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Stay Real: Rio Nido's Popular Music Fest Goes Online

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Katrina Bushnell and Nick Bray, as indie-rock duo Jesse Judies, perform as part of Real Neato Music Festival’s upcoming virtual event. - PHOTO AND CONCEPT BY SARA GERSTEL
  • Photo and concept by Sara Gerstel
  • Katrina Bushnell and Nick Bray, as indie-rock duo Jesse Judies, perform as part of Real Neato Music Festival’s upcoming virtual event.

When Eli Meyskens was very young, he misheard his parents talking about the town of Rio Nido and thought they said, “Real Neato.”

That phrase stuck with the Sonoma County–raised and San Francisco–based musician, and after he shared the story with music promoter and booker Daniel Strickland, the Real Neato Music Festival was born.

Last year’s inaugural Real Neato helped kick off the North Bay’s summer with a concert on June 15, 2019, at the historic Rio Nido Roadhouse. This year’s planned festival was canceled in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic that is keeping everyone at home.

Undeterred, Strickland, Meyskens and fellow organizers will present Real Neato at Home, a virtual music festival streaming on Saturday, June 27, at 9pm. The online showcase will feature several Bay Area and North Bay bands and artists, and in keeping with the festival’s original fundraising mindset, donations are encouraged and will support the performers as well as raise money for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

Daniel Strickland works in San Francisco, promoting concerts with Noise Pop and managing shows at venues such as the Swedish American Music Hall. Back in 2018, he held an independent fundraiser to support people impacted by the Mendocino Complex Fire of August that year. There he met Meyskens, who plays in the San Francisco indie-rock trio EagleWolfSnake.

The two became friends, and quickly began talking about doing an event together. Once the term Real Neato was revealed by Meyskens, they decided upon hosting the show at the Rio Nido Roadhouse.

“No sooner had we gone up and done some site visits with [Rio Nido Roadhouse manager] Raena Metzger, [then] the flooding happened,” Strickland says, referring to the Russian River flooding in February of 2019.

“We wanted to move forward and Raena was really excited about having the event when she re-opened,” Strickland says. “We did a fundraiser for her in April 2019 to help her rebuild and then we had our event last June.”

The first Real Neato Music Festival was a huge success, and all parties were excited to host a second fest this summer, until Covid-19 put the plans on hold.

“Three years and three different disasters,” Strickland says.

While Rio Nido Roadhouse is open for take-out food orders, Strickland is not entertaining the idea of hosting an on-site, 400-person concert. Instead, he and the other festival organizers decided to offer Real Neato at Home on June 27 as a way to keep the music alive and support the artists who have seen their source of income disappear since live music events went away in March.

“In talking with bands, we found out they are struggling with their finances,” Strickland says. “At first, we were going to do a fundraiser because of what’s going on with Black Lives Matter. Now, we’ve settled on doing something online that raises money for both the artists and for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.”

Real Neato at Home’s confirmed online lineup of bands and artists include Oakland indie-pop artist Emily Afton, world music ensemble La Gente SF, North Bay rocker John Courage, psychedelic soul outfit Down Dirty Shake, self-proclaimed “Beach Funk Americana” group The Ha, outlaw country stars Caravan 222, folk singer-songwriter Dominique Gomez, longtime North Bay alternative rock band The Spindles and indie-rock duo Jesse Judies.

“It’s going to be like a TV show,” Strickland says.

Strickland’s recent work with Noise Pop, producing streaming concerts and online events with bands such as Built to Spill and Rogue Wave, inspired Real Neato at Home’s format.

“What I found about live streams is that there are a lot of challenges in making the sound and video quality good, because you have so many potential technical bottlenecks between where the artist is and where we are in the control room,” Strickland says. “Each of our artists is working on videos they are recording live. They’re sending that to us, we edit it and we’re going to stream it out on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Twitch in real time. The artist will then be on our site and will be able to chat, and that will give people a live experience with the artist while they are watching the show.”

While Strickland and the rest of the Real Neato crew hope to get back to hosting live shows later this year, he says, “the big thing for us is that we want to give people something fun to watch at home and to remind people that just like local restaurants and other businesses, musicians need your support right now, too.”

‘Real Neato at Home’ streams online Saturday, June 27, at 9pm. For information on where to watch and how to donate, visit Realneato.com or linktr.ee/realneato.

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