'Best of' local culture (Staff Picks)
Best Unsung Hero
During his time at Santa Rosa Junior College, anthropologist Benjamin Foley Benson--coordinator of Native American studies at SRJC and director of the Jesse Peter Museum--has quadrupled the collection at the museum (a collection of North American Indian art and objects from other cultural groups) with pieces amassed from all over the world. His intent is to serve the educational interests of students at all levels, from preschoolers to academic scholars. Specific displays at the museum change regularly to coincide with SRJC's curriculum in anthropology courses, of which Benson is a spellbinding instructor. He also lectures publicly and frequently on a variety of fascinating topics, specializing in how tribal cultures manage their habitats without destroying them. SRJC, 1501 Mendocino Ave, Santa Rosa. Benjamin Foley Benson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.--S.L.
Best Bargain in Boogie
What's powerful enough to make even the Backstreet Boys skip a beat? Answer: Sixty pairs of sneakered feet landing the 8 count in the dance studio at Santa Rosa Junior College. Hip-hop teacher Debbe-Ann Medina assured me that the newly padded and shockproofed stereo cabinet wasn't going to jump this term, but there's just no stopping the thundering force of the increasingly full hip-hop classes at the JC's dance department. Other classes are hitting maximum capacity, too: department chair Medina says dance enrollment is over 1,000 in all the classrooms countywide. But in spite of the jumping CDs and the packed rows of eager dancers--think A Chorus Line with slightly less room and slightly more giggling--the JC remains the best price for dance in the county: $11 per three hours a week for five months. It's enough to make anyone's heart skip a beat. 1501 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa. 527-4237.--M.W.
Best Place to Complete Your Set of Jean Auel Books
'Course, you're gonna have to look hard for them, because at the Friends of the Santa Rosa Library biannual book sale, there's a lot to sift through. Board member Judith Weber estimates 500 to 600 cartons of books get brought to the sale site at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, enough to fill three moving vans. The books range in price and quality from trashy romance novels ($4 for a flat) to high-quality collectors' items, which usually get snapped up in the first hour by book dealers who wait in lines at the door. For nonmercenary types, the best buys are the hardbacks: $1 per inch of spine. So stock up on Valley of the Horses if you must (Oh, yes, Jondalar! . . . ), but be sure to bring enough canvas bags to carry the rest. The next book sale is April 7-10. April 7, preview day from 4 to 8:30 p.m.; April 8-9, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; April 10, 2 to 7 p.m. Admission is $5 for the preview, free for all other days; April 9 is half-price day; and on April 10 a grocery bag of books is $4. Friends of the Library: Third and E streets, Santa Rosa; 545-0831, ext. 541. Fairgrounds: 1350 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa; 545-4200.--M.W.
Best Blend of Art and Community
THE WHIMSICAL, all-but-hidden Live Art Gallery in downtown Petaluma is tucked behind the Heebe Jeebe Gift Store (a work of art in its own right). About the size of a large closet, the newly opened tiny gallery is routinely crammed with amazing artworks. The first show highlighted owner Susan Ginnever's work. Last month Ginnever, above right, hosted "Holding the Sacred Heart," an exhibit by local artists. The gallery sold 18 pieces of work from the show and raised funds for COTS, the local homeless shelter. "The thing that's different about this gallery is that we don't display flowers and landscapes--it's cutting-edge art," says Ginnever. Through March 25, the gallery will be exhibiting "GloBall Logic: Wordz4Now," featuring the art of photographer Scott Hess, documentary filmmaker John Bertucci, and designer Beth Meredith. Every few months or so, Ginnever--a committed community activist--plans to open the walls of the gallery to artists from around the community, and the resulting potluck of artistic imaginings should continue to be truly wondrous to behold. 46 Kentucky St., Petaluma, 773-2880.--D.T.
