A Solstice performance of protest songs in Petaluma
The winter solstice, which will occur this Saturday, is the longest (and darkest) night of the year. For Petaluma resident Al Haas, it seemed like a good opportunity to gather several of his musician and poet friends for a “Night of Protest: Help Bring our Country to the Light.”
“It seemed like the perfect time to dust off some old protest songs and introduce some new ones to call forth a new light into our country,” Haas said. “Lord knows we need it.”
Haas has lined up more than 15 performers, each of whom will sing songs or recite poetry in keeping with the theme of protest and change.
The event will start at Aqus Café, 189 H St., and run from 7 to 10 p.m. Then many of the musicians will head over to the David Yearsley River Heritage Center, 100 East D St., on McNear Peninsula, and continue the music, with an informal song circle lasting until midnight.
“If it doesn’t rain, we will be playing outside around a bonfire,” he said.
Both the gatherings at Aqus Cafe and River Heritage Center are free and open to the public.
“We’re inviting the community to come and join us. We want them to feel that they’re not alone in their dissatisfaction with how things are going in this country,” he said.
Any gratuities that are contributed to the tip jar will be donated to COTS, the local nonprofit whose mission is to assist people in transitioning from homelessness to a permanent home.
Haas, who retired last year after a long career as a doctor with Kaiser Permanente, said his original plan was to keep the protest songs going all night until sunrise at 7:21 a.m. – in private homes. However, he eventually abandoned the concept of a 14½-hour marathon.
The event will now conclude around midnight after the song circle.
“Over time, I started to see it as the terrible burden that it might be,” he said. “And, of course, some of the wives (of certain participants) provided their input.”
Haas, who is an accomplished singer, guitarist and songwriter, will kick off the evening at 7 p.m. with an introduction and three songs. Aqus Café co-owner John Crowley will follow with some spoken-word comments. The rest of the schedule at the café will alternate singers and poets.
Among the musicians are Stephen and Karen Tamborski, who comprised two-thirds of the trio the Artifacts, which entertained North Bay audiences from 1992 until 2010. Multi-instrumentalist, bandleader and songwriter Michael Capella will perform three songs, including “Evil Elves,” a humorous original tune about what happens when Santa has to lay off his helpers and they run amok.
While there will be some light-hearted moments during the three-hour performance, Haas said the event is designed to examine and assert the core values of the participants, performers and audience, at a moment when many feel the world has become a dark and challenging place.
“By getting together to voice our protest, it gives us energy, and so when the time is right we will be ready to pounce on an opportunity for change,” Haas said. “When Richard Nixon was president, there was an expression, ‘The silent majority.’ We want to be ‘the vocal majority.’ We want to be sure that we and everyone else know that we’re out there.”
Haas firmly believes that music has the power to make positive change.
“It can energize people and build bonds. Music has a way of connecting a community,” he said. “The pinnacle of protest songs in the 1960s contributed to an early exit of United States forces from Vietnam.
“There are two types of protest songs - the rant and the lament,” he explained. An example of a rant is Bob Dylan’s “A Hard’s Rain’s Gonna Fall,” whereas Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” is a lament.
For Haas, the event will be “sort of an echo of my earlier years.” He added, “Some of the first songs that I learned were protest songs, and I loved them – songs by Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Phil Ochs.”
Haas’ musical career started at age 19 when he joined a trio that played weekends at a club in Orinda. After college, he went to medical school in Italy. There, he found music to be “an incredible connector.”
“In Italy, people wanted to hear Bob Dylan’s songs,” he recalled. “And I heard the Italian versions of people who were singing similar songs.
Music has always been part of Haas’ life, he allowed. Haas and his wife, Katie, have three grown children, Aaron, Hanna and Molly – all of whom have followed their own paths in music.
“When the kids came along, I would put them to sleep by playing guitar,” Haas said. “We recorded a family CD last year – all five of us. All of us sing, and all of us, except Katie, are songwriters.”
A family musical tradition now in its 10th year is the annual Haas family concert at Aqus Café on the last Saturday morning of the year.
“Originally, it was the first Saturday of the year, but as the kids have gotten older and moved away, we changed it to the last Saturday of the year.”
This year it will be held on Dec. 28.
When Haas initially suggested the idea of a protest song marathon to Crowley, he said the Aqus Café co-owner was very receptive.
“He said he thought it would be a great idea, and he offered to extend the hours of the café to 10 p.m. (music usually ends at 9 p.m.). And then he suggested that I contact Elizabeth Howland (board member of the Friends of the Petaluma River) about using the River Heritage Center. She told me that there would be an event there earlier in the evening and that we could take over after it ended.”
Haas characterizes the event as a great time to rally support for change.
“Let’s hope that by next year when the longest night of the year comes around,” he said, “there’s new light for this country of ours.”
(Chris Samson is the former editor of the Argus-Courier. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)