Writers Picks: Culture

BRIAN GOGGIN
  • Brian Goggin

Best Public Art Dust-Up

Its official title is "Fine Balance," but most folks in Petaluma just call it 'The Bathtubs on Stilts.'

The controversial public art installation has not even been installed yet, but sculptor Brian Goggin's starkly steam-punkish (and, for the record, totally bought-and-paid-for) art project has proven to be one of the most divisive happenings Petaluma has witnessed since Highway 101 split the town into west side and east side.

The tubs—five old-fashioned, claw-foot bathtubs suspended on towering metal stilts—were paid for out of a mandated fund collected from private developers who build new stuff in town, and must either cough up 1 percent of their building costs or spend the same amount commissioning their own artwork on their site. The installation is expected to be erected this fall on Water Street, overlooking the Petaluma River's turning basin. While there are plenty who actually look forward to the installation (proudly sporting "The Tubs Will Rise" buttons), the howl of outrage from dissenters has become so vitriolic that discussion of the tubs has been banned on social media sights like the popular "I Love Petaluma!" Facebook page.

It's not the first time Petalumans have seen an art display spark major controversy. Thirty-six years ago, in 1982, local artists Tim Read and the late Guy Scohy found themselves at the center of a massive maelstrom when they were invited to install a number of brightly colored metal sculptures outside the downtown history museum. The public outcry was immediate. Many called the sculptures ugly, too modern or too strange. Others (the project's defenders) argued that ugliness was beside the point, that art is art and is intended to inflame public conversation. The city of Petaluma soon jumped in, citing the structures' potential danger to the public (sharp edges, etc.) and ordered the sculptures to be removed. Disappointed in his fellow Petalumans' lack of support for art and creativity, Scohy soon after left town. Read himself now lives in New Mexico.

Will Petaluma once again cave to art critics and pull the plug on the tubs? It's a real soap opera. We'll just have to wait and see.—D.T.

Best Place to Temporarily Feel Young Again

Remember back before you had kids and all the cool shows you used to see? Yeah, I've pretty much forgotten, too. But it's not too late! You can still hold on to those fleeting pleasures of youth. Here comes the Huichica Music Festival again June 7–8. Held at Gundlach Bundschu Winery in Sonoma, it's the music festival for people who hate music festivals. For one, it's not BottleRock. It's much smaller and mellower. Multiple stages mean you can wander around and sample different bands all day long. And you can walk around with bottles of wine in your hand. It's encouraged! (Pro tip: try the GunBun Gewürztraminer). The food trucks are solid, too. Best of all is the music. It's a diverse mix of indie rock, alt folk and random stuff thrown in. This year has got Real Estate, Chuck Prophet, Fruit Bats and Lee Fields & the Expressions. Yes, the festival has more than its share of hipsters, but all those skinny jeans means there's more room for you. huichica.com.—S.H.

Best Place to Hide Out

Long gone are those thrilling days of yesteryear when Van Morrison would show up unannounced at the Inn of the Beginning in Cotati and perform for free for all the hippies, the weirdos, the ranchers and the SSU students. Cotati is still a cool place to hear music. Redwood Cafe in the heart of Cotati has some great local musicians, singers and songwriters. Years ago, when it was called the Last Great Hiding Place, I would hang out there, make pasta for 50 or 60 people on community night and watch old movies. That's right, there was movie night at the Last Great Hiding Place. There are no movies at Redwood Cafe, but it's still a great place to hide out with friends and strangers, listen to music, drink an IPA or a red wine and eat some food. Except for the illuminated stage and the light from the kitchen, it's pretty dark inside the cafe, and there's plenty of room to lean into the shadows and be a tad mysterious. I recently heard Laughing Gravy with Doug Jayne and Allen Sudduth. They were mighty fine. There's folk and there's jazz and there's dancing, too. There's a cover charge, but it won't break your budget. Couples pack the place on Friday nights, but there are also lots of men and women and boys and girls all on their own, aiming to stay on their own, or to meet someone they can hide out with for a couple of hours. Redwood Cafe rocks. 8240 Old Redwood Hwy., Cotati. 707.795.7868. redwoodcafe.com.—J.R.

