Huichica - Poor Moon
Photos and review by Lauren Sloss and Jackie Andrews

Saturday’s Huichica Music Festival at the Gundlach Bundschu Winery in Sonoma was a seemingly impossible combination of factors. A beautiful setting! Smiling, happy people! Good wine and food at the ready! An incredible musical line-up! 80-degree weather! Owls!

Please forgive the excessive use of exclamation points — it was just that kind of a day. The festival, with its chill crowd, two small stages, and easy accessibility to performances, inspires a kind of rabid enthusiasm that even the most jaded city dweller can’t help but give in to (and did I mention the 80-degree weather?). With strong sets from local acts Sea of Bees, Little Wings, Sonny and the Sunsets, and Papercuts, Huichica (pronounced wee-CHEE-ka) makes a pretty good case that, really, there’s no place quite like Northern California.

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Sea of Bees cruised through a chill, mid-afternoon set on the mainstage, unphased by the summer sun. Julie Ann Bee’s toothsome, lilting vocals soared over roiling, Neil Young-esque guitars, the white lightning bolt on her guitar strap signaling the musical power present in her slight frame.

Musician, visual artist, and storyteller Kyle Field fronted a rockin’ Little Wings set with a backing band complete with drums, bass, and slide guitar. Field left his cutesy, folksy charm in San Francisco and channeled the likes of (a live) David Berman or (a live) Will Oldham (there is a difference), exhibiting just enough restraint from his impassioned performing style — i.e. not shredding the strings of his guitar despite his stage presence — to look at home amongst the backdrop of gnarled vines. Although it was overheard Field revealing he was stoned as he accepted hugs from friends before the show, so maybe that was it.

The Donkeys, hailing from San Diego, brought a wallop of energy to the late afternoon crowd, tearing through a dance-happy set of surf rock tunes. Three out of the four band members took lead vocals at one point (drummer included), and implored the crowd, “C’mon guys, it could be worse! We were in Salt Lake City yesterday. We’re so happy to be in California!”

Maryland-based Cotton Jones traveled furthest for the festival, bringing their lilting, folk-inflected sound to the small Arbor stage. The band’s set was appropriately mellow for the wine and sun-drenched crowd, and was particularly strong when featuring dual vocals from Whitney McGraw and frontman Michael Nau.

Christian Wargo, frontman of Poor Moon (and the bass player from Fleet Foxes) implored the crowd to help him impress a girl by wishing her a happy birthday via iPhone camera. He’d have done well to include a video of his band’s set, as well. Poor Moon shows some of the harmonic tendencies of Fleet Foxes but in a subtle, mellow way; they’re more Mamas & Papas than Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

Lauren Sloss

Sonny and the Sunsets were a festival highlight, thanks to both their incredibly solid set (including favorites like “I Wanna Do It” and “Too Young to Burn”; the latter inspired a frenzied dance party) and Sonny’s fantastic running commentary. Subjects included pre-show nerves — Sonny found that going into the Port-O-Potty to calm down and take deep breaths was, overall, a poor decision, and the brilliance of rose wine, which, clearly, is just red and white flavors “mixed.” As for that set, the band’s raucous surf rock was as energetic and infectious as ever, making us anticipate their June 26 release all the more.

Papercuts carried the crowd into the cooled-down nighttime, the festival lights illuminating the trees behind them. The live performance brought a more raw, rock-driven energy to their dream pop sound, with a pervasive ambience highlighting the band’s tight, musical cohesiveness.

Beechwood Sparks played the final set (plus a jam sesh, and a live scored film screening), but we gave in to the sun and red wine and drove back to the city, where a wall of chilly fog sat waiting. Thank goodness for the hint of sunburn to remind us of summer just an hour north.

Jackie Andrews