Check it out
What: Back-to-School celebration and CD release party
When: 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 7
Where: Sundstrom Hill Winery, 2744 Del Rio Place
* Bring a donation of school supplies (anything from backpacks and notebooks to pens, pencils, rulers and crayons) and receive 10 percent off the price of wine by the bottle. All school district employees will receive the same 10 percent discount. Sundstrom Hill will also be collecting donations for their foundation, Esperanza Rising, which will assist Davis families who have children in the Bridge Program.
Red Union Blue could hardly have picked a better venue for its CD release party than Sundstrom Hill Winery on Saturday, Sept. 7.
After all, the festivities that day are billed as a “welcome back to school” event complete with discounts on wine for all Davis school district employees and a school supplies drive to help stock local classrooms.
So who better to provide the live entertainment than a band that features the school district superintendent on bass; the chair of the Davis High social studies department on guitar, keyboard and vocals; and the husband of a DHS vice principal on lead guitar?
The band, which fuses rock, pop, folk and country, formed about a year ago and will be selling copies of its first CD, “Learning to Fall,” as well as performing live at the winery, located at 2744 Del Rio Place. The event runs from 1 to 5 p.m.
“We are really looking forward to having Red Union Blue at our school-year kickoff,” said Lynne Sundstrom, who owns the winery with her husband, Chip, and is a longtime school district employee herself, having served as a teacher-librarian in the district for many years.
And it’s a return engagement for several of the band members, including Chris Lee, who has performed at the winery as part of a duo and an acoustic trio over the past year.
Lee, a popular history teacher at DHS who also chairs the social studies department, played keyboard in various rock bands in Northern California during the late 1980s and early ’90s. In 2011, when DHS Vice Principal Stacey Desideri learned about Lee’s musical roots, she suggested he meet her husband, Rich, a guitarist who shared a similar taste in music.
“We clicked from the get-go and started thinking about finding people to work with,” Lee said.
They found some in Chico, and worked with them for about six months.
“When we started thinking about basing ourselves more in Davis, I immediately thought of asking Winfred to play bass,” Lee said, referring to current Davis schools Superintendent Winfred Roberson.
“When he was principal at Davis High School,” Lee said, “we became friends and had some opportunities to play music together. Knowing what a stellar musician he is, I knew that he could add a lot to the sound of the group.”
Neither Roberson nor Desideri had quite the experience Lee had — Roberson had played and sung in church, Lee said, but Desideri hadn’t been in a band since high school. But that didn’t matter.
“We love getting together to play,” Lee said. “The best part of the band is having the opportunity to create (and) make music with your friends.
“This band is, first and foremost, a group of people who truly enjoy being around each other,” he explained. “The fact that we get to make music together makes it even better.”
Joining Lee, Roberson and Desideri in Red Union Blue are vocalist Trena Thompson of Roseville and drummer Nick Kantar of Citrus Heights — the most recent addition to the band.
The group’s previous drummer had to leave the band for personal reasons quite suddenly, on the eve of the band’s scheduled performance at the Nevada County Fair just a few weeks ago, in fact.
“Nick jumped in at the last minute, learning everything in two rehearsals,” Lee said. “He is an incredibly musical and powerful drummer who has given a whole new kick and drive to the band.”
And Thompson, Lee said, is one special vocalist.
“Once we played with her, we knew that she was the perfect singer we had been looking for. She has a powerful distinctive style that truly brings the songs to life,” he said.
It was with Thompson that Lee wrote the music and lyrics for “Learning to Fall.”
The songs came together over a four-month period, Lee said, with the band heading into the recording studio in February and continuing work well into June. They worked with Steve O’Neill at Foxtail Sounds in Dixon on two songs, then recorded, mixed and mastered the rest of the album in Sacramento with J.K. Northrup at Alien Productions & Recordings.
“J.K. was a huge asset in helping us further define and shape the sound of the band,” Lee said, adding that Northrup has previously worked with Foreigner, Toto and Montrose, among others.
Outside the studio, the band has had no trouble booking gigs, including recent performances at both the Nevada County Fair and the Sacramento County Fair, something Lee called both nerve-wracking and exciting.
“The live shows are when we get to take the band ‘out of the living room,’ ” Lee said, “and out in front of people. There is nothing more nerve-wracking and exciting than getting up and performing your music to audiences. The pay-off is when you see their faces and the enjoyment they are getting out of your music. And when they get up and dance, it’s even better.”
In addition to their original music, the band also covers songs by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Neil Young, Bonnie Raitt and others, “but done Red Union Blue style,” Lee said.
“We bring forth a blend of rock, pop, country, folk and blues — a little something for everyone.”
All five band members have day jobs — Desideri is a computer programmer for the state; Thompson a real estate agent in Roseville and Kantar a professor at Bakersfield Community College — but they get together at Lee’s home in Davis every Sunday to rehearse.
“With five working people with families, it’s sometimes tricky to schedule rehearsals (and) shows around all of life’s obligations and responsibilities,” Lee said. “However, everyone is committed to making the band as good as it can be.
“Our families have been wonderful in giving us the time to make all of this work,” he added. “Our goal is to be as good as we can, but to have fun. Everyone is on the same page as far as giving their time and energy to the band to create and perform our music.”
Learn more about Red Union Blue — and hear samples of their music — on their website, http://redunionblue.com.
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at [email protected] or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy