by Charlie Swanson
Nestled within the Bradshaw Mountains of central Arizona is the small, historic town of Prescott. From a flyover in a jumbo jet it may not look like much, but this mile-high cowboy town has flair for amazing music, and downtown Prescott’s famed Whiskey Row draws singer-songwriters of all kinds to its clubs and venues.
Songwriter Jim Sobo was drawn there, over a decade ago. Sobo grew up in Los Angeles and found success in the corporate world of licensing songs to television and film. Yet the Hollywood vibe did nothing to satisfy him creatively.
Moving his family to Prescott, Sobo began a career as an educator and found a musically vibrant community to flourish in. It didn’t take long for him to realize that the music in Prescott was just too good to keep a secret. So, for the past decade, he has spent his summer vacations curating and leading the Howling Coyote Tour. This year’s 10th anniversary tour begins at HopMonk Tavern in Novato on Friday, July 17, and then hits various other spots in the North Bay.
Each installment of the Howling Coyote Tour is a little different, and this year, Sobo is bringing back tour veteran Kenny James and introducing young bandleader Wes Williams for an eclectic showcase of skills.
James, a Bay Area native who has lived in Prescott since 1999, was drawn to the town’s musical camaraderie. “It’s a different world out here,” James says by phone from Prescott. “Anybody can play here; it’s part of the culture in town that has stuck. There’s a DIY vibe without the ‘us against them’ vibe. I grew up in San Francisco; I’ve seen it go the other way.”
An accomplished guitarist who has toured with big acts like the Doobie Brothers and intimate songwriters like Slaid Cleaves, James thrives on the Howling Coyote Tour’s intimate approach, where sets become conversations with the audience as much as a performance. “I like to connect with people on more of a heart-to-heart level, rope in as many people as you can,” James says. “That’s really refreshing for me, that one-on-one level.”
Young up-and-comer Wes Williams—a native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana and a relatively new face in Prescott—brings a decidedly fresh blend of rock and jazz. James says that Williams possesses that “Grateful Dead tradition of songs that are bluesy, twangy, a little all over the place.”
With Sobo at the helm, the Howling Coyote Tour also features the trio of performers playing in Cotati on July 18, Napa on July 23, Petaluma on July 25 and Sebastopol on July 26.
The Howling Coyote Tour hits HopMonk Tavern on Friday, July 17; 224 Vintage Way, Novato; 6pm; free. For more information, call 415/892-6200, or visit hopmonk.com.