Hall Wines, St.Helena. Dawn Page/Coastside Slacking

The Slackers Pair Sonoma Cheesy Grits with Rock ‘n’ Roll in Napa; Oops, We Skipped the Wine Again

How do you impress your British friends on their first visit to California’s wine country? Take them out for cheesy grits at the Fremont Diner and pair it with a helping of Los Lonely Boys a la Uptown Theatre. Duh.

Oh, we stopped at the Hall Wines tasting room in St. Helena. And we found some yummy ice cream just up the road at the Big Dipper on Main Street. But our friend Petrolhead (Queen’s slang for Gearhead, we were told) prefers ginger beer to wine. And his lovely wife, the Songstress, is all about the prosecco. So, kinda like our last Napa outing, the tasting was more about the experience than the wine. Hall does have some fun art installations, including Steel Bunny Foo-Foo. Plus bocce ball and “corn hole” on the patio. (Go ahead. Click on the link.)

Some Sonoma-savvy friends introduced us to the Fremont Diner during our first October in the Bay Area. The dusty roadside eatery known for Southern cuisine with a kick doesn’t look like much from the outside. But you can tell the food is yummy simply by counting the cars in the parking lot.

Fremont Diner in Sonoma. Dawn Page/Coastsideslacking
Fremont Diner in Sonoma. Dawn Page/Coastsideslacking

Don’t let the diner’s rough exterior fool you. Consider it decay by design. And yes, we had a 75-minute wait for a seat at a picnic table. No matter, particularly if you are from the Coastside where sipping a cool beverage with the hot sun on your back is a rare treat.

What was on the menu? M-Man and the Geek split spicy hot chicken and waffles (no take-backs) and a bowl of cheesy grits. Petrolhead went for the shrimp and grits, while the Songstress enjoyed a taste of each of our dishes accompanied by an amazing Cobb salad. Good stuff.

Fremont Diner in Sonoma. Dawn Page/Coastsideslacking
Fremont Diner in Sonoma. Dawn Page/Coastsideslacking

The drive up and back from Napa to St. Helena gave the Brits a peek at the vast yet orderly vineyards laid out between summer brown hills studded with green live oaks. Petrolhead, an automotive engineer, generously volunteered to be designated driver. We weren’t going to argue. Besides, he has two navigation apps, and neither involve Google’s Mistress of Navigation, a longtime companion and tormentor of the Coastside Slackers.

With plenty of navigation aids in hand, we arrived at the Uptown with enough time to slack over a cup of coffee before the show. M-Man and The Geek are convinced that the former movie house is the best venue in the Bay Area for a rock and roll show. Well, perhaps our sampling of five venues over two years isn’t statistically significant, but we swear there isn’t a bad seat in the house.

Uptown Theater, Napa. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking

The opening act was Lisa Morales, who unfortunately took the stage late due to unspecified “technical difficulties.” Her set of Latina-influenced music was lovely but brief. Our loss. She sang in English and Spanish with ample support from a six-piece band. Then Los Lonely Boys took the stage.

The Garza brothers, from San Angelo, TX, power out a lot of Texican sound for a three-piece band – guitar, bass, drums. And they ooze personality. Henry knows all the guitar poses. And we were all a bit jealous of his long silky hair. Jojo accompanies his funky bass rhythms with capable spin and step moves. You would have thought he had a stand-up. And you can’t help but love Ringo when he plays the kit with one hand and the bongos with the other, gripping the extra drum stick in his teeth. The tight two- and three-part harmonies are pitch perfect and tight. These guys work hard.

The set drew from throughout the band’s song book, including My Way. A driving cover of CCR’s Born on the Bayou prompted Henry to literally let down his hair, and the closing number, an extended version of Heaven, brought a fair portion of the normally somewhat stiff Uptown crowd to their feet.

Los Lonely Boys at the Uptown Theater, Napa. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking

The only flaw? It was all about the bass. Pounding, distorted, floor-vibrating bass that achieved the legendary Spinal Tap level 11 at times. Spare us a decibel or two next time, Jojo! At least one unhappy concert-goer left after “chuntering” through the first several songs. (More Queen’s English!) Still, M-Man, who can’t get enough of either Los Lonely Boys or the Uptown, thinks the Garza brothers may have converted a new fan or two.

The add-on bonus of a late rock and roll show in wine country? No traffic on the late drive home! Still, the next time we make the trek up to Napa we really ought to check out the wine.

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