Sound Summit (photo: William Wayland)
We showed our double vaccination cards and climbed aboard the shuttles that would wind their way from Mill Valley above the morning fog to the amphitheater overlooking the bay.
The Cushing Memorial Amphitheater was built using rough-hewn boulders by the Civilian Conservation Corp in 1933. It doesn’t have the polish of a venue like the Shoreline Amphitheater, but that’s the beauty of it. Steps are uneven and trees can block your view. It’s rustic. Here, the backdrop is Tiburon, Angel Island, Alcatraz, and San Francisco. I don’t know if there’s a better place in the Bay Area to spend the day outdoors listening to live music.
Between acts, we were reminded that it wasn’t always this way. Clean up after the Summer of Love’s Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival, which featured bands like Jefferson Airplane and the Doors, was such an undertaking that the amphitheater was closed to rock concerts until those attendees became grandparents.
Those grandchildren would probably be about Paul and Ray Holmberg’s age. The two Marin County brothers kicked off the day with music from their eponymous debut album. Though they’ve been playing to larger audiences in Santa Barbara, where Ray is a sophomore, I had only seen them before a small audience pre-COVID and I was impressed with their stage presence in front of a festival audience.
Teal Collins, another Marin County native and probably better known for fronting The Mother Truckers, played to the hometown crowd and talked about growing up in Mill Valley back in the day. Teal also gave the premiere performance of “Mothership” at Sound Summit.
It was already a hot day on the mountain by the time Cha Wa took the stage and if people weren’t already sweating, this band added some New Orleans heat with a custom blend of funk, second-line, and hip-hop, complete with lead singer Joseph Boudreaux Jr. in neon green Indian regalia.
I heard Hurricane Ida cancelled a bunch of their dates on top of all the dates that COVID cancelled, so it was great to see this band bring their funky dance music to the Bay. Cha Wa was definitely the surprise of the day for me and a band I want to hear more from.
Great strategic planning brought the Allah-Las to the stage next. They chilled us out again with their brand of dreamy pop that feels like an updated version of California garage band psychedelia.
By now the amphitheater was really filling up. A lot of people skipped all these great earlier acts and came to the summit for the two headliners, Father John Misty and Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real.
Father John Misty said that he was so unused to performing in front of an audience that he needed a chair to steady himself. With no band, this was an intimate solo set in front of an audience that positively swooned. There were real tears among the Father John faithful in the front row.
The Sound Summit ended on a high note with Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real who kicked it up to close out the show. This is when the cowboy hats came out and the entire audience was moving and swaying and jumping and shouting and singing along just as the sun was beginning to set and the shadow of the mountain finally enveloped the stage when someone said, “I can’t believe I live here.”