Stumbling into a Northern California spot like Penngrove is to experience one of the last vestiges of rural America. Sandwiched between the adjacent town of Cotati and the outstretches of Petaluma, Penngrove is often overlooked or missed as simply a turnoff along the highway. For those unfamiliar with the Wine Country of Somoma/Napa, hidden in plain sight is the farming and rural community.
While it’s past is slipping away due to the rapid growth of the 21st Century, faint footprints of what it was and in some ways, still is, can be seen if one takes the time to look.
A sunny summer afternoon is an ideal time. And to the surprise of this reporter, a long-standing local band ‘Hooper & Sloss’ had the opportunity to perform at the center of town at Penngrove Market.
Like a big red barn on Main Street, Penngrove Market has had many incarnations over the decades. Officially known as the Ronsheimer building built in 1872, it has served as a railroad station, general store, mercantile, post office, and hardware store.
Unfortunately like so many old and historical structures, the barn-like facility was almost lost to fire in 2015. Luckily, the damage was in the back of the building. The rest of it, especially the spacious entrance and welcoming façade was saved.
Much of what was able to be saved and renovated of the Ronsheimer building into Penngrove Market is because of its owners. Rebecca & Evan McDowell and Joe & Shaina Ferraro own the market facility collectively. There were moments when Rebecca had concerns. Yet working collaboratively and with the help of many, Penngrove Market with all its facets and specialities was fully realized.
“We wanted to create a neighborhood grocery store that nurtures connection with our community,” noted Rebecca. “Our environment local farmers and artisans, these are special to us. Penngrove Market is here to highlight the bounty of delicious foods grown and made within Sonoma County. “We are here to support, educate, and nourish our neighbors and employees,” she said.
Having a band perform on a summer Sunday is another way to promote and affirm community. ‘Hooper & Sloss’ has been performing locally and has been together and working as a duo, trio, and four piece unit since 2013. However, Dave Hooper also worked previously with the individual members in other groups, Hooper has played in or formed other groups such as “Luke Warmwater,” Dave Hooper & the Corporate Monkeys,” just to name a few over the years.
Hooper has spent several decades performing professionally throughout the U.S. and Europe, where he lived in the early 1970s. Hooper has also lived in Nashville,Tennessee and spent more than 20 years in Austin, Texas, where he fronted a band.
Described as “infectious eclectic Americana music” Hooper & Sloss make regular appearances at the pubs such as at HopMonk this past April.Based in the Somoma/Marin area, the band consists of Hooper on vocals, playing six & 12- string guitars & harmonica. Hooper also serves as songwriter.
Dan Sloss provides vocals, guitar, bass, accordion, with Rick Walt also providing vocals and bass. And there is drummer, Rich Meux, all four reaching a harmony as the melody, rhythm and words move the audience to tap their toes, and sway to the beat.
Former band members such as Alice Fitzwater, who provided vocals, played violin, viola and a mandolin, left the group in 2018.
Beginning at 4PM the band attracted a small gathering of people as patrons of Penngrove Market meandered in and out, often slowing down and taking in the music.
“This is just perfect said Hooper, just before he began his song, we’ve got this nice patio/porch space, covered from the hot sun and now a nice breeze.” Playing familiar songs like “Third Rate Romance, Low Rent Rendezvous“ by Russell Smith, original recorded in 1975 by The Rhythm Aces, Hooper & Sloss did plenty of original material thanks to Hooper.
Songs like “Midnight in Paris” not to be confused with the Woody Allen movie of the same name, Hooper insisted, have a homegrown quality. Especially a heart-felt song like “A Home in Somoma” Most of the band’s music had a bit of a classic “rock-a-billy” sound to it, similar to other local bands and singers like Dave Crimmen.“Rock-a-billy” is classic and for those who know American music that sound, among others is seminal in the development of American music.
“I am not surprised you were able to enjoy a relaxing afternoon,” said Penngrove native John Brians. “I remember many pleasant and lazy afternoons.” The long-time proprietor of ‘The Frame Factory’ in Somoma.
“I grew up in Penngrove, said Brians and oh was I eager to get away from the family farm!” If one has the pleasure to chat with Brians at length, he will eagerly tell you of his adventures, traveling abroad, living in Europe and a Moroccan town. Eventually, Brians made his way back home.
“As much as I traveled far and wide, he said. I knew I would return home. Much of what I knew of Penngrove growing up, said Brians is gone. But it’s still a good place to be from and to come home to.”