Summer Roundup: Circus Vargas leads local late-summer attractions

There’s something about circuses in the summer and fall that just seems right. It could be warm and sunny outside the big top or the multi-colored train, or cloudy and cold but still dry enough for circus wagons. That’s just good weather for circuses, as has been encoded in our psyches by such movies as “Dumbo,” “Toby Tyler” and “The Greatest Showman,” and in books like Gwenda Bond’s “Girl on a Wire,” Daniel Wallace’s “Big Fish,” Sara Gruen’s “Water for Elephants,” and even spookier fare like “Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” Just as no summer would be right without baseball games on the radio, no summer is complete without some hint of the circus coming to town.

In the next few weeks, we’ve got two: the legendary Circus Vargas, setting up under its iconic big top tent for a week of dazzling acrobatics and gasp-inducing, family-friendly feats, and then the impossible-to-describe Lagunitas Beer Circus, where, we are promised, we will see things we can’t un-see, and hear things we can’t un-hear.

Speaking of which, this September will also bring to movie theaters the highly anticipated part two of Stephen King’s “It,” featuring the single scariest clown in the history of clowns (politics aside, please). So, since we’re talking about summer, fall and circuses, we have to add that to the mix too.

Of course, there are plenty of non-circus things to do in Petaluma and beyond over the final weeks of summer, of course. Here’s a short showcase of some of the more enticing events, festivals and outdoor activities, with and without clowns.

CIRCUS VARGAS: ‘THE GREATEST OF EASE’ – Now officially the largest travelling circus company in America, the South Bay-based Circus Vargas (fully animal free) returns to Petaluma with a spectacular new show, “The Greatest of Ease,” described as a journey back in time to the Golden Age of circuses, complete with an onstage circus train, all under an old-fashioned circus tent. This all-new show is crammed with acrobatic aerial exploits, jugglers, trapeze artists and contortionists, crazy clown comedy, a woman who shoots a bow-and-arrow with her feet (behind her own back, using a mirror), and Circus Vargas’ crowd-pleasing motorcyclists defying gravity inside a giant metal ball. Before the show, visiting kids can learn circus skills in the rings, and everyone who sticks around can meet the performers and have their pictures taken with their favorites. The iconic big-top tent will go up early this week on the lawn at the Petaluma Fairgrounds, and performances begin Friday, Aug. 30, 7:30 p.m. Additional shows are Saturday, Aug. 31, 1 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 1, 7 p.m., Monday, Sept. 2 at 2 p.m. and Wednesday, Sept. 4, at 7 p.m. Tickets $17-$42.

BROADWAY UNDER THE STARS: ‘GALA CELEBRATION’ (Sept. 6-8, Jack London State Historical Park) – Sonoma County’s Transcendence Theatre Company concludes its annual series of outdoor Broadway-themed musical revues with one final show, its popular Gala Celebration (Sept. 6-8). Staged outdoors inside the ruins of an old winery at the gorgeous Jack London State Historical Park (which has been gifted nearly half-a-million dollars by Transcendence Theatre over the last several seasons), the Gala Celebration is being directed and choreographed by Tony Gonzalez (Transcendence’s “A Chorus Line”). Musical direction is by Susan Draus (music director of the Broadway musical “Good Vibrations”). The gala will showcase a variety of song and dance styles. For information, visit

LAGUNITAS BEER CIRCUS (Saturday, Sept. 14, 5-10 p.m.) - With the eye-catching tag-line “See things you can’t un-see!” the annual Lagunitas Beer Circus returns to the Petaluma Fairgrounds. The beneficiary this year is the non-profit Phoenix Theater), and General Circus Freaker tickets are a flat $40, which includes the first beer. The headliner this year is Gogol Bordello, and did we mention there will be beer? Information at

