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Press Democrat Previews the Eco cup

June 12, 2009

Published June 12, 2009

Friday’s Harmony Festival kickoff mounted what may have been the most unlikely, bipolar spectacle in its eclectic 31-year year history.

On one stage, you had Steve Kimock’s Crazy Engine noodling incessantly, winding through epic, 15-minute jam-band songs.

“They don’t love you like I do, baby,” keyboardist Melvin Seals wailed.

On the other side of the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, the Dead Kennedys (sans original frontman Jello Biafra) tore through ’80s hardcore punk songs built for two-minute attention spans, singing, “California uber alles!”

“We’ve got everything from the Grateful Dead to the Dead Kennedys,” said program director Sean Ahearn. “And believe it or not, they have something in common and we’re trying to hit that core.”

First-time Harmony attendee Steve Rosenfield, who was selling CDs for the Love is Life nonprofit organization, sized it up this way: “Today, it’s kind of segregated. But I have a feeling tomorrow everybody’s going to start to come together and by the end it will be one big happy family.”

Several months ago, festival organizers were going after A-List acts like Lauren Hill, Beck and the Grateful Dead — “and then we realized we have to get back to our roots with people like Michael Franti and Spearhead. We said, ‘What do we do best at Harmony? In Sonoma County we’ve got hippies, punks, straights, gays, Republicans, ultra-liberals — we’ve got ’em all, let’s put the music out that appeals to everybody.”

Backstage, while Kimock posed for photos with fans, Ahearn joked about how “insane” it was to raise the budget during a recession year, going from $1.2 million to $1.7 million this year.

“Who does that?” he said. “Then again, you have to take risks in this market.”

This weekend’s big risk is the inaugural Eco-Cup, a gnarly skateboard competition with a $40,000 pot, a three-story “mini-MegaRamp” and throwback ’80s hardcore bands like Bad Brains and the Dead Kennedys.

“That’s the big gamble — would the alt-rock, skate world embrace the rainbow hippie world?”

Amid hydroponic gardening, solar energy and “holistic hooping” booths, the MegaRamp loomed like a massive monstrosity of change and adrenaline-pumping X-Games spectacle. X-Games gold medalist Bob Burnquist took a break from skate practice Friday afternoon to watch a nervous 9-year-old skater stand on the lip of the 35-foot ramp and peer down before taking the stairs back down without skating.

“It’s not that crazy to have a 9-year-old go down it, but to him, right now, it’s pretty crazy,” he said.

Or as X-Games and Eco-Cup skate announcer David Duncan summed it up: “The MegaRamp equals MegaSlam! It’s that simple.”

The big Eco-Cup competition goes down at 3 p.m. Sunday at the MegaRamp.

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