Chappell Holt and I met in the town of Sebastopol, in Sonoma County, California, in the 1970’s. We both remember how we fell in love with its beautiful hills and valleys, how Mt. Saint Helena greeted us and welcomed us “home” years before we fell in love with each other. Married in 1979, we were content to stay a while in this peaceful rural countryside, an hour and a half north of San Francisco. It was less “citified” in those years. There were more ranches, farms and apple orchards. Cow pastures and apple trees have since been replaced by vineyards after the explosive growth of the wine industry that began in the 1980’s. Thus the county, along with its more famous neighbour, Napa County, has retained the agricultural character and charm that we love.
Both Chappell and I worked at People’s Music (http://www.peoplesmusicontheweb.com/) in Sebastopol, a supplier of picks, guitar strings, books, and equipment to local musicians. Perhaps more importantly, it was a place where musicians gathered to swap tall tales and share tips about where the gigs were. Sebastopol was once the home of the Gravenstein apple, the migrant workers who picked them, and the local Miwok Indians who worked the canneries where the apple harvest was processed. They are closed down now. There were cowboy bars, card rooms, bowling alleys, and dance halls complete with bar brawls and romances—lots of work for a country rock musician, or for a folk musician who could learn the Country & Western trade.
In those years, Kate Wolf was hard at work as a musician and a DJ on KVRE, growing and nurturing folk music in Northern California. Chappell attended the music jams that Kate held at her home in Santa Rosa, and Kate later organized the successful Santa Rosa Folk Festival. Her first album on Owl Records, Back Roads, was recorded with the group The Wildwood Flower in 1976. It was one of the most successful independent record releases of the day. The next year she recorded her second independent Owl label release, Lines on the Paper. John Croizat, www.royzat.com, one of our musician friends, played fiddle and contributed the song, Midnight on the Water, to the album.
After the end of Kate’s partnership with mandolinist, Don Coffin, the Wildwood Flower group disbanded in 1979. She teamed up with Nina Gerber, http://www.ninagerber.com/, a talented guitarist and mandolin player who would be her accompanist throughout the rest of Kate's career. Both Chappell and I knew Nina and her family well, ever since she was a teenager and aspiring musician with a talent for hot flat-picking, a frequent visitor to People’s Music in Sebastopol. Nina and her brother Scott, whose main income was from sheep-shearing and herding cattle, were a popular folk duo in town.
Kate Wolf (born 1942) went on to achieve national recognition before her untimely passing in 1986 of leukemia. She was the first musician inducted into the NAIRD Independent Music Hall of Fame. You can learn more about Kate and her music on the official Kate Wolf website, http://www.katewolf.com, maintained by her family. You can also connect to 2012 festival information and tickets from the site.
In June of 1996, the Kate Wolf Retrospective Concert was held to celebrate her music. It drew 1200 fans, a sold out event. The crowd had such a wonderful time that her friends and family decided to make it an annual concert. The Kate Wolf Memorial Music Festival started as a one day, one time event. Now in its 15th year, the festival has grown to a three day, three night camping event. This will be the 9th year it will be held at beautiful Black Oak Ranch in Laytonville, 3 hours north of San Francisco.