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Published on May 12, 2015

Best Winery: Francis Ford Coppola

“The Godfather,” “American Graffiti” and “Peggy Sue Got Married.” Although two of these three films were filmed in Petaluma, they all have one thing in common: Francis Ford Coppola, director of all three films and many more.

It was inevitable that the famous filmmaker’s next business venture would involve something he and Sonoma County are already synonymous for: wine.

After the former Chateau Souverain Winery in Geyserville closed its doors, Coppola purchased the building and in July 2010, the Francis Ford Coppola Winery opened its doors to the public.

From Chardonnay to Syrah to Cabernet Sauvignon, the winery houses a variety of tasteful wines. In fact, some of the wines are named after members of the Coppola family, including Francis’ wife Eleanor, his daughter Sofia and his Uncle Archimedes.

Coppola’s granddaughter has also followed in her famous grandfather’s winemaking footsteps by producing her own wines, Gia by Gia Coppola, found under her grandfather’s wine label.

The chateau-like, family-friendly winery was modeled after the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark. Coppola describes the winery as a “wine wonderland, a park of pleasure where people of all ages can enjoy all the best things in life—food, wine, music, dancing, games, swimming and performances of all types. A place to celebrate the love of life.”

It encompasses that and more, including: a full-service bar and smaller tasting bar—where visitors can enjoy a sip of wine before or after lunch or dinner; a restaurant called Rustic—where the food and desserts (the Chocolate Mousse tastes heavenly) are delectable; and the Movie Gallery—which displays memorabilia from Coppola’s five decades of filmmaking, including several of Coppola’s Academy Awards, props and costumes from some of his iconic films.

Francis Ford Coppola Winery also boasts a pavilion, bocce courts, two swimming pools, a pool cafe (open only Spring-Fall) and cabins (Italian for cabanas). Reservations are highly recommended for the use of the pools and cabins, as well as for dining at Rustic.

It’s no wonder why many people, including Sonoma State University students and their visiting families, visit the majestic winery every year. “I enjoy the atmosphere and the restaurant itself. Coppola is a fantastic director,” said junior Alex McDermott. “I’m not a wine guy, but the winery has a good reputation, is noteworthy and the facility is nice.” With vineyards overlooking the Alexander Valley area, the picturesque landscape of the Francis Ford Coppola Winery is a wine and film buffs’ paradise.

The winery also believes in practicing sustainability and has been committed to being environmentally friendly by seeking out unique ways to reduce its impact on the environment. From sustainably farmed acres to recycled packaging, the winery makes every effort to reduce its carbon footprint.

Francis Ford Coppola Winery is located at 300 Via Archimedes in Geyserville, and is open seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information about the winery, call 707-857-1471. Rustic restaurant is open daily, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. For details or to make a reservation at Rustic, call 707-857-1485. Visit the winery’s website at: www.francisfordcoppolawinery.com.

By Jessie De La O

Sonoma State STAR


Published on Aug. 28, 2013 on the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts website & patron program booklet

Meet our Volunteers: Sylvia Appel

More Reliable than the Mailman

When you ask Candice Day, Volunteer Manager at Wells Fargo Center for the Arts, how she would describe longtime volunteer Sylvia Appel, she says, “Gracious, always smiling and dedicated.”

Sylvia Appel has been volunteering for a variety of organizations for over 30 years. However, for the last 15 years, she has volunteered at the Center, providing assistance wherever help is needed. She can often be found in the Business Partnerships & Community Rentals Department or in the Development Department, helping with filing, mailings, memberships or any other task that’s asked of her.  Her dedication was recently recognized by the Volunteer Center of Sonoma County when they named her “Volunteer of the Month” for May 2013.

Sylvia lives in Santa Rosa and travels 10 miles each way by taking two city buses just to get to the Center by 8 a.m., three days a week. Along the way, she has made numerous friends not only on the bus rides, but also with the Center’s staff and other volunteers. “It’s like an extended family to me,” Sylvia said.

It’s easy to see why Sylvia is hailed as a dedicated volunteer. Audrey Rosado, a staff member with the Business Partnerships & Community Rentals Department said, “Sometimes she is only here for one hour and then gets back on the bus, and goes home. When other employees need help in other departments, she will stay longer if needed to help anyone at the Center. Sylvia is not just our volunteer, she is our family.”

