Art and Wine Festival in Walnut Creek mixes new and old
By Lou Fancher
Old favorites and brand-spanking-new features are the pride of countless fairs and festivals that sweep the nation in the summer months.
From Cuban cha-cha to cherished craft beers and local wines to children reveling in Kettle Korn, curly fries, climbing walls and giant, water-filled inflatable balls and sea creatures, the 31st Annual Art & Wine Festival in Walnut Creek aims for both the old and new.
Offering free admission at Heather Farm Park, the event -- sponsored by the Walnut Creek Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau -- attracts more than 100,000 people over its two-day run each year. This year's festival, this Saturday and Sunday, boasts arts, crafts, food, entertainment, free shuttle transportation from BART and more.
Expanding this year is the popular beer garden. Zac Taylor, sales and marketing manager for Walnut Creek-based Calicraft Brewing Company, said "fun one-offs" they'll be pouring include Westside Wheat, a dry-hopped wheat ale with pomelo skins; Chez Panisse Farmhouse Ale; and Petal Power, a hibiscus saison.
"There'll be more places to sit down and spread out," Taylor said. "There'll be a DJ and cornhole like last year."
Cornhole, a bean bag toss game, will mix with nine local craft breweries blending old tradition and new-to-taste pleasures.
Another opportunity to savor old-world, newfangled combinations arrives on the funked-out Cuban groove of Bay Area singer-songwriter Fito Reinoso and his band, Ritmo y Armonía.
Patricio Angulo has performed with the band since 2004, after originally moving to the Bay Area to major in biochemistry at UC Berkeley.
"Yes, I don't use my degree very much these days," Angulo said.
Instead, he plays the timbal, a Brazilian drum, along with various percussion instruments and the bass. Angulo says people are drawn to Cuban music by the tightly rendered polyrhythmic structures that sound like a nonstop moving train.
"Taken separately, the rhythms sound weird, but together, the forward momentum makes you dance. If you take typical salsa and combine it with the timbal, you get a contemporary American funk."
Reinoso, he said, is like a jazz singer.
"He can improvise within the structure," Angulo said. "He nails the melody, then comes up with lyrics -- about the audience, the atmosphere. His poetry connects all the elements."
Mixed with the musicians' innovation, standards drawn from Buena Vista Social Club like "Quarto De Tula" will send visitors whistling (and dancing, Angulo promises) into the night
One thing that never gets old is safety. Chamber of Commerce CEO Jay Hoyer says that after the recent tragedy following the Livermore Wine Country Festival, Walnut Creek organizers immediately held a meeting focused on security protocols.
Brian Jones, 35, of Livermore was arrested several hours after attending the May 3 wine festival, lost control of his car while driving under the influence of alcohol and crashed into an apartment complex killing Esperanza Morales-Rodriguez and her daughter.
Even if evidence proves Jones continued drinking at another location after leaving the festival, it pays to be diligent, Hoyer said.
"We always ask ourselves if there's more we can do," he said. "In all the years we've been doing this, we haven't had a problem. That tells us our measures have worked."
Hoyer said 25 police officers will provide a "high presence," and that by emphasizing protocols and policies with all volunteers, organizers will ensure everyone can enjoy the festivities. Even so, he calls on adult visitors to be mindful.
"At the end of the day, you're responsible, just like every night in Walnut Creek," he says.