Guerneville is a small, homey resort town nestled in the redwood forests of Sonoma County, just a few miles from the ocean. The town is known for its laid back, hippie-ish vibe and for being a getaway spot for gay couples, but one day a year it is overtaken by an event dedicated to sheer gluttony, a veritable bacchanalia on the banks of the Russian River. Officially, it’s called the Russian River Beer Revival, but those in the know refer to it only as “Stumptown.”
You walk along the shoulder of River Road through town, past river rafting supply shops, kitschy home goods stores, and the many many cars of Stumptown revelers parked there. The first sign that you’re getting close, other than those parked cars, is the smell of grilling meat wafting to you on the breeze. You can smell it from hundreds of yards away. Finally, you reach the long line of people waiting for the entrance, in front of the Stumptown Brewery, the host of the event and the reason for its shorthand moniker.
At noon the gates open, and you are herded slowly past the brewery and down an incline, tickets in hand, to a clearing slightly smaller than a football field on the bank of the river. Your ticket, which cost $50 the first time I went, four years ago, but now runs $75, gets you one small tasting glass and entry to that field, where you find 30 different barbeque stands grilling meat and 30 different breweries (mostly from Northern California, including some of the best breweries in the country–Anderson Valley, Lost Coast, Russian River, Bear Republic, and on and on and on) pouring beer. You have until six o’clock to eat and drink as much as you can.
The most important thing about Stumptown is to pace yourself. The first year I attended, I was WAY too excited about all that delicious microbrewed beer; I drank about 20 beers in the first hour of the festival, blacked out, and made an unspeakable jackass of myself.
The following year, I swore I’d do better, so I adopted a strategy to combat my natural tendency toward alcoholic dissolution: I spend the first hour of the festival methodically hitting every barbeque stand I can, drinking only a beer or two along the way to wash down the ribs. You’ve got a long time to drink, and you need as much foundation for all that beer as you can get. The predominant form of meat is ribs, though you will find some stands grilling chicken wings as well, and there are stray sides available here and there, the best being the jalapenos one of the stands (I don’t remember which) fires up. It’s really all about the ribs, though, the best of which are always produced by the Mad Scientist stand (second best is probably the Black Hole BBQ stand, who I will forgive for being Raiders fans because of the quality of their meat).
My stomach swollen with charred animal flesh, I usually take a short break, stealing a patch of shade and listening to one of the bluegrass bands the organizers bring into play. After the brief respite I hit the beer stands. While the BBQ stands have an official contest, its more informal among the breweries: some are satisfied to bring two kegs of beer and pour until those run out; others engage in an arms race of one-upsmanship, rolling out special brews as the afternoon goes along, ensuring the destruction of all festival-goers. Bear Republic, in particular, has made a habit of bringing out the big guns for Stumptown.
A few bits of advice: It’s usually hot and sunny, and there’s only a little bit of shade, so you need sun block and a hat, especially if you’re a pale-face like me. On the flipside, you’re right next to the river, so if you wear a bathing suit or board shorts, you can jump right in to cool off.
A couple more tidbits: First, cell phones mostly don’t work in the area, so if you’re meeting people, make plans beforehand, because you won’t be able to coordinate during the festival (not that it matters all that much–you’ll just end up getting drunk and losing each other anyway). Second, the bathroom situation is about as rough as you’d expect: just a few porta-potties for a few hundred people drinking beer and eating meat. A friend of mine, who will remain nameless, had to drop a deuce at the festival one year, and by the time he got into the commode, it was totally out of both toilet paper and seat covers. He cleaned himself using cardboard strips torn from the empty seat cover box. Personally, I take a large dose of Immodium before heading down.
Another bit of advice, which I guarantee you’ll ignore: At the end of the festival, people march back up the incline to the road, taking them right by the Stumptown Brewery. The brewery has an awesome deck, which will quickly become packed with people keeping the party going. Going to the brewery is an incredibly bad idea; you’re probably already on the verge of a blackout, and the brewery serves hard alcohol, which guarantees you’re going down hard. But you’ll be drunk, and there will be a lot of people there, and probably an Elvis impersonator, so even though it’s a terrible idea, I’m telling you right now, you’re going to end up at the brewery.
The result of all of this is that, by the time you make it back to your campsite (and please, please, reserve a campsite in town, do not try to drive anywhere after Stumptown), you will be intensely fucked up. I have all sorts of stories of immensely retarded things my friends have done after the festival. (I’m banned for life from one local campsite; I am not telling the story of how that happened.) My favorite story is when one of my friends and I inadvertently swapped tents, and he couldn’t figure out how to put up my tent, so he just slept in his SUV. During the night he opened the door and leaned out and puked onto his running board. The puke solidified so that, at the end of his trip home the next day, a hour-and-a-half drive on the freeway, his regurgitation was still stuck there. I have a picture of it, but I’ll spare you.
On the bright side, our morning tradition is to hit the Russian River Pub for breakfast the next day. Just south of town, this unassuming spot makes great Bloody Marys and surprisingly excellent food. (Get the Crab Cake Eggs Benedict. Trust me.)
Now for the bad news: You’re not going to Stumptown, which takes place tomorrow. That’s because the event, in its eleventh year, which used to be fairly easy to get tickets to, now sells out within minutes.
And the even worse news: I’m not going either, for the first time in four years. I’m mostly happy here in the Brooklyn Basement, but missing out on Stumptown is surely one of the biggest downsides of being here on the East Coast.
So, to my friends back in California who are going to Stumptown this year: I hate you guys. Have a great time.