Don’t let the funk fade, Winterblast is worth saving

When a loose balloon hit a power line at last year’s Winterblast street festival in Santa Rosa’s South of A Street Arts District, there was a brief lull in the celebration.

There was a boom. sparks flew. And the power went out.

People looked at each other quizzically for half a second, and then, as if the brief fireworks display were part of the celebration, the revelry began again.

And that’s probably because Winterblast, with its odd sofa parade (South of A – SoFA, got it?) and funky marching bands, offers more than enough luminosity and lightness to light up the streets even after a blown transformer knocks out the streetlights.

But the lights on this amazing night of local art, craziness, rolling sofas, stilt walkers, circus performers, live music and funky marching bands could go out this year if the community doesn’t take action.

For the first time in its nearly two decades, the organizers are asking for a little help from the rest of us to ensure Winterblast ’22, scheduled for December 10th, goes ahead.

“We’re really hurt,” said Spring Maxfield of the nonprofit group Urban Partnership Santa Rosa. “This event has always been community driven and produced and always free to the community.”

Maxfield, whose group stepped in to help create this year’s event, knows what she’s talking about.

She co-founded the wildly crazy, wildly successful Great draisine regatta at Railroad Square in Santa Rosa, which ran for years.

Maxfield jumped into the fray with this year’s Winter Blast to leverage some of those production and get-it-done skills.

Because Winterblast has always been a different kind of animal.

It is created and operated entirely voluntarily. And that can get tough year after year, especially as costs and bureaucracy mount.

It features not one, but two sofa parades, live music, food, and open houses at the area’s many art studios.

And with the live music, random dancing and people cruising around on stilts, there’s always a sense of joyful spontaneity.

Bob Stender, a photographer and neighborhood resident, was an original organizer when the event began as a vague idea for open art studios, a street festival, and a sofa parade.

people in the quarter wanted an event that was firstly fun, but secondly hyper-local.

Artists and small businesses could open their doors, display their wares, and hopefully give people a glimpse of all that was happening in the neighborhood, which was loosely bounded by Highway 12 to the west, Santa Rosa Avenue to the east, and Sonoma Avenue to the north and Sebastopol Avenue to the south.

And why not make sofas – a twist on the bohemian nickname – the event’s mascot?

“For me, that was just fun and funny,” Stender said of the pairing of a marching band and a series of random couches (many intricately decorated) being pushed, pulled, or otherwise pulled through the streets.

And the Hubbub Club Brass band that marked this event year after year? When has this started?

“In my eyes, they just showed up. It was awesome,” Stender said. “They are wonderful. Someone must have invited them and they must have figured out that they need us or that we need them.”

To see the event grow from a wild idea to a night that draws thousands, in (almost) dead winter, rain or shine, proves it fills a deep need.

“It shows how hungry people are for some fun,” Stender said. “If you don’t have to do anything and this thing creates itself? We created an environment for them and they come and fill the space.”

And although the neighborhood is teeming with artists, most of the sofa creations year after year are made by families living in the area, said event organizer Sacha Aponte – De Roeck.

Last year, volunteers tried to host a sofa-making workshop, she said.

Nobody came.

Apparently, an independent stripe runs through this group.

“People were like, ‘No thanks, we’ll just do it,'” she said.

She said if the event doesn’t go ahead next month it would be a disservice to the community.

“I love Winterblast so much,” she said.

The only year the lights dimmed on Winterblast was 2020 because of the pandemic.

“I love that it’s become such an iconic event for the neighborhood and the city,” Stender said. “So I think we should keep it alive.”

This is an organic event, but make no mistake, it requires planning.

And year after year, a dedicated group of volunteers make sure the rest of us can just show up and have a great time.

This dedicated group of volunteers is now asking for our help.

Since its inception, participation in this event has been free.

It’s not free to wear.

The costs are increasing. Permits — for everything from food and drink vendors to amplified music to road closures and motorized traffic — cost money.

More money than ever.

Local businesses, donors and art lovers have always stepped up with sponsorship and funding.

But organizers say they’re falling short amid rising fees.

“As a community-led event, we would really appreciate it if the community supported this event,” said Maxfield.

So they created one GoFundMe Account.

Think of it as a way to pay for admission before you come to a free event.

The organizers, that warm-hearted group of volunteers who meet regularly to find ways to boost funding, say they need to call if this year’s event will go ahead by November 21.

They have to be able to retain artists and vendors, they have to hire those traffic officers that the city now needs to man barricades.

There is much to do. And they do it all for us.

The least we can do is intervene a little to keep the lights on at this most magical event.

You can reach Staff Columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or [email protected] On Twitter @benefield.

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