July, local law enforcement arrested a 25-year-old Rohnert Park man in connection with the assault. The Sonoma County District Attorney is charging him with one felony count of battery. Biersch has said that the bar sent law enforcement a video of the assault and that the assailant and two of his associates will not be allowed at the bar in the future.
In a written statement sent to the Bohemian, Biersch stated that violent situations at the roadhouse are exceedingly rare and highlighted his establishments’ Covid-19 safety protocols and long-running popularity of the HopMonk venues.
Since July 15, Biersch has repeatedly stated that the assault was a rare incident, not part of a pattern of violence. “We’ve hosted some 7,500+ live music events [at the Twin Oaks and HopMonk venues] without incident,” Biersch told the Bohemian.
The musicians offer a different account of the safety record of the Twin Oaks. They say they spoke out in part because other previous incidents at the venue, albeit not all violent assaults, have been “swept under the rug.”
“It most definitely is not an isolated incident,” Courage said, adding that he has heard from five to seven individuals who say they have experienced or witnessed situations ranging from harassment to physical abuse at Twin Oaks.
The three musicians are aware that the Covid-19 pandemic has been difficult for music venues in an area where musicians and fans struggle with high housing prices. However, they say it is ultimately more important that venues help to foster an inclusive and thriving music community than to simply exist.
“I am completely aware how much we need venues, especially in Sonoma County, but at a certain point, you know, if the thing is going to be toxic [after they’ve had an opportunity to change] then I’d just rather not have it in my life at all,” Echo said.
Courage told the Bohemian that he is in communication with Biersch about the possibility of making additional changes in order to lead the way for other local music venues.
“He’s got a really good moment here to lead by example,” Courage said. “He’s got a great moment to step up and show people how to do it.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: The second sentence of this article previously stated that the musicians were hired to perform the night of the assault. They were not.