Crowd during show at Lagunitas Brewery. (Courtesy of Lagunitas Brewery)
There's nothing like being outdoors at night in the North Bay, among the hills and trees, and you'll find that nearly all of our picks in this 2019 roundup of summertime events in Sonoma County and Marin County involve just that. Here's our choices for how to spend those warm nights across the bridge.
May 26–June 16, 2019
Cushing Memorial Amphitheater, Mill Valley More information
The Mountain Play is a Marin County tradition over 100 years old, and for good reason: the setting in a large amphitheater atop Mt. Tamalpias is gorgeous, the play selections are always popular favorites, and the shuttles to the top of the mountain give attendees a tight-knit sense of community even before the first act. This year, it's Danny (David Crane), Sandy (Chelsea Holifield) and the rest of the gang in Grease, running Sundays with two Saturday performances on June 8 and 15.
The best small-town jazz festival in the Bay Area is in Healdsburg, where theaters, wineries, restaurants and parks come alive with excellent booking. This year boasts a salute to ECM Records, with Ralph Towner, Paul McCandless, Ethan Iverson, Jack DeJohnette, Ravi Coltrane and more helping celebrate the label's 50th anniversary. Latin jazz, New Orleans jazz and soul-jazz abound as well, but pay close attention to a night with groundbreaking composer and pianist Carla Bley in a rare return to the Bay Area.
There's few greater rituals of communion for Sonoma County's robust Latino population than a Los Tigres del Norte concert. The band virtually wrote the rulebook for gripping narcorrido storytelling, and their empowering songs of the immigrant experience lift up a people who were here in California long before the United States drew a line on the ground and claimed the land. Known for taking song requests from scraps of paper thrown on the stage by fans, the band and their brand of norteño music should sound brilliant under the June sky.
Free Movies at the Green
June 29, July 14 and Aug. 10, 2019
Green Music Center, Rohnert Park More information
You've probably been to some type of "free movies in the park" thing before, but on the scenic grand lawn of the Green Music Center, the sound system and projection are top-notch, and you can't beat the setting. Pack a picnic for Spider Man: Into the Spider-verse and Captain Marvel (June 29), How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (July 14), and The Little Mermaid (Aug. 10). (And take note: the Green Music Center shows Raiders of the Lost Ark with a live score by the Santa Rosa Symphony in an indoor ticketed show on Aug. 24.)
For a decade now, the Imaginists theater company have been producing their annual 'Art is Medicine' show: a free, bicycle-powered bilingual production that dives headfirst into topical issues. This year, it's Peace, the Redacted Version, an "almost unrecognizable" adaptation of Aristophanes' Peace, which centuries ago used humor and absurdity to skewer a populist warmongering leader. In other words: it's just what we can use right now. Catching the show at either Juilliard Park, Bayer Farm or Andy's Park in Santa Rosa is a summertime must.
Seeing a band who'd normally play the Fillmore in a small, 300-capacity outdoor amphitheater is tempting enough for most music fans. But when the tickets are free? That changes it to “pretty much all music fans,” which is why you'll want to be quick on the mouse-click if you're hoping to check out a show at the venerable Petaluma brewery. Tickets are offered three weeks in advance of each show in the season, and this year includes Antibalas, Caroline Rose, Thundercat, the Budos Band, Shannon and the Clams and more. The sound is always great and the vibe—well, let's just say the Lagunitas crew doesn't limit their mood enhancers to beer.
The idea here is simple: take a bunch of Broadway professionals from New York, bring them to the Bay Area for the off-season in the summer, throw together revues of best-loved songs from musical theatre, and present them amidst the stone ruins of a former winery in Jack London State Park. The scenery here is picturesque, the performers bring obvious quality, and the productions are consistently entertaining and not afraid to poke fun at the usual stuffy seriousness of the theatre. The topper? Over the past six years, the company has donated over a quarter million dollars to the state park to help keep it running. This one's a favorite.
Over the years, Railroad Square has played host to Alfred Hitchcock (parts of Shadow of a Doubt were filmed there), Steve Martin (Cheaper by the Dozen), Thomas Edison and Henry Ford (visiting by train) and, recently, several outdoor festivals of the steampunk / Burning Man variety. This one's got renegade street bands, rock outfits, Mexican dance bands, folk acts and even classical ensembles. More than 17 acts total fill multiple stages, it's free, and this year, attendees even have a fresh new transportation option in the form of the SMART Train, which disembarks just steps from the main stage.
The boat races along the Petaluma Slough are just the tip of the daylong fun at this colorful, old-timey free festival. Part steampunk, part country, the day's activities include live music from local folk and bluegrass bands, plenty of food and drink, public sculpture along the long, winding entrance, the “Traveling Spectacular” stage (pictured) and, if you're feeling frisky, a hilltop gazebo for impromptu wedding ceremonies. Make sure to get your Instagram photo ops in the giant blue chair or along the old Ghirardelli barn, and yes, root for your favorite decorated boat as it floats in the water below. Take it from us: there's not much shade here, so a parasol or large hat are recommended.
They just do things differently in Sonoma County. Whereas in San Francisco, radio stations host huge showcases at the Shoreline Amphitheater or the Oracle Arena, Santa Rosa's popular station The Krush (95.9-FM) host its favorite acts playing in the studio backyard — which is to say, the grassy area behind a cluster of old-time railroad train cars, from which the DJs broadcast. Blankets, babies and beer are are welcome, and this year's free series includes Haight-Ashbury legends the Ace of Cups, renegade country singer Wayne "The Train" Hancock, saucy Louisiana-flavored blues singer Janiva Magness, the deadhead delight of the David Nelson Band and more.