(Incorporating Historical Perspectives from discussions with Bob and Susy Barsotti at the recent Kate Wolf Festival)
Some of your readers may already know a lot about Bob and Susy Barsotti, their renowned expertise, and their fabulous crews’ long-time involvement, in producing high quality musical/community events. Bob emphasized that he was, “lucky to be taught by Bill Graham - get to write the book with him.”
This education and experience started in the early 1970s. At a certain point the Barsotti’s work with Bill Graham Productions - national and worldwide responsibilities - changed, becoming localized on the North Coast when the famous Hogfarm, with Bob and Susy as just two of the many partners, pooled their resources and bought the Black Oak Ranch north of Laytonville.
The people there added incredible skills, dedication, and consciousness to the mix of the North Coast, including but not limited to high quality watershed restoration, animal husbandry, production of events, support for Native American issues, progressive/responsible thinking and actions, and Camp Winnarainbow.
Around this same time (1984) the Mateel Community Center embarked on Reggae-on-the-River at French’s Camp to raise funds to replace the MCC in Garberville that had been burned down by an arsonist in 1983.
A couple of years later Wavy Gravy approached guitarist Jerry Garcia to see if he would play at French’s to help Black Oak Ranch pay off their mortgage - and he said he would if Bill Graham Productions would co-produce it. There followed five years of Electric-on-the-Eel - starting in 1987. The last one was in 1991 and featured the Jerry Garcia and Taj Mahal Bands and Marty Balin.
There were various complications, one of them being that French’s was a long way from Black Oak Ranch. And Electric-off-the-Eel was held at Black Oak Ranch in 1992. From 1993 through 2001 the Pignic became an incredibly successful Labor Day weekend event. Earth Dance came after that, but after Burning Man started up on Labor Day weekend, things changed. Check out these links and others for a lot more information: http://thegaiafestival.com/about-us/black-oak-ranch-history;
In 2001, after five years in Santa Rosa, the Kate Wolf Memorial Music Festival moved to the Black Oak Ranch, where it’s still held in late June/early July of each year. It features incredible musicians, many who played with Kate Wolf, and it remains one of the most inspiring and family friendly events on the North Coast.
Susy pointed out that attendance started to dwindle a few years ago (old folks, you know) until they began to “hire bands with a drum set.” Just a few of the outstanding artists this year included Justin Townes Earle, Leftover Salmon, Ferron, and Lucinda Williams. It’s a really mixed age crowd now, but as Susy says, the upcoming Gaia Festival (August 3-5) will have “more dancing, and less lawn chairs.”
Bob and Susy wanted to stress several things about the Gaia Festival:
o Whereas Earth Dance stressed a global consciousness, Gaia will especially focus on local and regional realities and needs - to honestly address problems and offer solutions. These include correcting significant adverse impacts from marijuana cultivation, impacts that are not necessary and that can be avoided/seriously mitigated.
Some of these that we’re hearing about almost everyday are excessive water diversion; toxins impacting wildlife, humans, water, and soil; and just a general need to correct “unclear-on-the-concepts” of stewardship that prevents sedimentation from bad roads and unwise (stupid) grading practices; careful protection and use of water; and respect for the “Franciscan mélange,” one of dominant base-types for our local soils. What in hell is the practice of bringing in mountains of fertile soil and then discarding it? (I don’t want to get carried away, because there’s a human tendency going on to scapegoat every rural resident of the North Coast, but . . .)
o Black Oak Ranch has cut its dumpster needs in half by giving the vendors washable dishes and silverware that volunteers clean and return to the vendors. Also, all beer concessions use metal tumblers that have a deposit and that are returned.
o There are plenty of panels and opportunities at the Gaia Festival to address everything from unethical practices by dispensaries and the federal government, Monsanto and it’s unbelievable hubris - on par with the horrific Citizens United Supreme Court decision, and ways to take positive actions in our neighborhoods and in the region.
o There will be a “bicycle initiative”: musicians starting from Golden Gate Bridge and holding three concerts on the way to Black Oak Ranch and musicians starting from the Trinity Tribal Stomp, playing six concerts on their way to the Gaia Festival.
o Bob and Susy emphasize the “need to look honestly at ourselves.” What do we really need and what can we do to stop adverse cumulative effects of our living on the land? Finally Susy quotes Wavy Gravy (named by B.B King): “It’s all done with people.”
The link for the Gaia Festival, hella roster of performers including Michael Franti and many more is http://thegaiafestival.com/.