One of the many reasons Sylvia enjoys volunteering at the Center is because she enjoys the enthusiasm of patrons when they come out of a show and it enriches the lives of so many people, especially children. “They’re so happy, especially those who have never been in a theater before or have never experienced anything like it. I know a lot of the parents, that’s how they started. They came to shows here and it had such an impact on their lives that they want their children to experience it too,” Sylvia said. In fact, Sylvia has experienced this joy first-hand. “That even happened with one of my grandsons, who I brought here for the first time as a teenager to see the Glenn Miller Orchestra. He has never been the same since. It left such an impact on him.”

Sylvia enjoys volunteering at the Center because it makes her feel good seeing other people happy. “I feel like I’ve contributed something and it’s a good feeling,” Sylvia said.

Sylvia is a true volunteer, who is dedicated to helping the Center. She fully understands the Center’s mission, to “Enrich. Educate. Entertain.” As Rosado said, “She goes above and beyond what she is here for. Sylvia enriches our staff with her creative ideas and go-get attitude, she educates us everyday with life lessons and entertains us with her fun and enthusiastic personality.

By Jessie De La O

Wells Fargo Center for the Arts


Published Aug. 5, 2012 in The Press Democrat

Decades of Dedication to Town: After Rough Childhood, Walton Finds Purpose in Bid for Council, Volunteering

Kimberly Walton was born in Newark and raised in San Francisco by adoptive parents who separated when she was 3. She bounced between households and at 13 she was declared a ward of the court.

At 14, she arrived at the Windsor home of her new fosterparents, Gene and Janice Schettler, and settled in to become an outspoken civic booster and tireless youth sports supporter.

“Out of the city and into the country life, I moved here with my cat and fell in love with Windsor,” said Walton.

“We lived on Silk Road, by the airport, and I had a horse named Charger who I could jump on bareback any time I wanted.” Sometimes she rode him all the way to Pohley’s Market.

Walton describes her life with the Schettlers as interesting, “because you don’t belong. But Windsor made it a place for me to belong. The children accepted me.”

Now 50 and the mother of three grown children, she continues to return the favor,

She graduated from Healdsburg High School in 1980, bought her first home in 1988 and three years later got involved with the campaign to incorporate Windsor.

Walton met her second husband, Brian, at a softball game in 1984, and her interest in youth has defined most of her adult life.

Because of her children, she got involved with youth organizations. She helped develop the Boys & Girls Club and start Windsor High School’s first softball program.

“What better place to start than by giving our youth an opportunity to be children and to experience life in the manner in which it’s supposed to be,” she said.

After eight years of volunteering with girls’ sports, she went over to the boys’ side. While her son was at Windsor High School, she coached wrestling and helped with baseball and football stats.

Since 2011, she has coached JV softball for Ursuline and Cardinal Newman high schools and was recruited to do football stats for Cardinal Newman.

“If you were to tell me that I’d ever coach girls softball at Cardinal Newman, I’d say, ‘That’s not possible.’ But I’m very proud and it’s an honor to be a part of the organization.”

Walton also was tapped to chair the town’s first Parks and Recreation Commission.

“That’s when Keiser Park came to flourish,” Walton said. She wanted it built for the sake of her children and later joined the board of the budding Windsor Boys & Girls Club as a way to help other children in need.

She was in charge of finding potential sites for the new club, so she researched juvenile crime and met with a parole officer from the Los Guillicos Juvenile Justice Center. Eventually she was convinced that middle-school aged children were the ones who needed it most.

Rather than building it at Mattie Washburn Elementary School, the current Brooks Road South location was chosen because of its proximity to Windsor Middle School.

“They (children) had a place to go to right away and belong,” Walton said, “and as a foster kid, I knew the importance of that. You just need a place to belong because peer pressure is so enormous.”

She also worked with the Town Planning Commission and the Parks and Recreation Commission to design the Town Green.

“The place where I used to run my horse is now a place where people come here every Tuesday and Thursday nights for movies or concerts on the green,” she said. “It’s a proud accomplishment.”

Walton also is proud to have been part of the successful school bond campaign for Windsor High School. Searching for more ways to get things accomplished in 1996, she ran for Windsor Town Council against Deborah Fudge, losing by 84 votes.

“You can’t be afraid if you believe in it,” Walton said, describing herself as outspoken. “In order to make things happen, you’ve got to put yourself out there.”

