Sausalito Art Festival Wags Its Tail Yet Again

This dog still hunts.

The tents are starting to go up in the Marin Ship along the Sausalito waterfront. The familiar bus-back advertising with the colorful paintbrushes and palm trees flashes past. It must be that time of year again. Sigh. Groan. Ecstasy.

Now in its 64th year, the legendary Sausalito Art Festival tradition continues, even if it labors under somewhat of an identity crisis – is it a serious art show, a music festival or a wine and beer event? Or is it just one big three-day street party that does it all? One thing’s for sure:  it can be a lot of fun. It’s a great outdoor venue, and it’s been going on forever. It’s a well-greased machine.

Whether they come for the art (over 260 artists) or the music (20 bands on two stages over three days) or to drink beer in the sun, patrons are guaranteed to encounter an eccentric crush of humanity in a terrific bayside location, with some of the best people-watching around. Not to mention some interesting art. If they get that far.

It is a wonderful waterfront festival in a charming city, an event fueled by over 1000 local volunteers who tend to have as much fun (and drink as much wine) as the visitors. And hey, you volunteer, you get into the festival for free! You could even score a festival t-shirt. A shift on The Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Garbage Committee is a most coveted position.

Half the locals volunteer, the other half flee town to avoid the hordes, but the crowds come, the festivity goes on, and some people even buy art! Amazing. It is a juried art show, and while the number of new artists varies every year, as does the range and quality of art, as a devotee of all art forms, I encourage everyone to attend; there is always some good art and seeing it all is a delightful even inspirational experience.  There are many local artists as well as the art circuit regulars, but always some new faces. Chatting with the artists and hearing their stories is my favorite part; many have traveled from afar; they are starry eyed or bleary eyed — depending on the night before and how their sales are going.

Meandering up and down the aisles, getting lost in the maze of tents, running into old boyfriends, sipping a glass of champagne, putting on more sun screen and looking for a place to finally sit down and/or dodging flying objects in 30 mph winds — it’s all a sociological experience. An artistic one no less. Navigating the extensive fairgrounds and trying to see it all requires at least half a day and that’s not taking into account several adult beverage stops or lunch along the way.

And let me just say, it’s “all” for a good cause – after all the expenses for such a Ben Hur production, the festival foundation raises money for art scholarships, community programs and Artists Teaching Art in the local schools. So you can feel good about sipping that margarita (it’s for a good cause) or buying that pulled pork sandwich (it’s for a good cause) or purchasing that lovely piece of original art for your living room (it too is for a good cause and you are now a “patron of the arts”!)

The Sausalito Art Festival is a study in community as much as anything and for that alone it should be applauded.

Details and Tips from a Veteran Attendee

WHEN: Saturday, Sunday & Monday Labor Day Weekend September 3-5th

GO EARLY: The gates open at 10 a.m. and if it’s a warm, sunny day, you won’t be able to navigate the aisles of art booths by noon. It will be jammed. To really appreciate and see the art — as in get up close and personal with it, meet the artists and avoid the crush — try to see the art early in the day. Then you can slide into debauchery, drinking and dancing (like no one is watching) in front of the stage to the music you grew up with in the 60’s singing along since you know all the words.

WHERE: Marin Ship Park along the waterfront by the Bay Model towards the north end of Sausalito

HOW MUCH: General admission is  $25;  $20 for seniors (62+); kids 12 and under are free

THE MUSIC:  if you are over 50, you’ll love it. Four different tribute bands will play. The Bee Gees, Neil Diamond, Led Zepplin and the Rolling Stones will all be there! In spirit. Need I say more? My personal top picks would be the Blind Boys of Alabama and the Squirrel Nut Zippers. Although Charlie Musselwhite, Edgar Winter and Todd Rundgren are all over 70 years old and should be seen and admired for their stamina. Bless them. Another option is to rent a kayak from Sea Trek (they are right there!) and head out to sea.

FOOD: is brought to you by local non-profit organizations; for many it’s one of their biggest fundraisers all year. From crab cakes, to oysters to gyros it’s vintage Marin festival food. Eat and be merry. Support them.

GETTING THERE: don’t drive if you can help it. Take the ferry from San Francisco; bicycle (there is free valet bike parking) and it you must drive, there are paid lots near the festival, but you can also take the shuttle bus that runs continuously all day from downtown Sausalito – truly the best way to access the festival.

LOCAL DINNER RESERVATIONS: if you haven’t made them by now, you are out of luck. Forget it.

BRING: sunscreen, a hat, a wind breaker (It can be stifling hot or quite breezy along the water) and a credit card. There are ATMs on site. (Of course.) Most artists and vendors take credit cards.

IF YOU GO – may the Force and your credit card be with you. Buy art.

DON’T MISS – the Matthew Turner Educational Tall Ship as you enter the festival; a magnificent vessel that has been constructed on site for the past few years. It is a marvel to behold. Built and blessed in Sausalito.

GO ONLINE: check out the artists;

And finally, I offer a special thank you to the Army Corps of Engineers and my friend Chris Gallagher – they operate the Bay Model and have allowed the art festival to stampede across their property for 28 years now. Good luck and good on you.

Categories: Art, Community, Marin Matters