Renew, revive and reunite at Petaluma’s Rivertown Revival
“There is a rational reason and a completely irrational reason. Which would you like to hear first?”
This is the question put forth by Elizabeth Howland — the co-founder of Friends of the Petaluma River and its celebrated annual benefit event The Rivertown Revival — while explaining why, after postponing the Revival for the last two years, it was decided to double up for 2022 with two days of riverside revelry instead of the single day that has been the norm since the popular, delightfully eccentric event began in 2010.
“The irrational reason,” Howland explains, “is simply that, hey, we’ve missed everybody so much, and we had to skip two years, so let’s make up for it by doing two days instead of one. One day just did not seem like enough after everything we’ve experienced.”
The rational reason is simply that a two-day festival is what the people have been asking for.
“Many, many people have told us how much better a two day festival would work for them,” she says, “because maybe they work the day we did it and a second day would give them options, or because they are artists participating in the Revival, and after doing all the work to haul their creations out to the location and set up, it would be nice to be able to leave everything in place for one full day. So a lot of the decision was made for the benefit of the artists. But back to the irrational, we just wanted more. We feel like what we need is more celebration, more music, more art, more nature. So we decided to just go for it. So we’ve put the word out to the North Bay/Sonoma County community that if you want a second day, then be there, because we will be.”
The Rivertown Revival, of course, is a gloriously wacky party on the McNear Peninsula, one for which people have been dressing up in outrageously decorative outfits since the very beginning.
Artists bring enormous teacups to crawl through or rhinoceros-shaped vehicles to explore, people get married for $5 inside an enormous wedding chapel, folks on land wave to folks on the water, beer and wine and food of all kinds is consumed with joyful appreciation of the bounty of the land, and thousands and thousands of pictures are taken to capture the fun. There are games, activities and elaborate parasols, men and women in top hats and waistcoats, people with live falcons on their arms and shoes with literal bells on them. Puppetry will reportedly break out in raucous form in the kids area with a jaw-dropping performance of the classic puppet-farce Punch and Judy by the Piccolo Players.
And that’s just shaving the tip of the sno-cone.
Of course, there will be plenty of music, with a lineup of acts that constitutes one of the most vibrant and exciting assemblages of local talent one can expect to find in one place all year, with Sean Hayes headlining, and dozens of others bringing the joyful noise all day long.
“We’ve got three stages on Saturday, one at the barn, the Spectacular Stage and then the Revival Stage which of course is in a tent,” says Josh Windmiller, the music director of Rivertown Revival. He also works as a development director for the Lost Church, a pair of Bay Area music venues, and runs the annual Railroad Square Music Festival in Santa Rosa. An active music promoter for over 15 years, he also performs with his theatrical folk band The Crux, who will definitely be performing at the Revival as well.
The second day allows the opportunity to bring something different, so on Sunday, the music will be concentrated on the Barn Stage, with some of the event’s biggest names playing throughout the day, culminating with a soul-stirring Rivertown Review at 5 p.m., featuring a plethora of individual and group performances.
“It’s been a hardship for Friends of the Petaluma River for us not to be able to have this, our key fundraiser, for the last two years,” says Howland. “Thanks to the incredible efforts of our Executive Director Stephanie Bastianon, we have navigated through, but this year was are hoping to have solid attendance, and that the second day will contribute to our being able to bring in more fundraising to make possible the work they do in the community.”
Founded in 2005, Friends of the Petaluma River is a nonprofit education and stewardship organization designed to expand awareness of the many wonders of the Petaluma Watershed withing the community of Sonoma County. Much of the group’s work touches on conservation and education, from regular river cleanup efforts to classes and camps for children, but from the beginning, a commitment to celebration and river-themed recreation has been a major part of the Friends of the Petaluma River ethos, and it does not get much more celebratory than the Rivertown Revival.
“It’s always been a focus for us,” she says, “how nature, art and community should be a celebration, with lots of potlucks and barn dances and all kinds of parties, while also really focusing on being near the river. Art has always been a big part of those celebrations, so we wanted the Revival to include the works of local artists.”
Windmiller adds, “The wide-open footprint of the peninsula is such that, with all the tents up, and these large pieces of art sticking up here and there, it always looks amazing.”
Speaking of that wide open footprint, Howland is happy to report that this year will feature more shade opportunities than ever before.
“Our little oak trees have grown since 2019,” she says, “and we will have more awnings and umbrellas and all of that. I’m really starting to get excited about being out there again. It’s actually going to happen. After such a long wait, we will gather together again, and go down to the river to play.”