I don’t know if it’s true, but I once heard a quote attributed to the Clash’s Mick Jones after he attended a Blue Öyster Cult concert in the 1980s. “They could fit more people in here, if everyone weren’t wearing bell bottoms,” said the peg-legged punk rocker in what I imagine was a droll tone.
That quip, real or not, came to mind as I attended Gundlach Bundschu Winery’s excellent Huichica Festival this past Saturday. The two-day event drew the skinny-jean masses to see a compelling lineup of indie rock/folk bands. But in spite of the crowds, it wasn’t crowded. The spacious winery and vineyard venue allowed fans to get as close to the four stages as they liked or to spread out and have a quiet picnic amid rows of ripening vines with bottles of GunBun wine in hand while still hearing tunes wafting in the air. That’s my kind of festival.
But the real fashion statement wasn’t skinny jeans or ironic kitten T-shirts, but the noise-cancelling headphones hipster parents had clapped on their kids’ ears. The headphones—and the kids—were everywhere. There were kid-friendly activities (hula hoops, boat races, garland making), but really the kid-friendliest activity was just being able to walk about with ease and enjoy the great music. The all-ages, laid-back crowd gave the event a feel-good vibe that reminded me of a summer day on the grass in Golden Gate Park, but with well-chosen food and beverage trucks to keep everyone fed and lubricated.
While I couldn’t stay to enjoy a full day of music, I heard some great stuff. The schedule and short sets were designed so that there was little overlap between one band and another. Very thoughtful.
I discovered a great new band playing in the Old Redwood Barn stage—the Cool Ghouls. Their ringing, compulsively rocking song “Sundial” is still playing in my head. I heard the excellent Darren Wareham, former frontman of Galaxie 500, a late ’80s, early ’90s lo-fi, post-punk pioneer I somehow missed on their first go-round. How is it that I never heard the great song “Tugboat” before? There was a twangy 1970s rock vibe that ran through several bands best showcased by Beachwood Sparks and the Tyde. Both bands are part of my personal summer soundtrack now.
Parking was a breeze. It was a bit of a hike from the outer vineyard parking lot to the venue, but the south facing views of Sonoma Valley made it pleasant walk. If you didn’t want to walk, yellow school buses ferried festival-goers to the entrance.
Too bad the winery doesn’t allow camping during the event. I’d come back next year and stake out a spot so I could enjoy the full lineup of what is my new favorite music festival.