Pearl Reed, a recreation program specialist who has known Walton for 20 years, said, “For as long as I have known Kimberly, she has been involved with the community and giving back to others whether it be helping with sport programs, school functions or kids activities.

“She will tell you like it is and does not beat around the bush.”

For the past eight years, Walton has owned an accounting business called New Beginnings Bookkeeping and Consulting Services. Her clients range from hotels to sign shops and marketing agencies, and being self-employed allows her to make time for coaching.

“My children aren’t going to be children for so long,” she said. “I want to enjoy them.”

Walton’s experiences growing up taught her to respect the young people in her life, she said. When her children were young, their home was known as the “Gatorade” house. They lived close to the high school, and everyone came there after school.

“I have several other ‘sons’ from other mothers who I didn’t give birth to. And I’m known as ‘Mama K.’ You can’t take me anywhere without me knowing someone.”

Walton’s husband had major surgery in February, and her middle child, Brianna, just moved out, leaving the couple with an empty nest and Walton with questions about what comes next.

“If my husband was able, I’d love to have foster children,” she said. Her children Felicia and Tom have dogs but no children, so grandparenting isn’t an option.

For now, she is content serving on the Windsor Parks and Recreation Foundation,providing grand-doggy daycare and spending time with her own dog, Keno.

By Jessie De La O
The Press Democrat (archived URL link)


Published July 8, 2012 in The Press Democrat

Pumping Iron in Wee Hours: Windsor Man Gets Early — Very Early — Start on The Work Day With Healthy Routine at All-Night Gym

At 3:30 a.m., when most businesses are still dark, Victor Crusselle uses his members-only key to let himself into Anytime Fitness Gym.

Dressed in board shorts, a T-shirt and gym shoes, he enjoys the solitude and listens to music on the radio while working his way through a free-weight routine.

Crusselle, 41, has been working out since he was in eighth grade at Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, Ga. Physical training was mandatory, introducing him to a habit that stuck with him.

For the past decade he has worked as a welder and iron worker, a family trade that he eventually picked up. He now builds privacy gates, deck and stair railing and the structural steel used for commercial and residential buildings.

That may be why he prefers to exercise before work, when he feels more awake and has more energy.

“The day seems to go better that way, too, because you have better focus,” Crusselle said. “It seems like if you don’t work out, you don’t have the energy.”

In order to make time, he gets up at 2:30 a.m., has a cup of coffee, gets to the gym around 3:30 a.m. and works out for an hour or 90 minutes four to five days a week.

That leaves him time to return home, eat a little breakfast and still hit the road by 6:15 a.m. He drives to Sonoma and arrives in time to have a second breakfast before starting work at 8:30 a.m.

By 5 p.m., he’s back in the car again, heading for Windsor where he has lived for the past three years with his fiancee, Lori.

Their evening together is short — he’s in bed by 7:30 or 8 p.m. — but they have time to cook dinner, discuss their days and watch a little television, he said.

He tries to follow the same routine on the weekends, but admitted that he plays catch up on Saturdays and Sundays and often has a hard time sleeping past 3:30 or 4 a.m.

Sometimes he wishes he could stay up later, he said, but this is his schedule and he prefers to be alone.

Crusselle grew up in Orlando, Fla., but moved to Windsor to be with Lori, who has lived here 15 years. She belonged to Anytime Fitness, which is why he joined a few months ago.

“There are actually a lot more people than you think who work out at this time,” he said. “I used to go to another gym and there were about five people there working out in the early morning.”

Crusselle and Lori are getting married this year and are expecting their first child in early fall. He said he hopes to continue working out when the baby arrives.

“I could probably take the little guy with me and let him sleep while I go through my routine,” he said. “Probably wishful thinking though.”

For now, he works with dumbbells, a cable machine and straight bar before shifting to weight machines to burn out his muscles at the end of each routine.

“It is nice to be able to go to muscle failure without worrying about dropping the weight,” he said “The machines are just safer for that.”

With safety on his mind, Crusselle’s thoughts shifts back to the baby. After his child is born, he said, he may switch to CrossFit training.

Although he works in a blue-collar environment, Crusselle said the scope of his work doesn’t seem to take a physical toll on his body.

“It’s not that bad really. Your body is amazing, and it will adjust to whatever demands you place on it,” he said. “It’s one of the main reasons that I go to the gym.

“I want to be healthy enough to play and participate in all of the activities that my son would like to do. We are starting our family late in life, and I don’t want to be that dad who can’t keep up.”

