Keeping the music going

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Music education in public schools is often taken for granted, much like a full service cafeteria or art programs.

Petaluma High School band director Cliff Eveland knows this week, when he was in high school, his school had no band program. To ensure PHS students did not suffer a similar fate, Eveland helped launch the Petaluma Music Festival with one mission in mind — to keep music in schools.

“Music was always a passion growing up. I was a singer in college and a choral student,” said Eveland. About to begin his 19th year teaching at PHS, Eveland says all proceeds from the festival are shared between Petaluma and Casa Grande high schools, both junior highs, as well as Petaluma’s 20 elementary schools. There are no restrictions on how the money can be used as long as it benefits a school’s music programs.

“It’s up to the schools to decided how they spend it. In the past the money has been used for instrument repair, putting on musical plays and just helping keep the music teachers paid,” said Eveland.

The idea for a festival began in 2008 when the PHS Music Boosters were looking to raise money for the music program. After bouncing around the idea of hosting a 5K run, the group decided to replace the now defunct Petaluma Waterfront Jazz Festival with a music festival of their own.

“I really didn’t know anything about running and I know a little bit about music,” said Eveland, laughing. After conducting a ton of research and getting tips on event organization, the event became its own nonprofit by the second year.

Past high profile bands have included The Devil Makes Three and Xavier Rudd, and every year the festival also hosts a large handful of local talent. Headliners at the festival this year include The Mother Hips, a rock ‘n’ roll band that originated in Chico and quickly grew in popularity around the Bay Area; and Galactic, a funk/jazz band from New Orleans, La.

“Their drummer is considered one of the best drummers in the world. He’s a big deal,” said Eveland. In addition to three music stages, the festival will have a silent auction with items donated from local vendors and a separate guitar auction including one autographed by Carlos Santana. The Kid’s Area will have a petting zoo courtesy of the Petaluma Wildlife Museum. Free water bottle refills are available all day, as well as food and merchandise for purchase.

“We’re trying to be the most family friendly music festival that we can possibly be,” said Eveland. He hopes to raise $30,000 this year to donate to the schools and it looks as if that might be possible. VIP tickets to the festival are $85 each, and they’re going fast, with only about a dozen left. Last year the event drew 3,500 and raised $20,000. Eveland says each year the event grows bigger.

“I’ve seen other festivals that benefit their music programs but I’ve also seen them stop. They try to go too big too soon. We’ve taken it slow and done it in a way where we can stay fiscally responsible and we can plan accordingly,” said Eveland.

With over 200 volunteers working the festival, including many PHS music students, and Lagunitas Brewing Company as the event’s presenting sponsor (“basically they donate a lot of money and a lot of beer,”), the festival’s seventh year seems primed for success.

“It’s a fun process. It’s something I’ve learned by doing it,” said Eveland.

The Petaluma Music Festival starts at noon on Saturday, Aug. 2, at the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds in Petaluma. Tickets in advance cost $35. General admission tickets are $40 at the door. Tickets for youth ages 13 to 18 are $20. Kids 12 and under are admitted free.

Visit to purchase tickets or for more details.

(Contact Kaitlin Zitelli at

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