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Music’s Everywhere in Wine Country

If I wasn’t writing about wine, the subject I’d most want to write about is music, though it might be too much, that’s how obsessed I am with music, musicians and music history.

A lot of people in the wine world are also wired this way. James MacPhail, The Calling’s Sonoma County-based winemaker, is a classical pianist and bagpiper.

I’ll always have a special place in my heart for The Phoenix Theater in Petaluma, where years ago I saw an incredible Primus show (bassist and founder Les Claypool is a Sonoma County local). The small club remains an all-ages venue, which is hard to find around here, but so important to kids into music like my son, who is 14. First opened in 1905, The Phoenix’s been a movie theater, an opera house and remains a de facto community center, with classes in qigong, as well as a skate ramp skaters can use in the afternoon.

Also in Petaluma is the bigger Mystic Theatre and Music Hall, which has a steady calendar of bands passing through, from Ozomatli to the Drive-By Truckers. At the end of every December, Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven play a joint show. Built in 1911, the Mystic started its life as a vaudeville venue and has a lot of great restaurants around it, including Central Market, Della Fattoria and Stockhome.

At SOMO in Rohnert Park, music takes place outdoors, with an emphasis on reggae and hip hop. Across the highway at the Graton Resort and Casino, an event center for live entertainment opened recently to host such acts as REO Speedwagon, Nelly and various stand-up acts.

On the Sonoma State University campus is perhaps the most acoustically conceived place to see a show, the Green Music Center. Home to the university’s music department, the Santa Rosa Symphony and Sonoma Bach, the center includes 1,400-seat Weill Hall. Its rear wall opens in summertime to an expanse of lawn for an indoor/outdoor music experience that can’t be beat. I’ve seen a range of musicians from Yo-Yo Ma to Herbie Hancock play here.

Close in size is the Luther Burbank Center in Santa Rosa, a more traditional theater that puts on shows, lectures, dance recitals and comedy acts in addition to live music. Once a Christian Life Center with pews for seats, community leaders including Charles M. Schulz came together in 1981 to turn it into a home for the arts, naming it for Sonoma’s famous horticulturalist. It has just gone through a major redesign yet again this year. I’ve seen Elvis Costello and Ryan Adams here, but the best show here hands down was Neko Case. Whoever is doing the programming is hitting it out of the park, as both Modest Mouse and Wilco are on the schedule this year.

Sebastopol is home to the original of now several HopMonk Taverns, a beer haven, full-scale restaurant and intimate live music venue. Live music is free in the beer garden while tickets are sold for near-nightly music acts and open mic nights in the cozy stage space. The other Hopmonks are in Sonoma, Penngrove and nearby Novato.

In Healdsburg, the Raven Performing Arts Theater does mostly plays and festivals (as well as the popular Mr. Healdsburg Pageant), but also hosts occasional live music acts like Ladysmith Black Mambazo. The nearby Hotel Healdsburg Lobby is home to some great jazz, in partnership with the Healdsburg Jazz Festival. With a fireside lounge and spirit bar, it’s a fine place to have a drink and take in the music.

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