By Jessie De La O

The Press Democrat  (archived URL link)


Published in the Jan. 29, 2012 issue of The Oak Leaf, the SRJC newspaper

SRJC family shines in Prop. 8 documentary

The informative and emotional documentary titled “The Right To Love: An American Family” profiles a Santa Rosa couple and their two children taking action in support of gay rights, is scheduled to premiere Monday, Feb. 6 at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco.

Jay and Bryan Leffew are a typical married couple. They wake up, get their children, Daniel and Selena, ready for school just like any other family. They run errands and they help their children with their homework. Jay works as a police officer in San Francisco, while Bryan is a stay-at-home dad. Jay and Bryan are a same-sex couple.

Jay and Bryan met when they were both students attending Santa Rosa Junior College about 16 years ago.  They met through a mutual friend named Jamie, who along with Jay and Bryan, were members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Group at SRJC. Jay and Bryan became good friends, but it wasn’t until Jay was getting ready to move to San Francisco that Bryan decided to ask him out.

“It was really unexpected because we really didn’t have that type of friendship. I knew he was someone I cared deeply about, but I never thought about dating him. However, once we started dating, we then knew we were pretty serious,” Jay said.

About a year into the relationship, they became domestic partners, so Bryan could get Jay’s medical benefits. At this point, they both knew they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together.

Jay and Bryan put off having children for a few years and traveled extensively, but Jay knew he always wanted kids. “In high school, my girlfriend got pregnant, and I thought I was going to be a father. She had an abortion without my consent and I think from that moment on, I always pictured myself as a father,” Jay said.

Jay then began to deal with the fact that he was gay. “I realized it was probably something I wasn’t going to be able to do because back then I thought gay people couldn’t have kids and couldn’t get married. It’s just all the things you think aren’t possible with another man.”

Two or three years into their relationship, Jay and Bryan started talking about having kids. “We’re stable, we own a house, we are good financially. We’re not going to get anything but older! I think the time is now,” Bryan said. Surrogacy was one option Jay and Bryan had first considered, but that thought ended quickly. When they found out that a female friend, who was considering becoming their surrogate, was having medical issues and was unable to have another child, Jay said, “We started thinking if we wanted to go through another surrogacy with someone else or do we want to actually adopt? The more we looked into it the more we realized that adoption was probably the best way to go.”

Both Jay and Bryan sought the assistance of a Sonoma County foster care agency. They discussed the possibility of adopting two children, preferably a brother and sister. They thought that by adopting two siblings it would make an easier transition for the children, since the siblings would have each other to count on. With the adoption process came several legal hurdles including financial and credit checks, complete health physicals, foster certification classes, CPR and first aid certifications, a lot of paperwork and filling out psychological profiles related to their backgrounds.

Once Jay and Bryan were deemed qualified to adopt, Jay began looking through binders with children’s photos. They gravitated towards the photo of five-year-old Daniel and 12-month-old Selena, who were biological siblings. After meeting with the two kids several times, they adopted both of them. The kids had to live with them for six months before the legal adoption could become finalized.

Besides having the desire to raise a family, the other important thing Jay and Bryan wanted was to be married. When the state of California began to recognize civil unions in June 2008, Jay and Bryan legally wed. In fact, they were among 18,000 couples the California Supreme Court allowed to remain married when Proposition 8 was upheld.

When Prop. 8, which prevents same-sex couples from marrying, was voted on in November 2008, Jay and Bryan took to making YouTube videos and posting a blog, which they titled “Gay Family Values.” According to Jay, initially the videos were made because of the frustration he felt in which no gay families or gay couples were being shown in television ads to vote No on Prop. 8. As Jay explained, “When Prop. 8 passed, we were really angry, so we went to San Francisco, and we were part of the big protest there, and we filmed that. We put that video on YouTube, and people thanked us for being a part of the protest.”

By posting their videos, Bryan concluded, “It was our way to show the world what a family with same-sex parents look like.”

Jay and Bryan did not imagined the attention they would receive by posting their YouTube videos. Young LBGT people sent positive letters and feedback thanking them for showing their family. “Many LGBT people have been told all their lives that being gay meant they would never have someone to love them or able to make a family,” Bryan said. “Through seeing our family, they discovered that being gay doesn’t close the door to any of those things.”