Best Place to Hoist a Pint and Ruminate on Media Mavens Past
Well, it weren't no Algonquin Round Table. Twenty years ago, when Petaluma's free press cowered in the skirts of that great gray bitch the Press Democrat and its onion-skinned rival the Argus-Courier, crafters of the column inch regularly jawed and guffawed in a corner of the back room at Volpi's Speakeasy (as it was known back in 1925)--a sanctified patch officially dubbed Volpi's Press Club on March 7, 1980. Ed "Toby" Tobin, a longtime customer and bartender at the bar, recalls its newshound heyday when reporters nightly smelted their rapier wits into the iron guts they rusted away with $1.50 drafts (the price remains the same, as do journalists' salaries). "It was just a bunch of guys from the Argus-Courier and Press Democrat who came by mostly after work," says Tobin of the longtime rival newspapermen. "But it wasn't cutthroat; they were all good drinkers. It was really congenial." Among them was inveterate Argus-Courier columnist and people-ologist Bill Soberanes, who still holds the world's record for being photographed with the most celebrities and is often lauded as the Herb Caen of the North Bay, which is unfortunate because Caen is dead. (Sobranes can be seen nightly perched on the porch of his Petaluma home, puffing on his trusty pipe.) Volpi's Deli, Speakeasy, and Bar, 124 Washington St., Petaluma. 762-2371.--D.H.
Best Local House Painter
Technically speaking, Ross Parkerson doesn't paint houses; he uses pen and ink. The soft-spoken Parkerson, a former Santa Rosa city planner and Petaluma City Council member, has made a name for himself over the last few years as an artist with a very specific specialty: he draws the exteriors of historic buildings and residences throughout the county. These finely detailed black-and-white drawings have appeared in sought-after framed editions, in local museums, and on calendars and postcards--there's even a Ross Parkerson collector's blanket featuring textile reproductions of a dozen of the artist's Petaluma Heritage Homes. On warm summer days, Parkerson can be glimpsed sitting on some sidewalk, his easel and pen kit before him, facing a house with concentration--wrapped in an undeniable aura of pleasure and joy. He clearly loves these old buildings. We're pretty sure they love him right back.--D.T.
Best Price for Queer Comedy
Who wants to wait until Gay and Lesbian Pride Month to get a pew at a big-name comedy event? For $5, you can crowd into a handsome man's lap, drink strong drink, and laugh your ass off at the weekly comedy nights at the Russian River Resort. The Saturday-night stand-up show started as a lark in early 1996 and now is a destination for dozens of gay and lesbian comedians looking for an excuse to get away from big-city life. "The comics call us all the time to book their act," says general manager Jeff Bridges. "The word is out. They love coming up. It's like a weekend retreat for them." It may be a retreat for them, but for locals it's a full-on forward charge into queer comedy, bringing such names as Scott Capurro, Doug Hosclaw, Karen Ripley, and Marga Gomez to the cozy little bar in San Francisco-on-the-river. During winter the bar is cozily packed; in summer, the crowd gets raucous and ridiculous, with standing room only out on the deck. All this for $5 (drinks are extra). 16390 Fourth St., Guerneville. 869-0691.--M.W.
Best Local Laureate Positions
In the wake of 81-year-old Santa Rosa poet Don Emblen's appointment as Sonoma County's first poet laureate by the Literary Arts Council (operating under the aegis of the Sebastopol Center for the Arts), several other laureate positions have cropped up throughout the county. Healdsburg, for example, has a city-specific laureate, and Petaluma has long enjoyed the presence of poetry-slam impresario Schotzki and his weird friend Govind, rumored to have been laying the groundwork to be their city's poet laureates before disagreeing over how to spell laureate and dropping the notion entirely. Emblen, too, may have his own way of spelling the word. "A friend of mine who's kind of suspicious of all these honors says that as far as he's concerned, you're a poet lariat and your job is to rope people in." Emblen, a nationally published laureate, has been lassoing poetry readers since he penned his first collection while serving in the Navy during World War II, as well as during his 40-year stint as a poetry instructor at Santa Rosa Junior College before retiring in 1988. Emblen also operates his Clam Shell Press, which has published the work of other poets since the '70s.--D.H.
