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Real Music - Live Bier - Fresh Music - December 2015

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Live Bier - Fresh Music

by Robert Feuer

Sebastopol’s HopMonk Tavern, which opened in 2008, provides a delicious setting for music and dining, including a large outdoor beer garden where folks sit under an expansive skylight among bubbling fountains, hanging and sitting plants, and two stages. Stone buildings remain from a past life as the Power House for the Petaluma & Santa Rosa Railroad, one with the sign LIVE BIER – FRESH MUSIC. It’s a Historical Landmark, over 100 years old, and, during a reincarnation as the Powerhouse Brewery, housed the Johnny Otis Show on KPFA. 

On a sunny October day, I interviewed Bill DeCarli, the congenial general manager, inside the Abbey, described by him as “a very intimate venue,” where the third stage is located. The restaurant brings in more revenue than the music, “but they co-exist very well.” He describes HopMonk as having “world-class, fresh draft beer, food that pairs with beer, great live music.” His job involves dealing with “the whole shebang.” 

“The music is part of who we are,” DeCarli says. “We have a pretty organic foundation with a lot of local bands.” There’s an open mic Tuesdays, which DeCarli started and ran, before passing it off three years ago. He plays guitar there himself, “rarely.” “Mostly I keep it in the living room. My dog doesn’t like it.” The open mic introduced such current phenoms as David Luning and the Bootleg Honeys to the world.

There’s also free music in the beer garden certain times of year. “We never want to lose money, but it’s an investment which provides something for the community as well.”

Monday nights offer reggae, and are the biggest draw, DeCarli says.
Electronic dance music and Americana are very popular. He describes the overall age range, “driven by the style of music,” as “21-80,” with 25-45 year olds the most concentrated demographic. The over-50 people do attend, but less frequently. “They’re more selective.”

HopMonk hosts national touring acts, but hires many more local ones, “driven by the band and how well they’re known,” DeCarli says. Electronic press kits, submitted on their website, are the primary way for musicians to connect with them. Also, HopMonk has relationships with different agencies. “Very few people walk in the door anymore.” DeCarli doesn’t do the booking, but he has some input, and finds YouTube useful for checking out prospective acts.

When asked about the effect of the social media revolution, he says, “It’s helped us. We have more avenues to reach out. We’re more accessible. We’re pushing on that very hard now.” HopMonk is sticking with radio for advertising, with a very limited use of print.

Discussing prices, DeCarli says, “We always want to give them (customers) the greatest value we can.” Venues have high costs, though, and DeCarli says, very sincerely, “It’s up to us as fans to have the willingness to pay to see a band. These are guys who are out there trying to make a living. The art and time they put into it is worth so much.”