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Art and Garden Festival showcases Petaluma creators

Dance, stroll, nibble and sip at the Petaluma Art & Garden Festival, the downtown street fair that’s become a summertime tradition for locals and out-of-towners alike.

With live music, 120 vendors and bountiful food and beverage options, the July 10 event is expected to draw thousands of people to the two-block area around Fourth and B streets.

The day of fun runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., with free admission.

Since its start 15 years ago when a trio of downtown businesswomen brainstormed ways to attract people to their neighborhood, the festival has focused on all Petaluma has to offer.

“We just wanted to add one more thing that was kind of different to pull people in that direction,” said Amber Balshaw of Preferred Sonoma Caterers, who conceived the idea with fellow business owners Rose Zamudio of Tuscan Gardens and the late Linda Gonzalez of Gallery One.

Together with Samantha Freitas, then with the Petaluma Downtown Association, the women invited locals to showcase their talents – from artisans, gardeners and musicians to vintners and restaurateurs. Proceeds went to downtown beautification projects.

“We wanted this to be a Petaluma festival - upscale but a hometown festival,” Balshaw said.

A few thousand people showed up to stroll around that first year. Since then, the festival has grown three-fold, last year attracting between 12,000 and 14,000 visitors.

The emphasis on local food, art, gardening and music remains the same.

“We’ve always kept the original flavor and the original layout. We’ve retained it that way,” said Marie McCusker, executive director of the Petaluma Downtown Association. The organization has been producing the festival since its third year.

The historic district is an attractive venue in itself, McCusker said.

“The location sells itself. (The festival) brings people to Petaluma, it brings people to shop and it puts people in Petaluma hotels,” she said.

Visitors drawn to the gardening element can still find native plants, flowers and succulents to purchase, gardening pros to answer questions and share advice and original garden art and décor to display at home.

The juried showcase of art, jewelry and garden crafts features almost entirely handcrafted items or sustainable products.

Balshaw, who has participated from the start, speaks to the quality and variety of vendor goods.

“I can’t tell you how much I’ve bought over the years,” she said with a laugh.

Visitors to this year’s festival can enjoy fine wine, craft beer and everything from ice cream to pizza to Peruvian food. Balshaw will offer chicken bánh mí Vietnamese sandwiches and her signature chocolate chip cookies, a constant since the inaugural festival.

Two stages will keep a steady beat for dancing in the streets, with Petaluma-area bands performing a wide range of musical styles.

Kevin Durkin & Friends performs jazz and blues at 11 a.m.

Foxes in the Henhouse brings the sounds of Americana, folk, country, gospel, bluegrass, jazz, pop and rock to the festival at noon.

Dance band Hot Grubb follows at 1:30 p.m., performing an eclectic mix with country rock and Texas blues.

Headliner band Soul Section with frontman Kevin Mulligan perform funk and soul from 3 to 5 p.m. The eight-piece band showcases the sounds of Stevie Wonder, the Rolling Stones, KC and the Sunshine Band and other pop and rock groups from the 1960s and 1970s.

With music in the background, members of the Petaluma Garden Club, Master Gardeners of Sonoma County and the Sonoma County Orchid Society will be on hand to discuss all things garden- and landscape-related.

Among the festival highlights is the popular Chalk Art Competition, which is held at the corner of Fourth and B streets. The free contest offers divisions for children, novices and professional artists.

Participants can call ahead to reserve a spot. Although space is limited, last-minute participants can show up with their chalk and supplies to join the competition for first-, second- and third-place prizes. The public will cast votes for the top honors.

Kids can find more fun at the Children’s Corner where jumpy houses, games and face painting are planned.

Artful Arrangements will provide coloring activities for families and the Petaluma Panthers national champion cheer team will perform and teach cheers.

Food, beer and wine stations will be located throughout the festival, with $25 tasting packages available. Among the newcomers this year is Angela Eddy of Wine By The Slice, offering wine-infused cakes and cupcakes.

Every year, a different flower or plant is chosen for the festival poster and commemorative wine and ale glasses. For this year’s anniversary, artist Lisa Krieshok designed a dazzling clematis, a queen of flowering vines.

The wide variety of vendors includes fine artists, photographers, jewelers, mosaic craftsmen and woodworkers. The Petaluma Quilt Guild will display members’ fabric artistry.

Cathe Holden of Petaluma’s Just Something I Made will feature vintage-inspired creations; Petaluma High School teacher and jewelry designer Bobbin Tobin brings Beads by Bobbin; Bloomfield Bees Honey will sell honey products; and Petaluma’s Maselli & Sons Hardware will showcase handcrafted sheet-metal artwork.

“They’re bringing things you don’t tend to find anywhere else,” McCusker said of the vendors.

For more information, call 762-9348 or visit petalumadowntown.com.

(Contact Dianne Reber Hart at argus@arguscourier.com)

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