The Best Local Place to Catch a National Treasure
IT'S EASY TAKE Johnny Otis for granted--the ex-deli/market/cabaret owner, former organic apple farmer, and Sebastopol resident is a ubiquitous presence in the county. But Otis, a pioneering R&B songwriter, producer, and bandleader, is a bonafide national treasure--a triple-crown winner who has been inducted into the Rock and Roll, Rhythm & Blues, and Blues halls of fame. Catch him on the air hosting his Saturday morning R&B show on KPFA (94.1-FM), from 9 a.m. to noon, when he delivers a mix of soulful tunes, up-to-the-minute health reports on a variety of things that ail him, and frequent rants about political wrongdoings--all of which have endeared Otis to a large Bay Area radio audience. Or scurry on down to the Powerhouse Brewing Co. (28 Petaluma Ave., Sebastopol), where Otis holds court during his weekly live broadcasts.--G.C.
Best Local Indie Feature Film
Lights, camera, art flick! 'Twas with talent, moxie, and under a 100 grand (a spit in the ocean--or eye--by Hollywood standards) that Tomales-bred filmmaker Abe Levy produced, wrote, and directed his feature film debut, Max, 13--a coming-of-age chronicle of 13-year-old wastrel Max's summertime hijinks on the eve of his freshman year in high school. Both hilarious and poignant, the seriocomic examination of boyhood shenanigans (from first smokes to first strokes) previewed to enthusiastic audiences last fall at the Phoenix Theatre in Petaluma. Levy now awaits word from regional film festivals, including the Wine Country Film Festival and the San Francisco International Film Festival, with the hope of garnering more exposure for the film. "With limited screenings Max, 13 has gotten great response from the community," says Levy. "It's thrilling to have the audience on my side and so overwhelmingly positive." Levy is now editing his second feature film, Don't Worry, Ma, I'm Only Trying, which he will preview in May.--D.H.
Best Place to Reach Outer Space
Feel like getting out of the house? Hike to Pluto at the Ferguson Observatory's new Planet Walk at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park in Kenwood. The 2.2-mile interplanetary trek was installed last summer and joins the world's largest reflecting telescope dedicated to public use to form a destination of choice for Sonoma County astronomy buffs. The hike across our solar system is marked with scale models of planets and offers a fun and interesting opportunity to learn more about our solar system. The walk begins in the parking lot of the observatory and takes space explorers high into the surrounding hills. This is a fairly serious climb, so be in shape. Those venturing to the outermost planets are advised to wear comfortable boots and watch out for rattlesnakes. The average hiker can make the round trip to Pluto and back in less than three hours. Admission is $5 to Sugarloaf State Park. The planet walk is free. Take Highway 12 to Kenwood; at Landmark Winery take Adobe Canyon Road northeast to Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. The observatory is just beyond the horse stables. 833-6979.--B.E.
Best Annual Resurrection of a Long-Dead Composer
Every May, John Philip Sousa, the "March King" himself, triumphantly takes the stage at Healdsburg's Raven Theater, to lead the Healdsburg Community Band in its annual John Philip Sousa concert. This is one of the year's most anticipated musical events. For those of you who know that Sousa is technically dead (and has been since 1932), we concede that in Healdsburg, Sousa--author of such blood-stirring anthems as "The Stars and Stripes Forever," "Semper Fidelis," "The U.S. Field Artillery March," and "The Washington Post March"--is played by Lew Sbrana, longtime Healdsburg High School band instructor, who dresses as Sousa, right down to the March King's immaculate white gloves. The Healdsburg Community Band, which Sbrana leads with cofounder Gary Johnson, has been staging the Sousa shows each May since 1989, when the first Sousa experiment was greeted with wildly enthusiastic standing ovations. Stars and stripes forever, indeed.--D.T.
