.Keeping It Real: Virtual Festival Benefits Redwood Empire Food Bank

The Real Neato Music Festival was poised to become one of the North Bay’s most beloved jams when it debuted in the summer of 2019 at the Rio Nido Roadhouse.

Sonoma County–raised and San Francisco–based musician Eli Meyskens and Bay Area event producer and artist manager Daniel Strickland organized that inaugural event, featuring local and Bay Area bands rocking out under the redwoods of West Sonoma County. The pair and their collaborators were already planning their second round of music last year when the Covid-19 pandemic closed everything amid a stay-at-home order.

Undeterred, Strickland, Meyskens and fellow organizers presented Real Neato at Home, a virtual music festival, last June. The online gathering boasted several popular acts performing from their homes for the socially distant audience, and donations supported the bands as well as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, in response to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Now, Real Neato at Home is making its winter debut with a new virtual music festival, dubbed Real Neato 3, which airs online Saturday, Feb. 20, at 6pm and 8pm.

“Music is critical to our culture, mental health and community,” Strickland says. “We’re all going without right now.”

As 2020 progressed and the pandemic persisted, the Real Neato collaborators—including Meyskens, Strickland, Brooks Dierker and Nicole Schwieterman (owner of event sponsor Fleet Wood SF)—started talking about what 2021 was going to look like.

“Some days I feel optimistic because we are going to have a vaccine, and other days I feel like it’s going to take time for people to get the vaccine,” Strickland says. “And after the vaccine, people aren’t necessarily going to be comfortable going out and doing some things they did before.”

The Real Neato organizers decided that the event would have to remain online this year; but why wait until the summer?

“We wish we could be doing a real show in real life,” Strickland says. “But, what can we do to support the artists, and support a cause?”

With that in mind, Real Neato’s upcoming virtual festival on Feb. 20 will once again feature a powerhouse lineup of local acts, and will collect donations for a new cause: helping to end food insecurity in the North Bay.

“The Redwood Empire Food Bank has been doing this work for a long time,” Strickland says. “I reached out to [Redwood Empire Food Bank Development Associate] Devin Murray; they were thrilled to partner with us.”

For the upcoming virtual event, Real Neato is also partnering with several Sonoma County breweries—including Fogbelt, Seismic, Cooperage and Steele & Hops—for a food drive to coincide with the festival as well as California Craft Beer Week.

Real Neato 3’s music lineup for Feb. 20 features several returning favorites such as Oakland indie-pop artist Emily Afton, world music ensemble La Gente SF, North Bay rocker John Courage, psychedelic soul outfit Down Dirty Shake, self-proclaimed “Beach Funk Americana” group The Ha, outlaw country stars Caravan 222 and folk singer-songwriter Dominique Gomez.

In addition, several new acts will appear on the show, including psychedelic rock royalty King Dream, North Bay folk artist Ismay, San Francisco performer DONCAT, Santa Rosa singer-songwriter Schlee, rowdy rockers the Live Oaks and soul-folk outfit the Incubators.

“It’s a stressful time right now,” Strickland says. “We want to provide music to give people some light and enjoyment.”

“Real Neato 3” airs online Saturday, Feb. 20, at 6pm and again at 8pm. For details on how to donate, visit realneato.com.

Charlie Swanson
Charlie Swanson is a North Bay native and an arts and music writer and editor who has covered the local scene since 2014.
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