Over 2,300 people attended the “Thicker Than Smoke: An Evening of Community Storytelling” event during the weekend of Aug. 3 here at the Green Music Center. This was a two-night event that showcased the stories of those affected by the fires that raised $189,000, which was donated in support of fire victims. Sonoma County is still attempting to recover from the blazes; families are still searching for living arrangements and looking to piece their lives back together. “Thicker Than Smoke: An Evening of Community Storytelling” came as an idea around November 2017, almost immediately after the fires. It was originally planned for the summer, allowing ample time for the event to be planned properly.
Friday evening, Aug. 3, was filled with the storytelling of 10 victims who were affected during the Sonoma County fires in Oct. 2017. These devastating fires, which began on the night of Oct. 8th, created a path of destruction through the county. Sonoma State students were eventually told to evacuate campus for their safety due to the rapid spread of the fires and the air quality. Fourty-three lives were lost, over 6,200 homes were destroyed and the cause still remains under investigation.
Executive Director of the Green Music Center Jacob Yarrow explained, “The first night was a night of healing and shows the progress those are making to get to the next chapter of their lives.” Yarrow shared that is been a busy and active year on campus. Taking on his new role, he expressed that the best role that the Green Music Center can play is not only on our campus, but in our surrounding community as well. The 2017-2018 school year was Yarrow’s first full year as executive director and was faced with the challenge the fires posed that affected our entire region. Yarrow continues to work hard in service at the mission of Sonoma State University.
The second night, Aug. 4, featured actress Bonnie Hunt, known for films such as “Jumanji” and “Jerry Maguire,” and country performer Brad Paisley, who donated their time to this event. Hunt and Paisley both held a personal connection through their friends that endured the fires. Paisley, whose father was a firefighter, had his own home threatened in the Santa Barbara fires in December 2017, which were also known as the Thomas Fires. The Thomas Fires burned through Montecito, which is home to many celebrities. With high winds, mandatory evacuations, and a state of emergency issued, these fires fell similar to those experienced in Sonoma County.
Sonoma State senior Ella Haberman was intrigued after hearing about the event through work and was able to attend the second evening with her parents. Haberman explained that her parents had been trying to attend an event before she graduates and felt the need to take part in this one, because of the endeavors that Haberman had gone through as a student living here during the fires. The second day of the event was described by both Haberman and Yarrow as ‘impactful’ and ‘powerful.’ Paisley came off as a seasoned veteran that took the intimate space to his advantage. He was not there to self-promote, but to remind and acknowledge throughout the show why everyone was there.
Habermann described one of her favorite parts of the evening: “Brad had asked, ‘Can we all stand up if you have been affected by the Sonoma Fires or are a first responder?’ and it hit home for me that this turned lives upside down. People were hurting, but they had a community rallied behind them.” She was able to walk away from the concert with appreciation and gratitude for the amount of selflessness that filled the room that night. Many Sonoma State students had to lean on each during this time of terror. Most had to evacuate to a classmate’s home nearby, stranded by the fires. Senior, Maddie McGrogan, who is from Napa Valley, couldn’t find an entrance to get to her home in Napa and was taken to Sacramento with one of her new sorority sisters. McGrogan expressed her appreciation for her sorority sister and her family, “They opened their home to me when I couldn’t go to mine. I sat in their living room, watching the fires spread to the places I loved most, they sat with me, giving me support and shelter.”
The proceeds of $189,000 were donated to the Sonoma County Resilience Fund that offers support to those affected by the wildfires for the years to come. When asked what the Green Music Center offers to Sonoma County as a whole Yarrow explained, “The Green Music Center is a place to convene multiple communities and present a whole array of performances.” The Green Music Center has had strong ticket sales during their summer concert series, Summer at the Green. The events left include “Taste of Sonoma,” Sept. 1, “An Evening with Lyle Lovett and his Large Band,” Sept. 8, and “Tower of Power,” Sept. 22. They also offer free movies with “Avengers: Infinity War” on Aug. 25 and “Black Panther” on Sept. 7. Tickets can be purchased both online and in the box office.
Although there are no further fire relief events planned Yarrow said that, “We have the potential to build a sense of community with these events.”