SAN FRANCISCO, October 8, 2012 – Blues and jazz are often compared, as well as food and wine pairings. How about being able to explore all four in the same weekend? The answer is Sonoma California’s annual Russian River Jazz and Blues Festival.
Jazz and blues music fans can rejoice in this extremely unique, riverside festival. This isn’t your average music festival. This festival takes place literally right alongside the Russian River in the town of Guerneville.
There is no need to get dressed up in your jazz concert best for this gem of a festival. You are better off wearing your bathing suit, sunglasses, big floppy hat, slathering on some 50 SPF sun block, and bringing your inner tube for this show. Festival goers can be found floating in the river, drinking a cool beverage, and hearing some of the best blues and jazz in the world.
Jazz fans were delighted Saturday with the smooth sounds of David Sanborn, the young and fresh sounds of Brian Culbertson, the funky soul of George Benson’s ripping guitar, and local high-energy favorite, Tower of Power.
Sunday, the real funk began. Sunday featured the down and dirty blues. The crowds grew as the day went on. They gathered to hear Eric Lindell’s luscious vocals on the Wine Garden stage, and then packed in around the main stage to witness Taj Mahal’s showmanship, which can only be described as an impeccable mix of Muddy Waters’ vocal grit, Buddy Guy’s stage presence and a bit of Lucky Petersen’s soul, all rolled up into one electric performance. Just when the crowd was at the edge of musical ecstasy from Taj Mahal, George Thorogood & the Destroyers stormed the stage and pushed the crowd even further into hysteria with a good ole, down and dirty blues show.
Sure scotch, bourbon and beer might be the beverages of choice for most bluesmen, but Russian River is in Sonoma after all, so let’s not forget the wine. Russian River is home to some of the best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the country and even the world. You don’t have to go very far outside the city of Guerneville before you come across beautifully crafted wines, vineyards and tasting rooms.
Wineries near Guerneville, Sonoma:
Moshin Vineyards: a lovely, sustainable, 4-level gravity-fed winery along scenic Westside Road, 15 minutes outside Guerneville. Winemaker Rick Moshin started making wine in 1989 from his humble roots as a math teacher, and is now making hand-crafted Pinot Noirs and Chardonnay, as well as other varietals. Tasting suggestions: Foppoli Vineyard Chardonnay and Emoshin Pinot Noir.
Arista Winery: Arista is also located along beautiful Westside Road and a few minutes up the road from Moshin. Arista was founded in 2002 with a mission to create sustainable, elegant Russian River Pinot Noir. Elegant only begins to describe the wines here, and the wine is only the beginning of the story. Arista sits on a picturesque property full of Japanese water gardens, mountains and lush vineyards. Picnic tables are ample, so be sure to pack a lunch and stay for a while. Tasting suggestions: all of the Pinot Noirs!
VML: a bit further north on Westside Road from Arista you will find newcomer VML. VML is the moniker for winemaker Virginia Marie Lambrix who exclusively produces high-quality, hand-harvested Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. When visiting VML, one will enjoy wandering in the aroma garden and tasting these delicious wines in the newly designed and ultra hip tasting room. Tasting suggestions: Rose of Pinot Noir and Boudreaux Pinot Noir.
Iron Horse Vineyards: a little southeast from downtown Guerneville is a personal favorite spot, Iron Horse Vineyards. This off-the-beaten-path winery is set amidst the rolling hills of Sonoma. Here you will find breathtaking views from their outdoor tasting room. Very different than other wineries in the area, Iron Horse focuses on sparkling wines and the last time I checked, they have approximately 12 different ones for sale. But not to be outdone by their neighbors, Iron Horse also produces a large variety of Chardonnay and some Pinot Noir as well. Tasting suggestions: try all the bubbles as well as their Chardonnays.
Graton Ridge Cellars: just down the road from Iron Horse you will find super-charming Graton Ridge Cellars. The folks at Graton Ridge make you feel at home instantly with their warm smiles, expressive wines and bocce ball court with picnic area. Tasting suggestions: Russian River Chardonnay, Bacigalupi Vineyard Zinfandel and Estate Pinot Noir.
Stumptown Brewery: just in case you are a die-hard beer-with-your-blues sort of person, head to Stumptown Brewery in downtown Guerneville. This mostly biker bar features some great craft brews as well as a large back patio that sits along Russian River where they serve BBQ oysters on the weekends. I hear they also make some mean BBQ. Grabbing a brew and some BBQ while sitting up above the river doesn’t make for too shabby of an afternoon.
Restaurants in and around Guerneville
Raymond’s Bakery: located about 15 minutes outside Guerneville in the quaint town of Cazadero is Raymond’s Bakery. Don’t let the name fool you, this “bakery” has hand-tossed pizza Friday’s, complete with a fun local band, local beer and wines, surrounded by towering redwoods and beneath the twinkling stars. It has to be Friday though since Raymond’s Bakery only does pizza night on Fridays. Insider tip: Raymond’s is also a B&B, and has several charming, rustic cottages for rent behind the bakery. A lot of locals don’t even know that valuable piece of information!
Garden Grill & BBQ: the Garden Grill is one of the best-kept secrets of locals in Guerneville. Open daily and serving up hearty breakfast, lunch and dinner, this tiny restaurant has it all. On weekends, come prepared to wait, as it is quite popular. And be sure to sit outdoors on their flower-lined patio. A personal favorite is their breakfast menu. Order anything on it and you won’t go wrong.
Cape Fear Café: if you’re up for a little bit of a drive, head southwest towards the Old West town of Duncan’s Mills. There, nestled among vintage shops and the general store, you will find Cape Fear Café. This quirky breakfast and brunch spot is great in the belly and easy on the pocket book.
TIP: The festival offers preferred, reserved seating. Try to purchase reserved seating. You will be so close to the stage that you’ll be able to see the sweat on Taj Mahal’s brow.
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