Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square Music Festival returns

Chill crowds and local sounds filled Santa Rosa’s historic Railroad Square Sunday, welcoming a treasured community festival’s return.

Last held live and in-person prior to the onset of the pandemic, the Railroad Square Music Festival runs entirely on solar-powered generators. Sunday’s event was its sixth-year celebration, officials said.

Musical artists performed on intricate stages made inside old trucks and campers. People in crowds danced and cheered, while others sat on picnic blankets or lawn chairs sipping beers as they watched the performances.

Local businesses showcased handmade jewelry, vintage clothing, art, food and drinks, all while vibrant circuslike performers on stilts danced around and enlivened attendees.

Founded in 2015, the free festival showcases a variety of musical genres including rap, rock, folk, Americana and even children’s music. It featured local and regional acts Burrows & Dilbeck, Bad Thoughts, The Happys, Echolyptus, The Spindles, Jade Brodie, Van Goat, Erica Ambrin, Simoné Mosely, 3 Acre Holler, iX Confidence, Crumb Dread, Thrown Out Bones, D.square and Tai Shan who performed at five different stages.

“It’s great to look out there and see neighbors after a couple years. I’m glad we get to come together and celebrate with music again,” Josh Windmiller, the festival’s director said from one of the stages.

As slight winds rushed in on a gloomy Sunday, student musical artists from Play It Forward Music Foundation, a nonprofit that provides free instruments and music lessons to those with limited resources, performed a mix of indie pop and folk rock at noon at the Metro Chamber stage to break the ice.

This year’s performers included Oakland-Guerneville hip-hop artist Kayatta, Petaluma R&B artist Simoné Mosely, as well as Latino bands Tamborazo Santo Domingo and La Agencia and soulful sounds of Erica Ambrin & The Eclectic Soul Project.

Soulful artist Erica Ambrin & The Eclectic Soul Project performed on the Metro Chamber stage, basically a truck turned into a vaudeville-styled stage, attracted a large crowd of people who bounced and swayed to the upbeat music.

“Put your hands up and give appreciation to music!” Ambrin shouted during her performance.

One festivalgoer, who danced to the music in spite of the crowds surrounding him, said he has attended the Railroad Square Music Festival several times in order to support his friends who are performing.

“Supporting local music and musicians is a good way to get to know your community and those who aren’t in the spotlight“ said Ken Depeel, 29, who lives in Santa Rosa. ”It’s cool to see musicians go from performing inside their friend’s garage to a local stage.

“You grow with these local artists,” Depeel added.

By 2 p.m., nearly 400 music and art lovers were in attendance, officials said. It was a notable decrease considering the 2019 outdoor event drew 6,000 people.

Simoné Mosely, one of the performing R&B artists, was unfazed by the smaller attendance.

“I’m excited they’re bringing our Black and brown communities together and celebrating us,” Mosely said. “Music is healing and brings the community together.”

The free festival relies on a volunteer staff and local sponsors. This year’s sponsors are the city of Santa Rosa, HenHouse Brewing Co., Rodney Strong Vineyards, SOMO Village, Stanroy Music Center, Santa Rosa Metro Chamber, Jane Dispensary, Sonoma County, Mechanics Bank, Global Disaster Solutions, Prairie Sun Live, Recology and Chops Teen Center.

“I feel like I’m dreaming,” Windmiller said on Sunday. “It’s a good dream. I’m taking it all in right now.”

The Railroad Square Music Festival is a project of The Lost Church, a performance space and nonprofit whose mission is to ensure that people have a place to share ideas, stories and arts in downtown Santa Rosa.

“I hope next year we continue our momentum, learn where we can, and continue to inspire musicians and creatives to help make this area what it wants to be,” the event’s marketing director Bryce Dow-Williamson said.

You can reach Staff Writer Mya Constantino at mya.constantino@pressdemocrat.com. @searchingformya on Twitter.

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