Best Local Historical Oddity
It's weird. It's big. It conjures up colorful pictures of a historical nature. It's that giant sign, painted in now-fading letters right on the immense side of an old barn, highly visible from Hwy. 101 as you pass through the remote rural hamlet of Asti, near Highway 128. The sign reads, "Dr. Pierce's Medical Discovery," and what the good doctor's incredible breakthrough was, well . . . few people seem to know. It really doesn't matter. For millions of motorists, who momentarily turn their heads and wonder aloud about the glimmering oddness of our county's past, it's just nice to know it's there.--D.T.
Best Place to Deliver Mail Straight to the Devil
AS PAT ROBERTSON HAS LONG MAINTAINED, the devil wants to talk to you. But you're so cruel: you never write, you never call, you never even drop the Lord of Lies an e-mail. Wasn't one of your Y2K New Year's resolutions to get back in touch with old friends? Then scribble a quick note, enclose a photo of your first-born (without making any covenants, implied or explicit), and drop your letter off by the door sculpture resting on a grassy berm in front of the fire station on Bodega Highway in Sebastopol. Dubbed "The Door to Hell" by churchgoing critics, the 3,000-pound concrete sculpture was created last year during Sebastopol's annual Sculpture Jam by a team of local artists (above) who didn't have any diabolic intention in mind. But God works in mysterious ways, and so does the Fallen One, so we're willing to bet that any devilish correspondence left there will not be returned "addressee unknown."--P.S.
Best Local Architectural Wreck
Just off of Highway 101, slightly north of the grand entranceway to Asti Winery in Asti, sits a collapsed wreck of a building, tucked away a bit into the expansive vineyards. The former El Carmello chapel--nearly 100 years old--is unusual in that it is green and is shaped roughly like a Hershey's Kiss. Well, it was shaped that way; a good portion of the tiny building has fallen over, crumbling sadly away, nearly lost if not quite forgotten. In fact, the El Carmello Restoration Project in Asti has been slowly raising the funds necessary to restore the "Little Chapel," as it's come to be known. Hopes are that reconstruction of this remnant of the Italian-Swiss Colony will be able to begin before the end of this year. At such a point, there will surely be plenty of real kisses all around. 522-9112.--D.T.
Best Dragon Man
Nick Westbrook, a Santa Rosa welder-turned-sculptor, has a certain thing for dragons. Not only has he named his sculpting operation Fire Dragon, but he's also designed his share of large metallic dragons, including Ah Chu--a dragon wearing reading glasses, peering at the remains of a newspaper he's just sneezed fire at--that is making an exhibition tour of Sonoma County elementary school libraries. First bitten by the sculpture bug when he was hired by internationally renowned Petaluma kinetic sculptor Mark DeSuvio, Westbrook has now designed and built hundreds of sculptures, including such giant kinetic works as the multicolored, wind-altering installation in front of the Sonoma Community Center. He's now at work on several other large pieces, but also plans more dragons, including a child-sized dragon riding a tricycle. He'll call that one Draggin' Dragon. Nick Westbrook welcomes visits, by appointment, from interested sculpture fans. 544-2829.--D.T.
Best Leftover of a Bygone Era
It makes us cry sentimental baby-boomer tears to see the abandoned shells of two A&W Drive-Ins, alone and empty but still standing at 600 E. Washington Blvd. in Petaluma and 48 Healdsburg Ave. in Healdsburg. Gone are the rollerskating waitresses. Gone are the icy-cold root beer floats. Gone are the artery-clogging deep-fried onion rings. But the instantly recognizable architecture, the bright orange paint, and those wonderful drive-up speaker stands all still exist, just waiting for some inventive entrepreneur with a knack for revitalizing important icons from the not-so-distant past. Or maybe they're just waiting for bulldozers.--D.T.