Some viewers have sought advice and counseling from Jay and Bryan regarding their own personal situations, something they weren’t prepared for. “I can honestly say we never expected the amount of feedback that we got on it,” Bryan said. “Sometimes it’s overwhelming. Because with all the positive stuff and request for help or advice at the same time, it’s emotionally overwhelming.”

Along with positive accolades, they’ve also had negative feedback, although it never deterred Jay and Bryan from posting videos and blogs that show viewers their children are happy  and part of a normal family with a great dynamic.

The Leffews also didn’t expect to be contacted by a Marin County based film production company about being included in a future documentary they were producing titled “The Right To Love: An American Family.”

About three years ago, Jay and Bryan received an email from film producer, Christina Clack with Jayebird Productions. Clack, her sister, director Cassie Jaye, and their mother, producer Nena Jaye, are the team behind Jayebird Productions, which also produced the religious documentary, “Daddy I Do.” Christina watched some of Jay and Bryan’s YouTube videos and was inspired by what she saw.

“Christina instantly saw the love that they had, and she wanted to add them to our interview list for filming ‘The Right to Love.’ We began filming the Leffew Family in Santa Rosa, California, and we also filmed LGBT activist groups, other same-sex couples and educators, but we kept coming back to the Leffews as a special bridge between the straight community and the LGBT community,” Jaye said. “People who care about marriage cherish love and family, and the Leffews are the perfect example of respecting the sanctity of marriage.”

When Jay and Bryan first met with the producers, they were skeptical about doing the film. “We wanted to see what their intentions were. I think as soon as I sat down with the three of them, we instantly bonded,” Jay said. “We instantly thought these women really want to tell a good story, and we don’t mind being a part of it. But we wanted to see their first movie (“Daddy I Do”) before we could make that decision. Once we watched it, I think we pretty much knew we were on board with whatever they wanted to do.”

The documentary focuses on Prop. 8 and how it has affected one particular family, that used to YouTube to show their activism. “The story is about Prop. 8’s history and our family pops in and out throughout the film…pretty much talking about all kinds of different issues, like gay suicide. It’s about marriage equality, and it’s about adoption rights. It’s about all different kinds of things with the whole Prop. 8 overall as the main story,” Jay said.

The Leffews hope the documentary will educate people—gay or straight, married or single—by allowing audiences to see how they and their children live. “I think they’ll get a really good view of the future they could have,” Jay said. “If you’re a straight person, and you’re in the middle on marriage equality, or you may be against gay people marrying and you see the film, you can’t come out of the movie not questioning your beliefs. So it does a really good job of educating people on what the issues are and why they’re important to gay people.”

Before filming, Jaye said she didn’t think of this issue as being her issue, because she is straight. “After making this film, and getting to know the Leffew Family, I know now that this issue is my issue. Once you see discrimination, if you’re not helping stop it, then you are contributing to it,” Jaye said.

The world premiere of the documentary will be Monday, Feb. 6 at the legendary Castro Theatre in San Francisco. The 88-minute documentary will have two showings, one at 4 p.m. and one at 7:30 p.m. Students who come with a valid Student I.D. card will get in for free during the 4 p.m. screening. For all other people wanting to attend the 4 p.m. showing, general admission is $10 and includes the film screening and filmmaker Q&A. For the 7:30 p.m. screening, general admission is $20, which includes a walk down the red carpet—beginning at 6:30 p.m.—the film screening, filmmaker Q&A and an after party with schwag bags, live music, hors d’oeuvres and more.

You can find the trailer at: http://tinyurl.com/7dba89z or http://www.r2lmovie.com.

By Jessie De La O

The Oak Leaf


Published in the May, 2008 issue of North Bay biz Magazine

Rick Bartalini keeps the stars coming to the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts

Rocker Corey Hart first discovered Rick Bartalini. It was during the 1980s when 15-year-old Bartalini became a big fan of concerts: He saw Corey Hart open for Hall & Oates at the Oakland Coliseum. Hart pulled Bartalini onstage to sing “Sunglasses at Night” in front of 15,000 people. Bartalini still has a photo that he proudly shows off from that fateful night. But the sunglasses Hart gave him are even cooler.

