Arms swayed above heads, some clutching near empty wine or beer glasses. Crowds of all ages encircled those sitting close in lawn chairs. A blue-and silver-striped hula-hoop circled a woman’s body, as quickly as the changing notes from the nearby Seventh Street stage.
Bodies moved, bobbed to the reggae-and-rock influences of IrieFuse. For three of the band’s six members, performing for the Novato Art, Wine and Music Festival wasn’t just another gig, it was a homecoming. One of 26 performers for the festival, the band kept its set on Sunday as simple as its outfits.
With Joe Endoso as lead vocals and guitar in a light-grey polo and jeans, he led an almost continuous stream of music; the tunes barely paused and thus, neither did the dancing.
Even as the heat wave, upwards of 90 degrees, beat down on the thousands in attendance, some of the same spontaneous dancers shimmied their way to the Redwood Stage. A few paused on Fourth and Grant for the The Pine Needles. For six hours on Saturday and Sunday, the band’s four members performed acoustic folk and blue grass tunes with the aid of a string bass, fiddle, guitar and vocals.
No matter where one stood, the acoustic songs would hang in the air. And while many in attendance filtered throughout the 200 arts and crafts booths, with the popularity of the stages – the bookends of the festival at Redwood Boulevard and Seventh Street – one would never know that “music” wasn’t always a part of this festival.
The free event put on by the Novato Chamber of Commerce began in 1983, lacking the diverse music heard nowadays, but not much else. There were three wineries (wine glasses cost $2 and tasting wine was $1.25), 100 art and food booths and a few thousand people wandering throughout the weekend.
The Novato police made available a breath-o-meter to check the festivalgoers blood alcohol levels before stepping in a car. Boy Scouts volunteered to help keep the streets spick and span. Elks Club members served and barbequed hamburgers while the Rotary Club offered popcorn and hotdogs.
In 1988, the music was introduced with a small stage on Redwood Boulevard; its success created the need for a second stage on Seventh Street – a stage artists like IrieFuse stood on and performed throughout the weekend.
It’s rare when a festival can offer something for everyone. Last weekend, the Novato, Art, Wine and Music Festival got as close as possible.
Two booths of henna, where books teased the intricate designs that could be on one’s body. Check.
An assortment of food including Portuguese-Hawaiian sausage, garlic fries topped with crab and a light green Whole Foods taco truck. Check.
A variety of wine and pints of beer from pale ale to stout to hefeweizen, all from Novato’s own award-winning Moylan’s Brewery, served in a signature festival cup. Check and check.
While it was in with the old, the festival was also in with the new, especially when it came to children’s activities, such as a rock-climbing wall and Hello Kitty and saber tooth tiger bouncy houses. This year’s newest addition, Water-Ballerz, allowed children in giant balls to roll around in a blue and yellow pool and combat the heat wave.
Parents standing close, watched their children slip and slide and encouraged them to “pretend like they’re surfing.”
Even with these activities and booths geared towards them like puppets and face paint, not much held their attention longer than the revolving door of bands.
Clutching green balloons, children wiggled to the beat, others danced in front of the stage with their parents.
As 6 p.m. on Sunday rolled around and the booths closed down and the bands’ packed up their instruments, it was clear the festival ended on a high note.
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