Best Lost Cause
Noreen Evans was the last best hope for the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. Not just a breath of fresh air, the Santa Rosa Councilwoman would have been a breath of fresh gender. Instead we got Mike Kerns, who--no offense intended--is another frumpy middle-aged white guy. With three Mikes, two balding pates, a beard, a mustache, and a whole lot of conservative, pro-development blather couched in the words of public service, it's dang hard to see the difference between the five supes. Put the county counsel and the county controller up on the dais, and it's a panel that makes affirmative-action fans cry. Janet Nicholas was the last woman elected to the board, and she left in 1991. Noreen Evans and Dawn Mittleman took up the cause in March, and both were quashed by incumbents. But remember, gals, even if you lose the race, at least we can tell you apart from the boys.--J.W.
Best Local Haunted House
THERE IS SOMETHING MYSTERIOUS afoot at the Cavanaugh Inn. Formerly the home of a soft-spoken, well-mannered woman named Adelaide Cavanaugh, the charming old Victorian is now beautifully restored, comfortably charming . . . and haunted. Late at night, according to numerous guests, footsteps can be heard and felt, creaking against the floorboards as someone paces back and forth in the Magnolia Room. At such times, the bedroom closet--which is permanently locked--can be heard opening and closing. The innkeepers' best guess is that the ghost is the spirit of Adelaide herself, who, it is reported, was always a bit of a flirt around menfolk. According to reports, she still is, somewhat preferring the company of men to that of women. Having a ghost in the inn hasn't hurt business in the least, by the way. Most guests find Adelaide to be as charming now as she apparently was when she was alive. 10 Keller St., Petaluma. 765-4657.--D.T.
Best 'Scream' Substitute
Way back in '94, when that whole lamentable brouhaha happened with director Wes Craven and his film Scream, the idiosyncratic director was forced to abandon his plans to shoot scenes at Santa Rosa High School, mainly because the school board didn't like the icky, blood-drenched script. Fortunately for Scream--which went on to become the most financially successful horror film of all time and recently screened its third installment--a two-part substitute for SRHS emerged: the Sonoma Community Center and the Healdsburg Square. In the finished film, the Sonoma location makes up the exteriors of the school building, while the Healdsburg site becomes the school grounds. While lacking some of the gothic creepiness of the original location, these other sites worked quite well--and have since become a part of filmmaking history. On the other hand, SRHS may always be remembered as the location of Inventing the Abbots. (Wait! What movie was that again?)--D.T.
Best Celtic Harpist with Rabbit Ears of His Own
Patrick Ball is not just one of Sonoma County's most famous folk musicians. The Forestville resident is widely accepted as being one of the few truly great Celtic harpists alive. Having already recorded numerous albums of his inspiring, soul-enlightening music--including several that are considered classics, and one great children's album, the Rabbit Ears Records version of The Ugly Duckling, narrated by Cher during one of her maternal incarnations--Ball has now branched out into more daring terrain. For the last two years, he's been honing his one-man stage show, a dramatic presentation about the life of blind Irish harpist and bard Turlough O'Carolan, to considerable critical acclaim. He's toured the world and enchanted ears across the globe. We're just glad, and proud, that he always comes back home . . . to Sonoma County.--D.T.
Best First-Time Novelist under 18
LAST YEAR, Emma Kallok, 13, saw her first children's novel picked up by a major publisher. The Diary of Chickabiddy Baby (Tricycle) was received with critical praise and with general surprise at the mature quality of the writing. The author, a Sebastopol resident, was nonplussed by all the attention she received. Said she, "I just hope other kids who want to write are inspired enough to go ahead and follow their hearts." This proves that Emma Kallok isn't merely a first-class writer, she's a class act, period.--D.T.
