Years ago, the classical violinist Mike Halasz was invited by his son, a saxophone player, to a Sonoma County Blues Society jam session at the now-defunct Inn of the Beginning in Cotati. It wasn't the type of music he himself played, but Halasz was nonetheless so enamored of the experience that he came back the next week and the next. And the next. "I just enjoyed it so much," he says, "I kept on going." Six months later, he became president of the Sonoma County Blues Society, a position he would hold for seven straight years.
For the last quarter-century, the Sonoma County Blues Society has produced, promoted and progressed the state of blues music in the region. This weekend, Zone Music hosts a free 25th anniversary party for the organization that was started in 1983 by a passionate blues fan named Bill Bowker, who will be honored and presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award. (One can expect Bowker, widely acknowledged as a regional treasure of radio from his work at well-missed KVRE and KRSH 95.9-FM, to give a characteristically humble acceptance speech.) Says Zone Music's owner and host of the event, Frank Hayhurst, "It's about time that Bowker got some of the recognition he so richly deserves for his unswerving dedication to the blues, and to blues musicians."
With approximately 250 members, many of them musicians, the Blues Society still hosts weekly jam sessions but has recently turned its community efforts toward the kids. "In 2008, the SCBS took a hard look at ourselves and identified meaningful areas in which to put our efforts," says SCBS secretary John Ranis, "and high on the list was 'youth mentoring.'" Thus, on the fourth Sunday of each month starting in October, members will be on hand as a "house band" for weekly Sunday jam sessions at the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma, "to teach and help anyone who wants to get a better grasp on blues-based music."
There was a time, of course, when young pop music, from the British Invasion to the Allmans to Clapton, was heavily influenced by blues. Nowadays, Halasz says, the kids who come to the Blues Society's jam sessions are somewhat interested in blues, but "probably not as much as hard rock, or something like that. But we do have a lot of youngsters who come out and want to get onstage and be recognized. There have been some that have been very successful. Everybody gets a little bit of limelight."
The Sonoma County Blues Society's 25th Anniversary Party features music from the Blues Defenders, Michael Barclay, John Allair, the Pulsators, C.T. Cruisers, Linda Ferro, Joel Rudinow, the Blues Burners, the Hellhounds and a very special guest (we can't say who) on Saturday, Sept. 13, at Zone Music, 7884 Old Redwood Hwy., Cotati. 1&–5pm. Free. 707.664.1213.