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Giving a Hoot
Josh Windmiller brings Americana talent together
By David Templeton
"The Hootenanny is kind of hard to explain," says Josh Windmiller, vocalist and guitarist for the folk-roots mashup band the Crux. "I like to call it a promotions project, but that just confuses some people. The Hootenanny, to me, is about promoting our local artists, primarily local musicians, primarily musicians that perform some kind of Americana genre, which is a broad genre. I help them in getting shows; I put the artists in contact with wineries and other organizations who are looking for artists, and I put on my own shows, some with my own band, and a lot of which end up being showcases of local musicians, but showcases put together in really interesting ways. Jam sessions are often a major part of it.
"Does that answer your question?"
Windmiller (née Stithem), laughs easily and often, frequently at himself. He knows how funny he sounds trying to describe the North Bay Hootenanny, which is more of a state of mind then an actual event or institution. Whatever it is, as the leading force behind it, Windmiller is using the Hootenanny to draw serious attention to the lively Americana scene in the North Bay. For this, we're happy to honor him with a Boho Award.
"Originally, I was just trying to put together some gigs for my band," Windmiller says. "Then I discovered, 'Hey! Wow! I really like doing the logistical parts of these shows, the promotions and the marketing, going on the radio and all that.' Pretty soon, I was putting on shows for other artists, trying to feed the bigger scene using the skills I'd picked up."
Before Windmiller knew it, he was a bona fide promoter. Operating under the name of the North Bay Hootenanny, a name he borrowed from an event at the Phoenix Theater several years ago, Windmiller has managed the music for the GranFondo bike festival and the Rivertown Revival in Petaluma. He organized Santa Rosa's Roots Americana series in Courthouse Square, and was one of the brains behind the recent Woody Guthrie centennial in Railroad Square. He's helmed several roots music events at the Arlene Francis Center in Santa Rosa, and has been booking a weekly folk-roots showcase, the Pick Me Up Revue, at the Last Day Saloon.
After all this time, with all these events under his belt, with all of the many musicians he's brought together, Windmiller is still working on that simple explanation of what the Hootenanny is.
"I guess," he laughs, "it's just people. It's people sharing songs, musicians meeting each other and learning from each other. The Hootenanny isn't an event that happens and then is over; the Hootenanny goes on and on. It happens all the time, and it happens everywhere.
"The North Bay Hootenanny never ends."
Feeding the Soul
The Kanbar Center heals and inspires
By David Templeton
"In tumultuous times, we need the arts to get through together," says Linda Bolt, director of the Kanbar Performing Arts Center at Osher Marin Jewish Community Center in San Rafael. "The arts are healing, they touch our souls and teach us about ourselves. Music heals and inspires. Live concerts, live theater, live comedy—it brings people together into one room, and when people are together, that's when connections are made."
As director of the Kanbar Center, which produces a steady string of year-round arts events, concerts, exhibitions and celebrations, Bolt has a very clear goal.
"Our goal," she says, "is to make it easy for people to get out and see live performances, and to do that at a reasonable cost. It bothers me that so much art is experienced in front of a screen or with plugs in your ears. We're looking to bring people together, to share the arts together. The JCC is known for its fitness center and its pool. We've actually won awards for having the best pool in town, but for some reason, it's been a challenge to make our arts center as well-known as our fitness center.
"Gradually," she adds, "that's exactly what's beginning to happen. When people who come through for the first time," she laughs, "they almost always say, 'I had no idea all of this was here. I had no idea so much was happening right here in my neighborhood!'"
Working with a small team, Bolt's programming is a blend of everything, a deliberate attempt to celebrate different cultures through the arts, with a strong sense of social consciousness. In any given month, the Kanbar might host a bestselling author speaking on free speech, a troupe of standup comics or improv artists, a chamber orchestra or string quartet, or a touring world-music jam band.
"We intentionally program acts that feed your soul as well as your mind," Bolt says. "We look for programming that touches that happy spirit that only the arts can touch."
One of Kanbar's most popular offerings is its Summer Nights series, five consecutive weekend nights featuring outdoor concerts that appeal to adults, while creating an atmosphere also welcoming to families with children.
"This year was our strongest year," she says, acknowledging that it's a bit of a trick to pull off a concert where musicians play world-class music as children play on the jungle gym right across from the stage.
"What we do here," says Bolt, "is an expression of how the arts aren't just something we break away from our life to enjoy. The arts aren't just an important part of life—the arts are life."