High Sierra Music Festival, Quincy, CA- 7/4-7
Artist/Poster: Robert Marx
Already feeling festive for the fourth of July, High Sierra-goers infiltrated the fairgrounds of Quincy, California. We are greeted by a large banner exclaiming ‘Festivaaalll!’, surely hinting to the wild and weird nights ahead.
The surrounding area boasts some woodsy Northern California scenery, and the hot summer sun beats down as fellow festivarians set up their campsites for the weekend.
There are various meadows with stages-the Grandstand for main acts, the Big Meadow, and the Vaudeville tent. There is an arts and yoga meadow with hammocks and slack lines hanging from every encircling tree. There is already a noticeable presence of the energy, creativity, and excitement that enlivens festival-world.
As the sun begins to descend in the sky, the cool breeze brings more people out from their canopied campsite havens. The pathways become more crowded, and people in every direction are decorated with flamboyant clothing and red, white, and blue.There are bright colorful lights, bikes, wagons, and even a scantily-clad segway man.
The music for the evening gains momentum at Grandstand with Hot 8 Brass Band, hailing straight out of New Orleans. The Hot 8 are one of the many Nawlins-native bands performing over the next few days. The set is super jazzy, funky, and high energy with a ragin’ cajun sound.
One of the greatest highlights of the evening is Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters. It’s the biggest crowd all weekend, and the vibe is electric. Plant’s vocals take us all in a time machine back to Zeppelin. The sound is authentic, and the crowd experiences a euphoric musical high as ‘Going to California’ arrives.
Late night shows are next. Within the music hall an ‘Intergalactic Dance Party’ for Leftover Salmon is getting ready to blast off. An upcoming band from the U.K. called ‘The Melodic’ opens for them. Their set is an unexpected treat. The Melodic is folky with intricate, mystical sounding layers that build upon each other as the set progresses. It’s a wonderful and unique live experience.
Awaiting Leftover Salmon, the cosmic decorations in the Intergalactic hall create a super spacey vibe. There are neon paintings of stars and martians all around the black-lit room. As band members take the stage the galactic slam-grass fiesta begins. Festive Hawaiian costumes in the crowd only add to the mood.
Salmon proves to be one of the best jam shows of the festival. Always extremely high energy, the sound ranges from fast, traditional bluegrass to an almost Caribbean vibe, and then rock and roll, sometimes all in the same jam.
In neighboring areas, Pimps of Joytime and Orgone host a funky late night, and the North Mississippi Allstars bring the southern jams.
The music for the night ends, but of course more late night festivities roll on for some. There is a silent disco, and the yearly tradition of sunrise kickball. Some folks even combine efforts and rock the silent disco headphones on the kickball bases as they play.
The next day, Friday, brings a funky daytime set from Pimps of Joytime. The days at High Sierra are long and hot, but shady retreats and misting fans from those passing by keep everyone going until nightfall. There is so much music to be seen that it’s hard to catch it all, which is a problem that no one seems to mind having.
As dusk falls a second show from Leftover Salmon hits the Grandstand stage after North Mississippi Allstars. It’s a much different scene than the insanity of the previous evening’s show; the field is filled with people enjoying the grassy tunes and chill vibes.
The nighttime always brings an extra dose of weirdness, especially this evening with a headlining performance from Primus. Strange melodies and Les Claypool’s intense bass lines fill the air. Primus is a radical enough live experience on its own, and in combination with the festival atmosphere things really get interesting. Eerie rhythms echo in all directions; people are really getting into it.
The late nights for the evening included the improvisational jazz of the John Scofield Uberjam Band, the grassy Infamous Stringdusters with Fruition, and the more jamtronic Octopus Nebula and Gramatik.
The third day of High Sierra brought amazing music early in the morning with a set from American Jubilee led by guitarist Brian Lesh, son of Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh. The band has a rockin Americana sound and an indescribable live stage presence. During the set they did an amazing cover of Johnny Cash’s ‘Big River’. The crowd is filled with nothing but good vibes.
Another great act was the following workshop Elephant in the Room with Bonnie Paine and Daniel Rodriguez of the Colorado band Elephant Revival. Bonnie’s crystal clear, angelic vocals and musical-saw playing showcase her incredible talent. In combination with Dan’s soulful guitar strumming, this duo always impresses. Their humble behavior and genuine appreciation of their fans further adds to their success. During the workshop they answered crowd questions and told great anecdotal stories from their musical journeys, the best of which included how a man on mule mysteriously delivered a musical saw to Bonnie in a field.
Later in the afternoon there was a great day set from Papadosio. The band’s laptop was out of commission so the crowd was treated to some raw jams closer to their roots.
Just after, the John Scofield Uberjam Band played their second show of the fest. It was super groovy, and so on point musically. They brought some great energy as the night once again began to fall.
The Greyboy Allstars took the main stage next, and played another standout show of the weekend. High Sierra was gettin down with the epic funk explosion taking place on stage. Frontman and saxophonist Karl Denson absolutely killed it.
The ambient melodies of Thievery Corporation followed next. They have a definite electronic sound, but a Middle-Eastern influence as well, which makes for an interesting dynamic. The crowd danced with liquid flow, especially during the band’s most known song, ‘Lebanese Blonde’.
Around the corner The Infamous Stringdusters brought a completely different vibe; it was a good ol’ fashion bluegrass throw down. The Duster’s feed off the excitement of their crowd, making it an extremely interactive live show. At certain points bandmates come together as the jams peak, enabling them to take the music to even higher levels. This made for an epic conclusion to the evening.
Sunday Funday had arrived at last; only one more day left to boogy. Walking around the fairgrounds during the day brought an entertainment of it’s own. There were great community vibes and activities. Over at the arts meadow there were Acrobatic Yoga classes taking place, in which everyone partnered together and played. A colorful parade swirled through meadow. There were circus performers and a drum line called Wolf Thump. At the end of the parade the drum line performed; they were incredibly lively. Booths of surreal, colorful artwork from Mark Hensen, and jewelry made from pine cones were other creative installations of the festival. The festival food was also a treat. There was every type of cuisine from fresh Spanish Paella and Jamaican jerk to thirst-quenching Hemp Smoothies.
Another attraction on the grounds was Jam In The Van. Quite literally, it’s a van that travels around and records short jam sessions of bands inside, and attendees can listen and watch from the outside. This weekend they were treated to Leftover Salmon, American Jubilee, and The Melodic amidst others.
As the morning passed more music began. Lukas Nelson gave a great performance. Covers of crowd favorites like the Dead’s ‘Althea’ and Floyd’s ‘Money’ were high points of the set. Afterwards, Lee Fields & The Expressions brought some sweet and soulful r&b.
Steel Pulse took the Grandstand next for an amazing reggae performance. Everyone was groovin to the rhythms and feelin the music. Roots vibes always hit the spot at the end of a long musical weekend.
The final act, moe., ends up being one of the best shows of the festival. The entire set seemed like one continual jam, ranging from genre to genre. Moe. has a very hard rock sound, but also elements of funk, reggae, and even bluegrass. The band is incredibly synchronized and maintains the ability to grow the jams, keep them high energy, and interesting to follow. It’s definitely a show you need to experience live to appreciate fully. The crowd was gettin down like it was night one, burning all the remaining energy reserves for one final fiesta.
It had been one party of a musical weekend. High sierra definitely brings the good times, and the good vibes. We’ll see ya next time fest-heads.