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Level Up

Debut revue and conference helps musicians get where they want to go


SHOW AND TELL  Santa Rosa’s Oddjob Ensemble are one of 28 acts performing at the Next Level Showcase. - JASOUND
  • Jasound
  • SHOW AND TELL Santa Rosa’s Oddjob Ensemble are one of 28 acts performing at the Next Level Showcase.

In an exciting new meeting of the minds between Sonoma County musicians, business and government, the inaugural Next Level Showcase and Conference launches April 15–17 at the Arlene Francis Center and Chops Teen Center in Santa Rosa.

Made possible by support from the California Arts Council and a grant from the Hewlett Foundation, Next Level will highlight the area's wealth of local musical talent and help local bands and those in the music business take the next steps in achieving their personal and professional goals.

Next Level is the brainchild of Kristen Madsen and Josh Windmiller, the man behind local music collective the North Bay Hootenanny. Appointed last year as the director of Creative Sonoma, a program under the county's Economic Development Board, Madsen brings a lifetime of music-industry experience to Sonoma County. She previously worked at the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences and was the senior vice president of the Grammy Foundation.

"I've been doing professional development and networking for music people for 20 years," Madsen says. "So when I first came to Sonoma County last year, I was trying to find my way into the music community around here. And that's when Josh and I hooked up."

A Sonoma County native and lifelong musician, Windmiller has fronted the folk-punk ensemble the Crux since 2007, and founded the nonprofit Hootenanny to organize community events that included last year's Railroad Square Music Festival.

"I got a really good sense of the wonderful spirit of comradery in the community," says Madsen. "We wanted to find a way to build on that. That's a core part of what Creative Sonoma is about: helping creative people do what they do better."

For the two days of musical showcases, Windmiller joined forces with Second Octave, the creative team behind the summer concert series at the Somo Village Event Center in Rohnert Park, to book a far-reaching range of talent.

"We wanted to expand on the Hootenanny's normal lineup of Americana music," says Second Octave marketing director Bryce David Dow-Williamson. "We wanted to show off some of the younger, louder, more experimental music that's also happening around Sonoma County, expand the breadth of the showcase."

On Friday, April 15, the Arlene Francis opens its doors at 7pm for three stages of regional acts that include Petaluma pianist Saffell, songwriter Kevin Russell, indie-pop wonders Lungs and Limbs, acoustic folk band Mr. December, psychedelic blues-rockers Rainbow Girls, and others.

Saturday, April 16, continues with experimental West County band Antiphony, melodic indie-rock outfit Rags, fun-loving pop band Secret Cat, Gypsy-soul ensemble Royal Jelly Jive and songwriters Travis Hayes, Kristen Pearce, Ashley Allred and Timothy O'Neil.

Sunday, April 17, moves the activity to Chops for the conference. The day starts with a keynote talk by Griff Morris, senior manager of artists and industry strategy at Amazon Music. Also on the lineup is a conversation with Fairfax booking agency Mongrel Music and Latin music-royalty agency Regalias Digitales, as well as a panel with management firm A Train Entertainment and San Francisco indie label Tricycle Records. The day wraps with roundtable discussions where musicians can get one-on-one advice.

Next Level is also initiating a grants program, offering five bands or artists the chance to receive $2,500 to go toward their choice of projects.

The grant comes with 10 free hours of one-on-one consulting and three hours of legal advice, all meant to help musicians capitalize on the investment. "The bands not only get some money to help them get where they want to be, we'll pair them with professionals so they can also get advice and expertise in whatever area they are going to use the money for," explains Madsen.

Conference attendees will be able to submit their grant proposals at the event, and Creative Sonoma will track recipients' progress throughout 2016. Next year, Madsen hopes to bring the bands back together to share their experiences at the second Next Level Conference.

"I think this is a unique experience to have this level of industry professionals coming to Sonoma County," Madsen says. "It makes a strong statement about what people outside of the area see in terms of the music scene here, and that is really positive for the future of Sonoma County musicians."

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