Sonoma Raceway explores plan to host major music festival

"The music festival would be on the scale of NASCAR, " Sonoma Raceway President Steve Page told KTVU. "International headliners with multiple stages and probably one major stage."

The event would span four days with 30,000 to 50,0000 people tucked into the hills where race cars usually own the road.

"There are good, flat viewing areas which also happen to fall on turns with grandstands," raceway spokesperson Diana Brennan told KTVU.

"NASCAR fans tend to sit and watch. They've got their favorite turns, their favorite spot to watch, " Brennan explained. "But concert fans roam around more and like to gather in front of a stage, so we want to make sure we're prepared for them."

The proposal is in its earliest stage and environmental studies must be done, gauging impacts such as noise and traffic.

The southern Sonoma Valley is rolling hills, mostly ranch land, and the track has few immediate neighbors. Still, some are concerned.

"This isn't the place for it. It really isn't," longtime resident Nancy Lilly told KTVU from her backyard, with its view of the raceway in the distance. 

She and her husband object to another big event because they say race weekends already trap them at home.

"We either go away, or we can't leave," complained Tony Lilly. "Because those roads, they own them. Nobody else can use them."

Another neighbor who also lives in view of the facility spoke more positively.

"Races are there anyway, so this is music," said Linda Yenni. "We have a lot of tourists who come here and they need things to do. They want things to do and it has the infrastructure."

Raceway president Page acknowledged there would be differing opinions. "There's no idea that's universally popular," he noted.

But he said the festival will be very local in flavor, adding it would promote valley vendors and products, The raceway also plans to donate a percentage of proceeds to youth charities.

He is hoping to end the music at midnight, then offer a dance tent and continued dining options after-hours to keep fans on the grounds rather than on the roads.

"We have a very heavy emphasis on camping and having people stay on site and enjoy the event over multiple days," Page explained, "The whole idea of an on site camping, multi-day festival is one you can't find in Northern California."

Critic Nancy Lilly was unswayed.

"I wouldn't want to be one of the sheriff's patrolmen trying to keep order with 6,000 people camping in these hills for four nights," she observed. "It's trouble."

But down the road at the Carneros Deli, employees were ready to give a local concert the green flag.

"It's a small community and we're always looking for something to do, so it's nice to have something local for us, " Cheryl Schreyer told KTVU as she made sandwiches. "We either have to go to Napa, San Francisco or out of town. So it's going to be a lot of fun! We're looking forward to it."

The concert proposal goes before the public for the first time Feb. 25 in Sonoma before a citizen advisory committee, the first step in a long process that would require a new use permit from Sonoma County Supervisors.