High Sierra Highs
This past weekend, the seventeenth annual High Sierra Music Festival returned to Quincy, CA. Perhaps the west coast’s definitive jamband gathering, the veteran festival featured a number of scene staples, including Page McConnell, Galactic, Yonder Mountain String Band, Tea Leaf Green, the Disco Biscuits, ALO, Les Claypool and Leftover Salmon, who officially reunited for the first time since 2004 (though most of the group did jam together a few weeks ago at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival). But, as in years past, the festival entertainment included much more than music, whether that be artist led playshops, yoga lessons or campground activities like trampoline kick ball with Vince Herman and Josh Clark
Speaking of Herman, the Leftover Salmon leader opened the weekend’s mainstage festivities Thursday with his new band Great American Taxi by playing the Rolling Stones ‘Starfucker.’ The day’s entertainment also included a set of odd noise-rock by That 1 Guy (who played a pipe-shaped instrument), old time sensations the Waybacks, jazz-inspired jammers Garaj Mahal, dead-on Phish cover band Phix, trance/rockers Zilla, Be Good Tanyas spinoff PoGirl, Galactic and Hot Buttered Rum, who invited out Blue Turtle Seductions Glenn Stewart on harmonica. The festivals opening day festivities concluded with a set by the Slip/Nathan Moore union Surprise Me Mr. Davis, with Jamie Janover playing percussion and Michael Travis playing a step ladder for a show opening Skull and Bones. A late night Yonder Mountain String Band set drew a capacity crowd to the High Sierra Music Hall, where Vince Herman offered his guitar and vocals to versions of Cuckoo’s Nest and Jack London, while Glenn Stewart played harmonica on New Deal Train. Meanwhile Soulive sparred with Anders Osborne, Ivan Neville and the members of Dumpstaphunk, fittingly, in the Funk N Jamhouse.
Nathan Moore opened Fridays Grandstand festivities with his own band, ThaMuseMeant, before Mamas Cookin, who emerged as one of the weekends breakout acts, took the stage. Other rising stars included Carlos Santana offspring Salvador Santana, African-Asheville hybrid Toubab Krewe and singer/songwriter Brett Dennen, whose current touring band includes ALO bassist Steve Adams and guitarist Dan Lebowitz. Meanwhile, the festivals Grandstand focused on roots-rock performers like Martin Sexton, Yonder Mountain String Band and Drive-By Truckers. The Truckers set peaked with a version of Marry Me featuring veteran session keyboardist Spooner Oldham (who has been on the road since collaborating on a forthcoming album with the Drive-By Truckers and Bettye LaVette). Two members of String Cheese Incident played contemptuous afternoon sets: Michael Kang performed with Chris Berry and Panjea, while Anders Osborne welcomed Kyle Hollingsworth. The Slip celebrated its tenth consecutive High Sierra appearance with festival promoter Dave Margulies taking the stage and calling the style-shifting trio the gold thread tying the festival together for the past decade. He then asked the group to play a song reminiscent of their first High Sierra appearance. The trio replied by offering the rare, early compositions Cumulus and Weight of Solomon, before covering Led Zeppelins Heartbreaker. Weirdo folk collective Vetiver, who grew out of Devendra Banharts band, also brought on touring Shins member Eric Johnson on banjo. Late night highlights included a second set by Phix, DJ Bassnectar and Hot Buttered Rum, who invited out the Waybacks James Nash and Warren Hood, the Everyone Orchestras Matt Butler, keyboardist Asher Fulero and guitarist Dan Lebowitz.
By Saturday most of the festivals campgrounds had filled in by the time ukulele-wiz Jake Shimabukuro opened the days Grandstand festivities. High Sierra is one of the festivals to offer multiple performances from its marquee acts, allotting Brett Dennen, Chris Thile, Xavier Rudd and Budos Band, among others, encore appearances. Local heroes Tea Leaf Green earned the days gold star for collaborations, with Dan Lebowitz playing lap steel on Devils Pay, JFJO bassist Reed Mathis trying his luck on guitar for
Hot Dog, Hot Buttered Rum fiddler Aaron Redner playing on Bastard Brother and Slip guitarist Brad Barr appearing on a set closing Franz Hanzerbeak. Later in the evening, Lebowitz also played lap steel with the Disco Biscuits on Orch Theme, Confrontation and 7-11. Before his set, Disco Biscuits guitarist Jon Gutwillig participated in a guitar competition with Lebowitz and Tea Leaf Greens Josh Clark, backed by the Mamas Cookin rhythm section. Les Claypool rolled out his Fancy Band, which features notables like Gabby La La, Mike Dillon and Skerik, for his first High Sierra appearance since 2003. The bassist also screened his hippie-rock spoof, Electric Apricot, which was partially recorded at High Sierra. Perhaps the days most notable event took place late night in the High Sierra Music Hall with Leftover Salmon. The group appeared recharged if not totally committed to future gigs and brought out various members of Hermans Great American Taxi throughout the night.
High Sierras final day seemed to revolve around Page McConnell, who offered an emotional solo set as well as a full band set with his new solo group (which peaked with versions of Heavy Rotation and Cars Trucks Buses). At the end of the day, McConnell also helped Leftover Salmon close out the weekends grandstand festivities by jamming with his high-school classmate Bill McKay during the groups headlining performance. Before taking the stage, the seminal jam-act also nodded to founding member Mark Vann, who succumbed to cancer in 2002. Mavis Staples performed with her group, climaxing with a powerful version of Respect, while JJ Grey and MOFRO drew from their new album Country Ghetto. Longtime friends ALO and Tea Leaf Green performed both alone and together in the Funk N Jamhouse late in the evening. The evening had a ‘Studio 54’ or ‘Sex in the 70’s’ theme and featured a revolving cast of musicians filtering on-and-off the stage, including Jon Gutwillig, Reed Mathis and the staff of Relix, who returned a missing pencil drawing Traveltordo which belonged to a group of ALO fans (look for an upcoming ALO feature in the September issue of the magazine). Tea Leaf Green then offered some of the festivals final notes of music, with Gutwillig playing guitar on Asphalt Funk, all of ALO appearing on Ophelia and Georgie P and guitarist Sean Leahy playing on Have a Drink On Me.
Traditionally one of the High Sierras highlights is its impromptu campsite sets and this year was no exception. Over the course of the weekend Vince Herman and the New Mastersounds played surprise sets at a site known as Camp Happiness, State of Mind jammed ontop on an RV and, as previously reported, Surprise Me Mr. Davis made a stealth appearance Camp Harry (which can be heard here). Camp Harry also hosted jam sessions featuring members of the New Mastersounds and ALO, among many others.