High Sierra Music Festival, One of the Best of the Best! | JamBandsOnline.com

High Sierra Music Festival, One of the Best of the Best!

Review by Brett Thomas
Photos by Gary Gordon
Quincy, CA is once again the site of the High Sierra Music festival.  Deep in The High Sierra Mountains, Quincy has a great scenic drive coming from Marysville North on highway 70.  Passing over the North Fork Feather River on multiple bridges, the views are incredible and inspiring for a swim (but maybe that should come after the festival).
Arriving in Quincy at the Plumas County Fairgrounds, I throw all my stuff for camping down at my site and head out for the first sounds of the festival.
There are 3 major stages going on during the day.  The Grandstand is the main stage, Big meadow is the 2nd stage, and last, but definitely not least, the Vaudeville tent.  All stages go till about 11:30 pm except for the Vaudeville tent which closes out around 1:30 in the morning.  There are also late night shows at 2 other venues on site; The High Sierra Music Hall and the Funk N Jam House both starting with an opener around 11:45PM and the headliner starting around 1:45am and going till they feel like quitting, which proved to be between 4:30 and 5:30 am.  The late night shows are separate purchases from the festival’s main ticket, so unfortunately, for all you night owls, you have to buy some extra tickets, but make sure to buy early as these shows sell out.

The festival has many activities happening over the four days.  Some activities include yoga, pilates, meditation, arts and crafts, parades, fire performances, Silent Disco, Zumba and other types of dancing. There is plenty of stuff for the kids at the family stage, the family lawn and a family camping area to keep things quiet when needed.  Lots of Non-Profits at the fest were promoting music education, doing food donations, promoting sustainability, registering voters, preserving land and promoting health and drug free environments.  The food court has plenty of food for the munchies like Gyros, Pizza, Burritos, Coffee, and many other choices to fulfill your hunger.

With campsites scattered all over the festival, it’s like walking through an endless tent city, but finally, after mingling with friends, I made my way to the grandstand for ALO.  This is the ninth time in eleven years that ALO has played this festival, so you could say ALO have become High Sierra regulars. The Grandstand set was filled with ALO favorites and a few covers as well ending with  Dire Strait’s “Money for Nothing.”

Grammy Nominated Matisyahu who emerged on the scene after hitting the billboards with “King Without a Crown” about 6 years ago followed ALO on the Grandstand stage.  He performs reggae style rhythms with hints of dancehall.

When Matisyahu, a Hasidic Jew, emerged on the scene, he wore his black suit or dark-colored clothing, a black hat and a yarmulke underneath and of course his beard extending out.  Now with his hair cut short and his beard gone, what does that mean for his values and beliefs?  Have they changed?  At one point he seemed to slow down a dancehall song and drop rhymes over it which had quite a different feel from some of the other songs…nice!  Matisyahu and his tight band surely pleased the reggae fans at the festival as well.

Over at the Vaudeville tent were The New Orleans Suspects who were throwing down the N’awlins Funk till about 1:30am.  The New Orleans Suspects are Mean Willie Green from the Neville Brothers on drums, Reggie Scanlan from The Radiators on bass, Jake Eckert from The Dirty Dozen Brass Band on guitar, Jeff Watkins of James Brown fame and Joss Stone’s band on Sax and CR Gruver on piano and they all come together to form this all-star band.  Laying down the tasty grooves of rock laced with some funk rhythms, these guys sounded great and were pumping up the crowd.

Time to walk it off a bit and head on down the road toward the Late Night Shows.  Opening for Galactic in the Funk N Jam House venue, was The Motet.  They have been performing “Funk is Dead”, which are funk versions of Grateful Dead songs.  Hearing “Casey Jones” with a funk rhythm backing, gave it a whole new feeling than just listening to someone cover the Grateful Dead.  It was a great set ending off with the 3 singers doing an a cappella song that was just amazing while the crowd all joined in sing-a-long.

Friday started out for me with Greensky Bluegrass on the Grandstand.  The High Sierra bluegrass fans love these guys.

There was lots of great picking and harmonizing with classic bluegrass sounds.  After they finished their set, they informed the crowd of a meet and greet where they said they’ll be “shaking hands and kissing babies!”

I then headed to the Vaudeville tent for Garage A Trois as I needed my fix of craziness.  All members dressed with red-eyed, moustached smiley faced tee shirts. They belted out their spacey, jazzy jams with Stanton Moore on Drums, Mike Dillon on Percussion, Marco Benevento on keys, and Skerik on Saxophone.  This 4 piece makes advances into uncharted jam territory and today was no different.

