The people of Davis have always been doers and makers. To see that, all you have to do is look around at the colorful local shops and murals downtown or overhear the kaleidoscope of conversations at any one of its 35-plus cafes. Artists thrive in Davis. And, historically, so has live music. Davis is the original home of the famed Palms Playhouse (now in Winters) and alumni still tell stories of the hard-to-believe bands that used to play at the old campus Coffeehouse, which is once again hosting bands. Elvis Costello, The Police and Emmylou Harris have played there, among others.
Six years ago, Davis resident Danny Tomasello went from avid fan of live music to promoter with his annual Davis Music Festival. Using tenaciousness and an innate ability to inspire involvement from businesses like Hot Italian and Watermelon Music, Danny has grown the festival and doubled its attendance, all while working a full time job and raising a family.
The festival makes use of multiple venues in Davis’s downtown, a natural setting for musical bar-hopping. But Danny didn’t start out with that idea in mind.
“I was talking to local venues like Kevin Wan of Sofia’s and the people at Armadillo Music about having a festival in Central Park,” says Danny of the festival’s origins, “and Kevin said ‘what if we have it in existing venues so you don’t have the expense of creating it from scratch in the park?’ So I approached other venues like the Odd Fellows Hall, and Lee of Delta of Venus who has always been supportive of live music, and they were into it. That first year had 20 bands for 20 bucks and 500 fans. I was thrilled with that.”
Attendance has doubled since then and the Davis Music Festival now spans 3 days in multiple venues all over downtown. The festival’s no-headliner policy gives music fans an experience of discovery and the bands a level playing field. To its great credit, the festival organizers vet every single band for quality while keeping 50 percent of the musicians local. Danny says “We are showcasing local music to people who only think of Davis as a bedroom community, while also rewarding loyal fans by bringing in outside talent.”
The fans aren’t the only ones being rewarded. Every single one of the 45 bands gets paid. Some of the largest music festivals in the country can’t even boast that. “So many bands get asked to play for free,” Danny says, “they’re told they should do it for ‘exposure,’ but bands don’t need exposure; they need groceries!” He says this is the most rewarding aspect of putting on this festival each year. “This is how we support the arts. We feed, pay and party with some 250 musicians. That feels good.”
You can join what Danny calls “just a big party with music” June 17-19 at the sixth annual Davis Music Festival. Tickets are available at Armadillo Music or online at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/6th-annual-davis-music-fest-tickets-24211549396. For more information about the festival, visit davismusicfest.com.