While the Doobie Brothers, Heart and Bad Company rock the main stage, you’ll find plenty of Sonoma talent on the “Bea” stage at this year’s 27th B.R. Cohn Charity Events Fall Music Festival, running from Friday to Monday.
Were you to draw a quintessential rock star, it would probably look something like Paulie Hips, with tight leather pants, colorful scarves and a personality that explodes when it hits the stage. Born in Long Beach, Hips was signed to a record label at age 16, and has been writing and performing music ever since.
“We’re a dancey rock ‘n’ roll band who love to play a live show,” he said of his band, Paulie Hips and the Childbearers, which will open Sunday’s musical lineup on the “Bea” stage. “Hopefully now that we’ve added a piano, people will stop calling us punk rock. I guess because I grab my crotch and do the splits, people think we’re punk.”
Joined by Stevie Steele and Santino (a.k.a. Sonny Bones) on guitar, Josh Felter on bass, Michael Ramsey on drums and Ian Hinkley on piano, their music has developed a large Sonoma following with regular gigs at the El Verano Inn, Blue Moon Saloon and Olde Sonoma Public House. For this band, showmanship comes first, Hips said, right down to the sock he stuffs in his pants so he can later throw it at unsuspecting audience members midway through his performance.
“We pretend we’re at Madison Square Garden wherever we play,” Hips said. “I guess we’re just here to have fun, make the bars some money and get people laid.”
Hips has performed at large showcases in the past, including sharing the stage with Heart at the Orange County Fair; the classic band will coincidentally headline the main stage on Sunday. But B.R. Cohn will be the first major festival for Hips and his Childbearers, a band that formed in Sonoma almost two years ago.
“Of course, there’s a bit of nerves to be racked – but that’s half the fun of it, to be completely terrified,” Hips laughed. “We’re going to reach a whole new level with this show because there’s so many people. You have to be bigger than life – we’re going first, so we have to make people remember us.”
Unlike Paulie Hips, who found his musical matches in Sonoma, Grant Benziger represents the other side of the musical coin. Raised at his family’s popular winery in Glen Ellen, he had to travel south to find his musical counter-points. While attending music school in Los Angeles, Benziger knew he wanted to form a country band with “traditional values and a punk rock attitude.” He teamed up with musicians Matt Pliskin on upright bass and Mike Bouchard on drums to form the Curly Wolf.
“I think we are definitely channeling a classic vibe á la Hank (Williams) and (Johnny) Cash, but inject a very intense side into it. We have our sort of classic country side we love to play, but when you dig deeper, you’ll see and hear a very intense sound that blurs the lines of country and psychobilly,” Benziger said.
At 24, he credits the roots of his musical influences to growing up in the countryside of Glen Ellen. His brother Buck introduced him to the hot-rod and trucking culture at a young age, but also got him hooked on heavy metal and punk music. This combination was the foundation for the music he now makes. Benziger personally writes the lyrics and music the band plays, with collaboration from his band-mates on the musical arraignments.
This summer, the Curly Wolf shared the stage with the legendary punk rockers Dinosaur Jr. at Gundlach Bundschu Winery, while also shooting their own music video at his family’s Benziger Family Winery.
“Seems like the Wine Country has been enjoying that hillbilly cow-punk sound. We aren’t complaining,” he said, adding, “The music video should be coming out within weeks.”
The Curly Wolf will perform both Saturday and Sunday on the Bea stage, named for longtime B.R. Cohn events manager Bea Oliver, who passed away earlier this year. A few tickets remain to this weekend’s musical showcase, which includes Bad Company, the Doobie Brothers and Pablo Cruise on Saturday, with the Gin Blossoms, Heart and another show from the Doobie Brothers set for Sunday. Passes range in price, from a general admission ticket to a VIP package that includes a seat on the stage. For tickets and more information, visit brcohn.com.