Oakland’s Rockridge district Rock-N-Stroll fest expanding in second year
By Lou Fancher
The Rockridge Rock-N-Stroll business district festival is stretching its wings in 2022. Taking flight after local merchants expressed positive response and reported increased foot traffic following a three-month pilot program last fall, the free, all-ages event is being held on College Avenue from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. the second Saturday of the month from May to December. The next Rock-N-Stroll is June 11.
The Rockridge District Association launched this year’s season on May 14, welcoming residents and visitors to shops, services and restaurants where people have access to special sales and in-store offers, trunk shows and tasting menus, pop-up vendors, kids crafts, art exhibits and, especially, live music in outdoor spaces.
The shows feature local musicians and include not just rock bands but artists versed in jazz, bluegrass, indie folk, reggae, funk, Americana, contemporary pop, electronica, ska and more. Jody Colley, the Rockridge District Association’s marketing manager, says the Rock-N-Stroll street festival an all-sensory experience.
“It’s walkable and visually stimulating with ground-level boutiques and restaurants offering lovely window displays,” Colley says, adding that the diverse cuisine that local restaurants offer and easy public transportation via the Rockridge BART stop “means you can’t go wrong when you go right to Rockridge.”
The BART station provides access from all directions throughout the Bay Area and can reduce parking concerns (if enough attendees use BART) with an event stretched over several hours. Although she wasn’t physically on-site, Colley received feedback and a big thumbs-up remotely about the May event from board members with “feet on the street.” She says also that the primary metric she measured as significant was positive word from participating merchants.
“The merchants (said they) had increased sales compared to their usual bottom line. The pilot program we ran last year with over a dozen merchants had the same thing happen. I want it to be successful, and as the event planner I measure that by how many merchants keep participating. We grow one or two new merchants each month.”
The Rockridge association’s budget of about $30,000 for the eight festivals in 2022 is being used mostly for advertising and band fees. By avoiding costly festival expenses for stages, barricades, porta-potties, tent and table rentals, street closure announcements and special parking or transportation-interruption permits ??” especially during an era when a sudden surge in a COVID-19 variant could force last-minute cancellations ??” Rock-N-Stroll is well-suited for the current environment.
Colley says pop-up vendors are invited by local merchants and attention is paid to avoid introducing overlapping competition that might negatively impact local business. She makes no claim to being a veteran music booking agent, but says her contact list of bands is poised to expand from 100 Bay Area-based bands to a projected 300.
“I have only one stage where we can have a big-footprint band or a band with a drum kit. While curating, I keep in mind the second-floor businesses in Rockridge that are largely therapy businesses. I have to think about how loud the bands are and other aspects to respect their services.”
The musicians scheduled for June 11 demonstrate a broad mix of genres: Bumford & Son (bluegrass); Oakland’s Curt Yagi & the People Standing Behind Me (acoustic rock, reggae, ska); French-born reggae singer-songwriter Jr Dreads (reggae); Americana, a Marin-based six-piece band (Americana); Kelly Keys (solo piano, contemporary pop and jazz standards); and others.
While hoping the festival will continue to grow and evolve, Colley says organizers are patient. Based on experience she has had running marketing campaigns; creating websites and printed buy-local directories; overseeing and producing publications; organizing large events; and as CEO of Oakland Grown, a nonprofit she co-founded in 2009, Colley says attracting people to the Rockridge festival will take time.
”These things in a neighborhood take a while to set root, to get merchants thinking creatively and for people in the community to learn it is happening. I’m already thinking of next year and that second saturdays will become a casual, friendly opportunity to hang out in a lovely neighborhood, eat, shop, listen to music.”
She says the board members had many discussions about letting go of Out & About, a well-established community event that was “something we had dialed in, something that gave Rockridge visibility.” Digital surveys and door-to-door feedback after the pilot stroll program said the new format was more predictable, manageable and pleasant.
Colley says she’s looking forward to the “mental reset” as people adjust to a smaller-scale festival and is encouraged by merchants’ who offer increased input about what a community event might encompass in the future.
“We have a record store, Open Mind Music, and we’re talking about starting a new music showcase to feature rising stars. Nathan & Co. donated a portion of the sales to Ukraine last month.
“Planterday started as a pop-up and is now a bricks-and-mortar store that gives proceeds to mental health organizations as part of their business model. Beer Baron (Whiskey Bar & Kitchen) are full-in this year. They have a huge patio and are bringing in local craft beers and brewers to talk about their beers every month. Golden Squirrel is another restaurant/pub, and they’re doing fashion contests and games.”
Colley says Rock-N-Stroll’s “big draw” doesn’t come from one merchant or restaurant or activity. Instead the draw is a dreamy, Bay Area afternoon spent outdoors, leisurely entertained, shopping out on the sidewalk or in small boutiques, visiting pop-up vendors, eating fantastic food and doing it all with friends, family, neighbors and visitors.
“Sometimes you don’t need a big bang,” says Colley, “you just want to hang out on tree-lined streets.”