Best Big Beautiful Wall

Many people don't remember that there was a time, decades ago, when a barrier 18 feet high and nearly 25 miles long divided this land. A great swath of Sonoma County property was separated from its southern neighbors. And it was all accomplished without an emergency declaration. By fiat of a visionary artist. Actually, a pair of artists—Christo and his late wife, Jeanne-Claude—spent four years collaborating with ranchers, also hiring lawyers, and ultimately constructing a billowing, fragile-seeming white fabric fence—sorry, did I say wall? It's obvious that I meant fence all along—that they called Running Fence. The controversial spectacle lasted just two weeks in September 1976, by design, but in the end it mostly brought people together instead of dividing them. The park at Watson School Historic Park (14550 Bodega Hwy., Bodega Bay) is dedicated to Running Fence, while Sonoma County Historic Landmark 24 in Valley Ford marks a spot where it actually stood. Dive into the second-hand stacks at Copperfield's Books in Petaluma to see if you can learn more from the book Christo: Running Fence.—J.K.

Most Nutritious Visit to Tinseltown

I once lived in a town whose only cinema was a mall megaplex. Nothing but Hollywood blockbusters and big-budget romcoms. It was the equivalent of dining on nothing but oversalted, fast-food garbage that leave you feeling gassy regret after you've left. That's why I appreciate Sebastopol's Rialto Cinemas, this year's winner for Best Movie Theater, so much. The programming includes both big Hollywood films as well a little indie flicks that you'd never see playing at the mall. They feature Q&As with directors and screenings of Sebastopol's Documentary Film Festival and the Jewish Film Festival. They even have a cat video festival. I love the building, too. It's an old tomato-processing plant to seems to ramble on forever. Capping it off are the Rialto's food offerings. There's candy and popcorn (with real butter) if you like, but there's also a menu of real food (and great beer and wine) that makes dinner and a movie an easy proposition. 6868 McKinley St., Sebastopol. 707.525.4840. rialtocinemas.com.—S.H.

BRYAN GRAY
  • Bryan Gray

Best '80s Metal Band of the 21st Century

There was a razor's edge of time in the 1980s when heavy metal and big hair ruled the airwaves, when bands like WASP, Dokken and Ratt dominated the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles with heavy riffs, pop hooks and glam-inspired outfits that lit the crowd's blood on fire.

Then, in a flash, it was gone, annihilated by a nuclear warhead name Kurt Cobain, and the once thriving heavy metal scene was buried in a wasteland of flannel and bad beards. For years, heavy metal was mired in the no-fun-at-all sounds of Nu metal, rap-metal and all those other troubled genres that fought it out in a Mad Max thunderdome of banality.

But there was one band from the '80s that never died, because they never really lived back then. Born out of the North Bay's flourishing music scene of the last decade is a new champion of heavy metal, transported straight from the '80s with all their hair and leather boots done up to the nines.

They call themselves Falkönner, and they're ready to take to the skies in Sonoma County, performing original '80s-inspired, radio-friendly heavy metal.

This is no tribute band, kids; this is a time capsule of fist-pumping fuck-yeah heavy rock from the golden age, delivered with authentic ass-kicking riffs and blistering guitar solos from founding members Vincent Michael Michaels Vincent and Lorde Spyte, brothers in arms with axes.

The irreverent and crass Michaels Vincent and the guitar-obsessed Spyte emerged from the dust several years ago, still glowing from the fallout, and they've been traversing the wastelands to recruit the ultimate army of hell raisers, starting with lead vocalist CeCe Chaztayne, whose screaming eagle of a voice is helped by the bottle of booze that's never far from the mic. They then picked up Feets, who despite his name has two perfectly capable arms with which he pounds on the drums when he's not stoned out of his mind. Brand-new recruit Ash Fenixx on bass is the dark horse of the group, a mysterious presence with a penchant for fiery outbursts of intensity.

Falkönner have already invaded the North Bay with shows at local dives and soon they will debut their EP, Enter the Falkon, a bombastic collection of songs about sex, drugs—and whatever else they want. falkonner.bandcamp.com.—C.S.

