Montclair Beer, Wine & Music Festival returning for first time since 2019
By Lou Fancher
People who are melancholy — and determined to stay that way — should steer clear of Saturday‘s Montclair Beer, Wine & Music Festival.
This year’s eighth annual Oakland hills community event (montclairvillage.com/beer-wine-music-festival) presented by the Montclair Village Association and Winter Williams Presents is returning from 12 to 6 p.m. Saturday with irresistible upbeat energy after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. Highlights include an expanded footprint; four top-tier live bands selected to get toes tapping and people dancing; a ticketed, unlimited beer-and-wine tasting package; free parking; a family-friendly play zone; and activities and art-making for all ages and abilities.
An innovative pedal-powered sound system will add high-tech zip, and with volunteer riders and cycling teams, the festival establishes its celebratory vibe. Winter Williams says the first festival held since 2019 is a keystone community pivot point.
“This is an important time for everybody to get behind this,” Williams says. “I’m talking about everybody — the folks approving permits, the business owners, our sponsors, vendors and community members. We all need to have a pause from negativity and fear, to not sit back and wait for good things. If we want our communities to be places we feel good about and want to cherish and hold onto things like the businesses and local artists we value, we all need to show up. There’s a lot at stake as we come out of COVID. It’s a delicate time.”
The all-outdoors, all-free (except the tasting package) festival is planned for this Father’s Day weekend to encourage families to attend but will not be held on the actual holiday to avoid conflict with other established traditions.
“There’s something for every age (of) person to do, and it’s great for families with kids because it’s arranged in a circular footprint, not spread along one long track,” says Williams. “People can bring their own food and beverages and enjoy a full day of fun at no cost. Hearing professional-level live music is something many people can’t afford or can’t bring their kids to when they manage to attend a show, but here they can.”
Zydeco accordion master Andre Thierry closed the festival in 2019 and will perform this year at noon Saturday. Thierry’s upbeat, propulsive music springs from his French-Creole ancestry steeped in Deep South Louisiana culture.
It’s not a stretch to hear the rhythms and essence of Dixieland jazz, cajun music, R&B, rap and the blues in the mix that Williams says sets “even nondancers into swaying.” Instead of delaying Thierry’s high-voltage energy until the end as happened in 2019, Williams chose to kick off the festival by getting people to dance; “alone, with partners and often, even with people they don’t know.”
Following Thierry will be Citizens Jazz.
“It’s led by an amazing bass player, Caroline Chung. It’s a blend of jazz, funk, R&B — an Oakland-style fusion. Her album that came out during COVID caught my ear,” says Williams.
The third live performance will feature Wolf Jett, an Americana band from Santa Cruz.
“I like finding a band outside of our region so they can expand their audience locally and won’t have to tour so far to make a living,” Williams says.
She invited them to perform at a house concert before the festival gig, which let her assess how they would perform in front of up to a thousand people at the festival.
“I feel responsible for the groups, and I like to make sure the musicians are comfortable — not just looking at their instruments but breaking down that wall and interacting with the audience.”
The festival’s final act, Mio Flores and the Latin Jazz AllStars, are well-regarded in the Latin jazz community and have no trouble lifting the energy of a crowd, Williams says.
“They also performed in 2019, so asking them back to close after they did a great job last time felt like a nice balance. A great bookend.”
Powering the sound system onstage will be veteran and novice pedalers on high-performance cycles courtesy of Rock the Bike. The Rock the Bike members are titans of cycling culture and offer pedal-powered community event activities aimed at entertainment but also at educating people about alternative energy resources with potential to combat the climate crisis.
“It was new when we started using it in 2015 or so,” says Williams. “There wasn’t enough power at that time for bands that use more juice than others, and we didn’t know if people would be pedaling enough so we had a lot of reserve energy. Each year we’ve done a better job of recruiting cyclists.
“We’ll have some people just doing it for fun, but we also have real cyclists like (the teams from) Crufit in Montclair. Their teams are fit folks, and as a result, we will need less reserve power. The idea is that we can create power with our movements and use alternative energy instead of fossil fuels to power our systems.”
Advance tickets for the unlimited tasting package are $35 ($40 at the door) and the Eventbrite online ticketing fee is eliminated for those buying two advance tickets. Montclair Farmstead Cheeses and Wines owner Jeff Diamond procured the participation of the 50 artisan wine vendors coming from California, Oregon, Washington, Chile, Italy, France, Germany, Portugal and Spain. Mostly local craft breweries will pour at the Red Oak Realty tasting area and include Altamont, Del Cielo, Dr. Hops, Drake’s, Hella Coastal, Line 51, Oakland United Beerworks and Old Kan.
Asked about people who may still be cautious about COVID-19 variants and attending community events, Williams says expanding from one block to nearly three times that size allows for adequate social distancing. In light of the recently instituted indoor mask mandate in Alameda County, she encourages people who might want to shop or enjoy food and beverages at one of Montclair Village’s businesses to bring masks.
“It’s up to the individual about outdoor masking,” Williams says. “There’s no negativity in the Village if someone wears one or not. The main thing is to participate in whatever way is comfortable and fun.”