Today, Bartalini is director of programming for the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa. He sits behind an average-sized desk inside a small, cluttered office, which explodes with pop culture memorabilia: a signed poster of Ellen DeGeneres from her 2002 performance, a “Grease” leather jacket signed by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, framed New Kids on the Block platinum and gold albums, Hart’s sunglasses and more Olivia Newton-John memorabilia (let’s just say he’s a big fan). Despite being known for his attention to detail, he’s easily at home working in a state of chaos.

The Wells Fargo Center for the Arts has truly made a name for itself—and for Bartalini. When he began his position there in 2001 (then called Luther Burbank Center for the Arts), he brought his expertise and youthfulness (he was only 32 at the time) to the well-known establishment. Since then, he’s helped put the Center and Santa Rosa on the map, consistently booking high-profile artists such as Ringo Starr and Dolly Parton.

The youthful Bartalini lives and breathes his job. His love for music began at age 6. While growing up in Santa Rosa, he became a fan of artists like the Carpenters, John Denver and especially Newton-John. He even recalls thinking how great it would be if the Australian pop singer would perform locally at the Luther Burbank Center. Who knew he’d eventually be instrumental in making it happen?

“Being a part of bringing her here all those years later and the magical things that happened during that evening, well, it was a dream come true,” Bartalini says. “She’s exactly what you’d think—beautiful and delightful.”

Since then, the two have bonded. “Now, she’s like my long-lost Australian sister…but it’s still odd to look in the rear view mirror and see Olivia Newton-John staring back at you,” he says. The crowning moment of his Olivia admiration came when she sang “Happy Birthday” to him onstage during one of her Wells Fargo Center performances and then brought him onstage to sing “Summer Nights” with her.

Starting out

His first job was at Santa Rosa’s Record Factory, but when he was 20, Bartalini moved to San Francisco and looked for work in a concert-related business. He found a job at Winterland Productions, a well-known recording artist merchandising company. He swiftly moved up the ranks and, by age 23, was working with artists like Madonna and MC Hammer, helping them license their images onto calendars, T-shirts and dolls. Working in retail and at Winterland prepared Bartalini for his career path at the Wells Fargo Center, because all share the same priority: servicing the customers’ or artists’ needs.

In 1998, he was hired by the Luther Burbank Center and steadily moved up the ladder. Three years later, he began booking concerts; his first shows, with comedian Ellen DeGeneres, were in April 2002. (DeGeneres is such a fan of the venue that she’s mentioned it on her talk show as “her favorite place to perform.”) After DeGeneres’ successful Santa Rosa debut, Bartalini booked his second artist, singer Jewel, for three sold-out shows in September.

A team effort

Bartalini books the Center’s headline entertainment, but he’s quick to say his colleagues in production, finance, marketing, hospitality, administration and the box office all play integral roles in the process of presenting acts. Since the Center first opened its doors in 1981, its staff has grown steadily. Every employee contributes toward creating a great experience for artists and audiences. “Whether it’s taking out the trash in the dressing room, making dinner for the artist or directing patrons in the parking lot, it’s a group effort,” Bartalini says.

“In the six years or so that [Rick] and I have worked together in this capacity, we’ve really made a lot of friends. And that’s honestly been because Rick has made the commitment to taking good care of the artists,” says Jeremy French, the Wells Fargo Center production manager.

Bartalini tries to choose an array of artists to bring to the Center. The variety of artists who come through  depends on a few factors: who’s available, who’s touring and at what price. Then it finally comes down to “how does that artist’s fee and expenses equate to the ticket price, and what will the ticket price be?”

When booking shows, Bartalini tries to bring artists he thinks Sonoma County residents will like. “It’s always risky trying to determine what people will pay their hard earned money to see,” he says. The Wells Fargo Center for the Arts can accommodate upward of 1,600 people, so he has to keep in mind that some newer or more obscure artists may not generate enough ticket sales to justify their performance fees. It’s always a balancing act.

On the other hand, he’s booked higher profile artists like Diana Ross, whose tickets sold out in one day. Ross performed at the venue for the first time in November 2007, and her top price tickets went for $150 each. But Bartalini explains, “Getting to that point didn’t just happen on its own. There are radio ads, TV ads, print ads, direct mail, emails, and Internet contests. It’s always a gamble.”

Jazz is another genre that Sonoma County residents have embraced, and Bartalini has again responded. In January 2008, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis performed two sold-out shows at the Center. The first, a morning performance for 1,500 elementary and high school students, was just as enthusiastically received as the second, evening show for the general public.

