Last Sunday turned out to be a beautiful day weather wise. No fog, plenty of sunshine. I had been cooped up for three days editing event photos. I needed a break. I needed to get out and move around. A change would do me good.

So when I was invited to head up to the Options Music Festival at Avila Beach, I thought, “I can do this.” Hey, gas was down to less than $4 a gallon, so I filled up the tank, popped some traveling music into the CD player and off I went.

This year’s festival was the sixth installment in the series that benefits Options Family of Services, a Central Coast nonprofit that helps individuals with varying challenges realize their dreams. Options serves more than 200 people daily with developmental disabilities and traumatic brain injuries. Sunday’s event brought in about $30,000 for the organization.

Options was founded in the early 1980s by Mike Mamot, a special-education teacher for the Paso Robles School District. Mamot purchased a comfortable ranch house with some acreage nestled in the oak-covered hills west of Atascadero.

Although the organization has gone through many changes, its core philosophy has never wavered: With respect and support, people with disabilities can achieve their goals of living and working independently as full citizens of their community.

Over the years, many of Santa Barbara County’s names in the music business who always step forward to support these types of causes have performed at the Avila Beach festival. Jackson Browne headlined the first festival in 2005. Crosby, Stills & Nash joined forces for the fourth annual event in 2008. This year, frequent Santa Ynez visitor and rumored part-time resident Sheryl Crow was the featured artist, along with bands Hot Buttered Rum and Lakes.

This year’s festival drew more than 2,400 patrons eager to see Crow, who had just come off the tour for her latest and seventh album, 100 Miles From Memphis, which was released in July 2010. The album was Billboard 200’s second-highest debut. Unlike her previous albums, 100 Miles From Memphis favors a vintage Memphis-styled and soul-inspired record. The results of that album invoke a time when soul and passion filled the radio waves.

100 Miles From Memphis is the right album at the right moment,” Crow says. “My last record (2008’s Detours) was pretty political, extremely personal and more lyric-driven, so it seemed like a great time to do something soulful and sexy and more driven by the music.”

Although not the commercial success of C’mon, C’mon or her self-titled 1996 release Sheryl Crow, this offering has its place. There’s even a guest appearance by legendary Rolling Stones guitarist and “her old friend” Keith Richards — which would explain why Crow chose to wear Keith Richards’ T-shirt for her performance at Avila. Well, not really Richards’ T-shirt, but a T-shirt adorning a large graphic of the one and only.

Crow appeared with a new band led by Doyle Bramhall II, who also has the honor of being Crow’s “new boyfriend.” I remember Bramhall from his days with Eric Clapton.

Crow and the band opened the set with “Our Love Is Fading” from 100 Miles From Memphis and worked through a tight set of hits that included:

Change Will Do Me Good
Summer Day
My Favorite Mistake
C’mon, C’mon
Sweet Rosalyn
Redemption Day
Long Road Home
Strong Enough
The Difficult Kind
Steve McQueen
If It Makes You Happy
Every Day Is a Winding Road
Soak Up the Sun
All I Really Want to Do
I Shall Believe

It all made for a great day, and the setting at the Avila Beach Golf Resort was the best nonvenue setting I have been to since the Doobie Brothers played at the Lagoon on the UCSB campus in 1981.

— John Conroy is a contributing photographer and writer for Noozhawk. See more of his photography at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.