Falkönner rocks out with Union Jack & the Rippers and Points North on Friday, March 22, at the Flamingo Lounge, 2777 Fourth St., Santa Rosa. 8pm. $10. 707.545.8530.

Best 'Secret' Place to Throw a Party

It's a little-known fact that certain institutions around the county will sometimes make meeting rooms available to the public (especially nonprofits and citizens groups) for free. Most public libraries, for example, will allow local clubs or charities to use certain rooms for meetings, rehearsals, public forums, etc. Some police departments will do the same thing. (Just call them up and ask. Policies do change.) It's rare, however, for a private business to do the same thing. So it's kind of cool that Jamison's Roaring Donkey bar in downtown Petaluma makes its medium-sized Red Room available (for no fee and with no deposit down) for group events and gatherings, from meetings and workshops to weddings, private parties and work parties, class reunions . . . Outside food is OK, though human beings younger than 21 are not. It's got a projection screen and audio equipment. You must reserve the room in advance, of course, and there is a certain expectation that your guests might want to belly up to the bar for a drink before, during or after your meeting. However you might choose to use this little-known resource, the Red Room remains one of the best-kept secrets in Sonoma County. Or I suppose it was until now . . . 146 Kentucky St., Petaluma. 707.772.5478. roaring-donkey.com.—D.T.

Best Places to Contemplate Murder

If you're a fan of murder mysteries, the best place to read them is at home, though preferably not in bed. You don't want to get too cozy with murder and its detection—or maybe you do. Then bed is the most congenial place to dive head first into Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon, Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep and Dorothy Hughes' In a Lonely Place, which will knock your socks off. The Sonoma County Library has a ton of mysteries, including "Murders in the Rue Morgue" by Edgar Alan Poe, who created the first literary detective, and Arthur Conan Doyle, who gave birth to Sherlock Holmes and his pal, Dr. Watson, who have appeared on movie and TV screens for decades. For new books, go to Barnes & Noble on Fourth Street in Santa Rosa. For used copies that are in good condition, go to Treehorn, also on Fourth. (Treehorn even has the feel of a bookstore in a murder mystery.) Their booksellers are helpful, especially Grant Hotaling, who sits behind the counter at Treehorn and shares his knowledge about literary murder mysteries. You probably don't want to read just one. You might not be able to stop at one. As the poet W. H. Auden pointed out, reading detective fiction is "an addiction like tobacco or alcohol." But healthier. If you read detective fiction at home, you can smoke whatever you want to smoke and consume any kind of alcohol, though not the Prohibition-era booze that Hammett's Sam Spade drinks in The Maltese Falcon or what Philip Marlowe guzzles in The Big Sleep. One advantage of reading at home is that you can hook up to Netflix and watch murder mysteries on your TV screen until you're blue in the face. You could start with Pickup on South Street with tough guy Richard Widmark and sultry siren Jean Peters, or Out of the Past with Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer, who burns up the screen and who might turn you into a murder mystery addict—or renew your addiction.—J.R.

PHOTO COURTESY SCOTTHESSPHOTO.COM AND SKYLANDPHOTOGRAPHY.COM
  • Photo courtesy ScottHessPhoto.com and SkylandPhotography.com

Best Way to Experience the Petaluma River Without Getting Wet (Or Stuck in the Mud)

If photographer Scott Hess knows one thing, it's that the Petaluma River, and all of its associated flora and fauna, looks great in pictures. After years of photographing the winding tidal slough (officially dubbed a "river" by an act of congress in 1959), Hess had an idea to marry some of his best photos with brand-new text describing the river's history. John Sheehy, Petaluma historian and storyteller, signed on to the project, with the hope of producing some sort of book. As it turns out, that was a very good idea. Funded by a 2018 IndieGogo campaign, Hess and Sheehy's 'On a River Winding Home' was released last November, and was consistently a top placeholder on Copperfield's bookstore's bestsellers list (mostly hovering at No. 2, right under Michelle Obama's Becoming) until only a week or so ago. The only reason it stopped selling, reportedly, is that Hess and Sheehy basically sold out their stock. Clearly, the $18,000 raised through the online crowd-funding campaign has more than paid off. riverwindinghome.com.—D.T.