Best Place to Watch Bands Claw Their Way to the Top
For the past 11 years Northern California bands have been conducting an all-out musical war to achieve the top slot in Sonoma County's legendary Battle of the Bands. Scott Goree, former owner of Magnolia's nightclub in Santa Rosa and the current proprietor of Inn of the Beginning in Cotati, oversees the 13-week event and does most of the judging. The contest, open to all bands that write and perform original music, makes for a varied and lively collision of styles. With up to 27 bands rocking the house in an effort to blow off the competition (and win big, big prizes), there's plenty of music for all tastes. Past winners include Disciples of Ed, Hangman's Daughter, and Eric Lindell and the Reds. Inn of the Beginning, 8201 Old Redwood Hwy., Cotati, 664-1100.--B.E.
Best Dysfunctional Political Family (Runner-up)
In one corner is the Santa Rosa City Council majority angling for its pro-development agenda. In the other corner, the outspoken minority harps on its dais-mates' kowtowing to big money. Some city councils schlep to retreats to foster consensus building and team spirit. Here, they just threaten to sue each other. The most recent fracas involved the selection of a planning commissioner, which took on Shakespearean proportions when a candidate was approved by a dubious process. Councilwoman Marsha Vas Dupre cried foul, and Vice Mayor Sharon Wright responded in a huff, threatening legal action. Perhaps it makes more sense for the council to be moderated by a boxing referee--or maybe a therapist: "Now, Marsha and Sharon, if you two can't get along, we'll have to ask you to take a 10-minute timeout."--J.W.
Best Literary Event That Almost Didn't Happen
The natives were restless and trouble was brewing. As usual, the root of the problem was sex. Seems some of the more conservative members of the Sebastopol Center for the Arts didn't much care for the "Orgasmic" poetry writing contest being organized by the center's Literary Arts Committee. But after a short bout of controversy, erotica and free speech prevailed, and the contest went on as planned. On Feb. 18, the winning writers gathered before a packed audience to read their sexy poems, which proved to be no more than slightly salacious in most cases. The neo-Victorians can relax: for explicit content most of these works would have been trumped by a sweeps-week episode of NYPD Blue (though cop shows rarely feature so many fruit-and-vegetables-as-my-beloved metaphors). Still, the audience heard some excellent poetry that night, especially from contest judge and award-winning San Francisco poet Kim Addonizio, whose readings made the windows in the room seem foggier than a car windshield on a Saturday night.--P.S.
Best Profane Band Name
Frankly, we were getting desperate. Every year, we try to bestow this award on some richly deserving local band (usually of the metal persuasion, for some reason). And every year, someone in the local music scene coins a name that springs right out at us, dripping and drooling with obscenity or blasphemy or both. But when we looked around this time, we couldn't find a new moniker that met our needs. Then, in the dead of night, someone slipped a press release under our door announcing the creation of a new hardcore band: Patrick Ziemann's Screamin' Semen. And a legend was born.--P.S.
Best Use of Telecom Money
THE SHOCK IS STILL WEARING OFF. When a Sebastopol real estate developer put a plan in motion to convert the Phoenix Theatre into an office building, local music fans prayed for a last-minute miracle to save Petaluma's venerable all-ages music venue. They got their wish, but not in the form they expected. Some figured Les Claypool and Tom Waits would step in with big music money to save the day. Others believed Metallica and Green Day were planning a benefit concert/protest march. But no one among the throngs of skateboarders, rockers, ravers, and hardcore kids who frequent the Phoenix guessed the bizarre truth--that a local group of middle-aged telecommunications engineers would use a bucket of Cisco Systems-buyout money to purchase the theater and preserve it as a youth hangout and sanctuary for alternative culture. That's exactly what happened, of course, and the Phoenix is now going stronger than ever. Coming soon to the alt-music venue: AFI leads a punk-rock revival on Saturday, March 25, and Ozomatli offer their Latin rap on Friday, March 31. Check out the resurrected Phoenix at 201 Washington St. For more info, call 762-3565.--P.S.
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From the March 23-29, 2000, 1999 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.
© Metro Publishing Inc.