PETALUMA POETRY WALK (Sunday, Sept. 15, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.) – One of Petaluma’s most distinctive and unique annual event, the Poetry Walk steps up for its 24th consecutive year. Here’s what’s going to happen. Beginning at 11 a.m. in the ballroom of Hotel Petaluma (205 Kentucky St.), where host Terry Ehret will introduce readings by three local poets (Barbara Swift Brauer, Camille Norton, and Sonoma County Poet Laureate Maya Khosla), the movable feast will then move to The Bank, 199 N. Petaluma Blvd. There, at noon, you can hear readings by Terri Glass, Martin Hickel and Erin Rodoni, hosted by Kevin Pryne. At 1 p.m., at the River Front Café (224 B St.), hosted by David Magdalene, there will be readings by Diane Frank, William Greenwood and Jeanne Powell. At 2 p.m., at North Bay Café (25 N. Petaluma Blvd.), host Daniel McKenzie (that’s technically still tentative) will introduce attendees to poets Arnoldo Garcia and Nina Serrano. Copperfield’s Books is the location of the 3 p.m. session, hosted by Gwenn O’Gara, and featuring poets Maxine Chernoff and Petaluma’s own 2019 Pulitzer winner Forrest Gander. Iris Dunkle hosts the 4 p.m. session at The Phoenix Theater (201 Washington St.), where poets Lucille Lang Day, Ruth Nolan, Susan Cohen, Barbara Quick and Jack Foley will read poems from the recent collection “Fire and Rain: Ecopoetry of California.” At 5 p.m., the whole shebang moves to the Petaluma Historical Museum and Library (20 Fourth St.), where host John Johnson will introduce Phyllis Meshulam and student poets from Cal Poets and Poetry Out Loud. And it all comes to a close with a two-hour block of poetry at Aqus Café (189 H St.), hosted by David Magdalene and featuring Raphael Block, Albert Flynn DeSIlver, Maureen Hurley, Michael Koch and Gail Mitchell. You can follow along all day, or pick-and-choose, but do enjoy some live poetry in this unique literary celebration.

MOVIES IN THE PARK (Next film screens Friday, Sept. 20) – One of Petaluma’s most popular summertime events returns this year with more family favorite movies, screened under the stars in Lucchesi Park, with even more pre-show activities and fun stuff to do while waiting the it to get dark enough. The next film in the series, which runs until almost Halloween, is Pisney-Pixar’s “The Incredibles 2” (Sept. 20), followed by “Hocus Pocus” (Oct. 25). Admission is free, activities begin around 6 p.m.

ROCKSOBERFEST (Saturday, Sept. 28 from 1-9 p.m.) - Combining the energy of a rock music festival with the sobriety-friendly camaraderie of a 12-step meeting, the next RockSoberFest will take place right here at the fairgrounds in Petaluma. The massive musical event is drug and alcohol free, and includes the surf-punk band The Happys, Venus in Scorpio, No Account, Angel Amodor, and John and Camellia Ford, plus food, meetings and other buzz-free fun. Tickets will be $18 in advance and $22 at the door, with kids 16-and-under $10. Tickets available on

PETALUMA RIVER CRAFT BEER FESTIVAL (Saturday, Sept. 28, 1 - 5 p.m.) - With the catchy slogan “Brews from our backyard, right by the River,” local craft beer fanatics are invited to celebrate the 6th annual Petaluma River Craft Beer festival, sipping on 23 local breweries including Lagunitas, Henhouse, Fogbelt, 2 Tread, Bear Republic and more. Food and drink will be accompanied by live music by the riverfront. You must be 21+ to attend this event. Tickets are $50, includes souvenir beer-tasting glass. Visit

FANDANGO AT THE ADOBE! (Saturday, Sept. 21, Noon-4 p.m.) - Travel back in time to the days of harvest ranchero celebrations, as the performers of Baile de California and the Yesteryear Dancers demonstrate and teach dances of the 1840s. Attendees will have a chance to learn historic folk dance techniques, and join in the fun on the historic site of countless such celebration in Petaluma’s past. Admission is $3 for adults, $2 for kids 6-17, and free for kids under 5 years of age. 3325 Adobe Rd. Call 762-4871 or visit

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