Inaugural Siesta Valley Strings & Things Festival with Sam Bush, AJ Lee, and more

Sam Bush at the 2022 Siesta Valley Strings & Things Festival – photo by Mary Ann Goldstein

A new single-day Siesta Valley Strings & Things festival, put on by Paper Moon Presents, took place Sunday, July 31 featuring Sam Bush alongside a great lineup of California talent including AJ Lee & Blue Summit, Tony Furtado, and Butter Duo, better known as Erik and Nat from Hot Buttered Rum. The festival was part of a three-day Measure for Measure Concert Series that Paper Moon Presents organized at the beautiful Bruns Amphitheater in the Orinda Hills, outside of Berkeley, which is best known for its world-class California Shakespeare Theatre (CAL SHAKES) productions. The venue itself is the perfect classic and cozy outdoor setting for any live entertainment, and with perfect acoustics, it lends itself particularly well to this lineup of roots and bluegrass music.

There was a second smaller stage outside of the amphitheater which kicked-off before the main show at 1:30 with Darcy Noonan, Sass N Harmony, and Tony Furtado. The woodland setting was filled with vendors and tables where people picnicked while enjoying the opening acts. I don’t know if it was the near-perfect weather or the promoter’s ‘less is more’ approach, but the whole feel of the day was very relaxed as musicians, photographers, band family, and friends came and went on stage sometimes without introductions. 

Paper Moon is Matt Lawsky and Luna, who were everywhere, and put their heart and soul into the festival and concert series. Matt kicked off the main stage festivities by saying welcome to the first annual Siesta Valley Strings & Things Festival so they obviously have high hopes for its future. He had this to say about the day.

“Of course, we’d like to do it again. It’s been just a great afternoon and evening and everything we’d hoped for. People seem to be having a good time. It starts out in the grove which is more intimate, and then moves into the amphitheater for the second half. Instead of just sitting there for eight or nine hours while bands come and go, they have two different experiences.”

Luna was basking in the joy of the setting and scene they had created. This was the third day of shows for the series, and even though they had to be running on or near empty, it wasn’t evident in her exuberance. I asked about the plan for the future.

“It’s pretty much as good as the world gets, beautiful place, beautiful people, and great food. We’d love to get the word out to make it bigger and better for next year. This is day three of this weekend of the Measure for Measure Series, which is a Shakespeare reference in case people don’t get it.”

Tony Furtado, a product of nearby Pleasanton, California, played on both stages, and self-designated as the tweener guy. His mix of tunes on slide guitar and banjo worked well both for his solo sets, and later while sitting in with Butter Duo and Sam Bush.

Duets were a recognizable theme throughout the day, and Erik Yates and Nat Keefe playing under the name of Butter Duo threw it down with a set of old and new originals, the requisite Grateful Dead song, and a deep dive into Ralph Stanley material from the ’80s with a song called Red Wicked Wine. Towards the end of their set, Scott Gates from Blue Summit and Tony Furtado sauntered up to help them close it out. Hot Buttered Rum has a new release called Shine All Night coming out later in the year. I asked Nat if he had been to this site before.

“No, I haven’t but my aunt acted in a show here once which I couldn’t make. What a great spot. Once word gets out about how perfect of an acoustic space it is, then people will be clamoring to play this festival. I’ve worked with Matt at street fairs and when he worked at the Fillmore. He’s been a production manager for some of the biggest productions in the world and he and Luna really know how to set the right tone for a great music party.”

After a lot of touring under their belt this year with new guitarist Scott Gates, AJ Lee and Blue Summit continue to improve and refine their groove and sound. Recent homecoming shows for the Tracy, California product, AJ and the band have recently played the Strawberry Music Festival, Kate Wolf, High Sierra, CBA Father’s Day Festival, and it was just announced they would be at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in San Francisco this year. Speaking of duets, AJ and Scott did a killer version of the Everly Brothers’ song, Poor Jenny, in an uptempo bluegrass fashion. AJ talked about being on the road, the festival, and getting the call to play HSBG.

“The road has been good, we’re having a great time seeing a lot of the sights we haven’t seen before. Ya know, when I’m out on the road, it’s like I kinda wish we were at home and when I’m at home, I’m like, I miss it, we gotta go back out there. But I would definitely come back here. It’s a fantastic venue, and any sort of art or music they can push into this amphitheater would be awesome. Oh, and of course it was really exciting getting the call to do Hardly Strictly, we were like, wow!”

Headliner Sam Bush and his band were just in from RockyGrass in Colorado, and rearing to go for his very loyal California fan base. Wearing a “Be Kind” T-shirt, he seemed happy to be back out on the road doing what he loves, and to my ears, he’s never sounded better. Among others, he rocked his pal John Hartford’s song, Up On The Hill Where They Do the Boogie, which he had played on the original recording on the Aereo-Plain album some fifty-plus years back. Nobody looked happier than the new guy in the band, banjo player, Wes Corbett. Wes, whose virtuoso banjo skills are a perfect fit for this tight unit, was all smiles, and clearly happy to be playing with the band in front of family members for the first time, although he wasn’t wearing the new guy hat.

We’ve all heard stories of people having been at the first tour of a band, or edition of a festival. It certainly seems that the Siesta Valley Strings & Things Festival is one of those examples where the ones lucky enough to be in attendance will be telling stories about this for years to come. Matt and Luna, with the help of Bay Area bluegrass fans, will surely grow this into a bigger and better event. Congrats to them for starting a new tradition!

All photos by Mary Ann Goldstein

Share this:

About the Author

Dave Berry

Dave Berry is a California based author, mandolin picker, and composer who writes the California Report column for Bluegrass Today. He grew up in the Ohio Valley right between where the Big Sandy and Big Scioto rivers dump into the Ohio. His articles, Morning Walk album, and video are available on streaming sites and his website at daveberrymusic.net.