Sunday was an afternoon marked by carefree, dancing crowd members decked in tie-dye; bluegrass, folky funk, and psychedelic guitar opening bands; competing lines for vegan burger and juice bar food trucks; the increasingly strange ramblings of Woodstock era peace activist Wavy Gravy; and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, the most fitting act to end the evening.
The concert, held at the Sonoma Mountain Event Center in Rohnert Park, was in honor of Gravy’s 79th birthday and went to benefit the Seva Foundation, which he co-founded in 1978. Committed to curing avoidable blindness in Third World countries, Gravy thanked the audience multiple times for supporting Seva and helping “people on the other side of the world stop bumping into shit.” Gravy was present onstage during each act in head to toe tie-dye attire; his iconic clown nose found its way onto several other artists’ faces throughout the evening.
Edward Sharpe, Alexander Ebert’s superhero/messianic alter ego, was developed after he abandoned a hedonistic life in Los Angeles and saw Jade Castrinos outside a café – deciding then and there that he needed her in his life. The duo grew into a varying lineup of over ten people, incorporating such instruments as the didgeridoo and accordion. Though Castrinos parted from the band almost a year ago, The Magnetic Zeros’ culture of unstructured, free-spirited, and often barefoot shows has had a strong hand in shaping the folk revival of the last decade.
While the Zeros themselves looked like fairly put-together hipsters, frontman Alex Ebert stayed true to his established style with ratty brown pants held around his lanky frame with a striped scarf, and a stained white t-shirt. His iconic messy hair was, of course, loopily piled atop his head. The first song of their set, “Mayla”, was a request shouted from the crowd — in fact, there didn’t seem to be much of a set list, every song either a crowd suggestion or a whim of Ebert’s (he pointed out, “I keep picking songs I don’t remember the lyrics to” after a few lovably botched verses of “All Wash Out”).
The Zeros stayed put as Ebert wandered, danced, and leaped about the stage, climbing onto the speakers to sing directly to the crowd, or sit and talk as if we were one person instead of hundreds. At one point, someone in the multitudes handed him a blunt, which he shyly accepted, took a hit from, and then returned, all mid-song. As each piece escalated into a rambunctious, folky hoedown, Ebert took to the stage with kicky, pseudo-Charleston dance moves reminiscent of a child having a joyous tantrum; the crowd’s crescendoing cheers egging him on as he spun yet faster.
Castrinos’ absence was plainly felt by the audience, which collectively sighed when the band got to the verse in “Home” where she and Ebert would normally have shared a bit of their nebulous love story. Instead, Ebert invited the stories of his crowd, handing the microphone out to a few volunteers who spoke of the Magnetic Zeros’ music delivering them love of all kinds. Carrying on with an intimacy incongruous with the number of people listening, he explained his acceptance of life’s infinite unknowns, and his consequent resolve to be present: “For a few moments tonight, I was here. And I thank you for that”.
Article and photos by Kavitha George