Bartalini has also begun booking some iconic Latin artists, a trend that’s pleased the local Latin community. In 2005, he brought in Juan Gabriel and Pepe Aguilar, who generally play sold-out arenas with capacities of up to 20,000. When Aguilar performed in September 2007, many attendees told Bartalini they “felt respected and honored that Aguilar came to town, and that they were recognized as being a part of the [local] community.”

Embracing inspiration

Someone once asked Bartalini, “Why do you do this? You work a million hours, it’s crazy and it’s stressful.” His response was simple: “It’s for those defining moments when I was a kid that changed the trajectory of my life. It’s great to be a part of bringing memorable experiences to other people, which really means a lot to me.”

Despite the 12 to 16 hours Bartalini puts in on show days, he remains passionate about his job. “He’s not afraid to work hard,” French says. “He and I have worked some incredibly long hours—20 hour days a lot of the time. The secret to his success is his ability to know when to go the extra mile because it’s going to pay off.” That extra mile often benefits the fans, whom he might move to a front row seat if there are extras, or get an artist’s autograph, if possible.

Bartalini readily admits that he obsesses over every little detail. If it’s giving artists a bottle of wine or providing organic hand lotion in their dressing room, it all makes a difference. “Rick always makes sure every artist who comes here is so happy they can’t help but praise us. From making sure everything on their contract rider [a document specifying an artist’s requests or demands prior to his or her performance] is what they asked for, all the way to adding special touches,” says Chrissy Hall, programming assistant.

Some artists, like Lyle Lovett and Dolly Parton, keep coming back. In the case of Parton, who played the Wells Fargo Center in February 2007, Bartalini says, “She hadn’t been touring much and wanted to return to Santa Rosa; she did the show as a favor. Unfortunately, her new stage setup didn’t work with the building, but she didn’t want to cancel.” As an alternative site, the Center built an entire infrastructure inside the Grace Pavilion at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds and staged the concert there.

“It took more than $40,000 to transform the Grace Pavilion into a space worthy of a Dolly Parton Valentine’s Day show and another $24,000 in labor,” Bartalini says. All these details were important because, explains Bartalini, “We wanted Parton and the audience to have an amazing experience.” This was the first time the Wells Fargo Center had done anything like this for an artist. Bartalini adds. “If we didn’t have a great relationship with Dolly, she would’ve moved on. It’s all about great relationships.”

Word of mouth helps too. “[Satisfied artists] tell other people they run into, and pretty soon other artists want to come here too,” French says.

The Wells Fargo Center wouldn’t be where it is today if it weren’t for the community’s involvement. “It’s easy to lose track that it’s a nonprofit organization.” Bartalini states. “Even if a concert sells out, we’re lucky to make any money. The money we bring in through ticket sales doesn’t generally even cover the overhead.” Most of the money earned through ticket sales goes toward the artist’s fee, and what’s left usually covers the expenses to put on a show. The organization relies heavily on sponsors, in-kind donations and memberships to keep it functioning.

In January 2007, Hollywood came knocking when the Bravo Network came to film comedian Kathy Griffin’s act for her television special, “Kathy Griffin: Everybody Can Suck It.” This was a first for the organization—but not the last time Wells Fargo Center was used in that capacity. In February and March 2008, HBO taped two television specials at the Wells Fargo Center, one for comic icon George Carlin and another for comedian and Bay Area native Dana Carvey. HBO broadcast Carlin’s special live around the world, making it the first live performance broadcast from Sonoma County. “That’s a statement of some kind. There’s a sense of arrival,” Bartalini says.

Bartalini says he’s hoping to bring in more Latin acts, and he’d also like to see country singer Keith Urban and comedian DeGeneres return to the Center—but he has even bigger dreams that those. “It’d be great one day to do Broadway shows,” he says, “but the building doesn’t have the infrastructure for that. If there’s enough community support to build a new theater or remodel our current one, then it would be great to bring in traveling productions of, say, ‘Mama Mia!’ or the ‘Jersey Boys.’”

And the beat goes on. Among those already booked for performances this summer are Kenny Rogers, Foreigner, Motown greats the Temptations and Four Tops, the Beach Boys, Chris Isaak and comedian George Lopez—all thanks to the dedication of Rick Bartalini, whose passion for music, determination and commitment have let him live his dream. Now he wants others to experience theirs as well by joining an audience at the Wells Fargo Center.

By Jessie De La O

North Bay biz

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