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Festival Beat

Published: 2006/06/07
by Mike Greenhaus

5 Questions: Harmony Festival

The 28th annual Harmony Festival will take place from June 9-11 in Santa Rosa, CA featuring such marquee names as RatDog, Cake, War, Sound Tribe Sector 9 and Ozomatli. Here are Five Questions with Sean Ahearn, the festival’s Director of Development & Programming.

Do you have a favorite festival memory?

Two years ago I had to book a classic-rock or boomer act. No matter how far out and eclectic we get, we need to anchor each day with an older, more established artist and I chose Dave Mason from Traffic. People said, “you can’t do that, he’s fat, wasted, washed out, blah blah blah.” But I am a huge Traffic fan. He just happened to be passing through town. I booked him and he put on a great set, playing all these Traffic and Fleetwood Mac songs. It was the best $45,000 I ever spent. Another favorite memory is when we did a festival in May. It was scheduled for Saturday and on Thursday it was pissing rain. So, we actually moved the festival from Saturday to Sunday. We only lost one band and it was a beautiful day. It was amazing that we were able to pull it off.

What’s new this year?

Camping, Camping Camping. After 28 years we are finally offering camping. The city granted us the permits because have a 27 record of no arrests, drug overdoses or anything. We have a secret weapon: we seeded the camp area people from Burning Man, to set a good tone.

What performance are you personally most excited to see?

Bob Weir for sure. The Dead had the jams, but Bob had the songs. Our festival is right down the road from where he lives, so it is a hometown festival. RatDog has really blossomed into a great band on their own and is taking the flag from Phil Lesh. I saw them last month at Wavy Gravy’s birthday celebration and there was a great article on the cover of Relix earlier this year. Also, we have Zero doing its first outdoor show and testing our neighborhood patience with the festival [laughs]. It’s going to be Zero Under the Stars. Also, we have War playing. People don’t realize it, but they are one of the first jambands; they play 10-15 minutes which they turn into songs and we have Taj Mahal playing with the Everyone Orchestra which is going to be special.

Do you have any tips for fans?

Harmony Festival is what it names implies, it’s very harmonious. It’s very important to keep that vibe—-it’s more important than the music. We are chill, nice, and family friendly. We are also a 55% festival female which is different than many festivals—-we are about social tolerance. We pride ourselves on having no heavy drug use. We are primarily a health festival.

How has the festival grown over the year ?

It started because of Swami Muhktinanda with Ram Dass, Richie Havens and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan at Sonoma State. He was a great Yoga teacher and was coming to Santa Rosa for the first time. Richie agreed to play the first Elephant Harmony Festival under this tree. It went so well we said, “let’s do it twice.” When the New Age movement kicked in during the 1980s, we were huge. At one point, we hit 20,000. We lost some steam in the 1990s, but have made an effort to connect to the new, new age movement and the jam-scene. We’ve been reborn, but are roots are still in health and harmony.

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