Back to the Grandstand for some Toots and The Maytals as he gave us his Irie meditation and great reggae vibes.  Toots came out and gave fist bumps to the lucky few up at the front . Fist bump and say RESPECT! Toots, as usual, was awesome as the crowd reveled in the rasta beats.

As I headed back to the camp area to prepare for dinner.  I ran into a crowd of people towards the Big Meadow Stage.  Suddenly I’m in the middle of a parade with stilt walkers, 3 person costumes, drummers, and other percussionists.  If I didn’t already know where I was at, I could swear I was surrounded by circus people in the middle of a carnival. If I can just get by this jubilant mayhem without joining in on a cow bell, I would grab some food and get off my feet for a bit.

After refueling it was time to get back out there.  I wandered around some, met up with some old and new friends and found myself back at the Grandstand for Sound Tribe Sector 9.  It was dark now and the stage has been totally made over in video screens in a triangular shape going over the band.  Also there was a rectangular screen waist-high covering them.  Except for their heads and torsos, you couldn’t see below that unless you were on the side of the stage.

The lighting show was the best of the festival by far.  Time Lapse videos played in the background, along with lights, making patterns as the band jammed out into electronica heaven. Watching little plants grow to bigger plants and so forth in seconds, I thought I made it into some type of flight simulator.  Hats off to the lighting guy…amazing!

The Late night shows were next starting with Surprise Me Mr. Davis opening for ALO.  Nathan Moore heads this band along with Marco Benevento on keys, and the Slip boys. Guitar rock, with a little pop and folky songwriter sounds,  Surprise Me Mr Davis pleased the crowds with their easy-going jams.

Across the street Papadosio was hitting the crowd with heavy electronic organic sounds opening up for Lotus.  Hailing from the Asheville, NC area, this band has hit the electronic festival scene more and more these days and is a perfect mate with Lotus who has a similar sound at times.

I then headed back across the street to see if ALO had started.  After an hour or so of jamming, they stopped and something odd seemed to be happening; they came out with a 12 inch record and held it up in the air and then started it on the record player.  Once the music started, you could tell it was the “Fly like an Eagle” album from Steve Miller Band.  ALO then started playing their 1st song with the record playing and then the record faded out and the band then played on.

Having different people sit in during the set, it was great fun to watch the crowd sing the old Steve Miller songs we all know.  Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ indeed.

I started my Saturday preparing for our camp party.  I was camping at Camp Happiness, which is deep in the shady groove camping site.  Every year the Camp puts on a party starting at 4:20PM and each year it has a different band performing.  Using generators for power, we set up a mixing board and speakers for the Nibblers to set up their equipment.  As the band set up, Gina,the camp coordinator, was mixing up the large Igloo coolers with yummie free cocktails for the party goers, “U bring a cup we fill it up.”  A keg wasn’t too far away from the cocktail area for all of the suds lovers.  Gina’s brother, Crab Cake Rob, was making, u guessed it, crab cakes.  As others throughout the camp ran around preparing, people started to show up.  We served and ate gumbo, crawfish monica, bacon wrapped dates, and many other treats.

A couple hundred people showed up for the free goodies and of course the Nibblers.  The Nibblers, a 7 piece funk and soul band from California, came to get down.  They rocked our party for at least 2 hours.  Joining in was Rando Mabiladeze on vocals and he was layin’ down some amazing rapping over their heavy horned funk grooves and it just added that much more to an already great sound. Definitely keep your ears open for The Nibblers coming your way, as they WILL make you dance.

Next up, after the party, was the artist workshop called Guitarmageddon celebrating the Talking Heads.  Simon Kurth Formerly of Poor Man’s Whiskey and now with his new band Huckle was leading this workshop, joined by Dan Lebowitz of ALO, Josh Clark of Tea Leaf Green, and many others. The group was rocking out some of my favorite Talking Heads songs.  Simon telling the crowd “Since it’s a hot day, you all should like this.” and then the band started playing “Take Me To The River.”  Everyone was loving it and it made me once again think of a dip in that river.

After Guitarmageddon, I headed to see Skerik’s Bandalabra.  This 4 piece has a free-flowing jazz and jam sound that some how seems different from Skerik’s other projects.  The bass and drums seemed to be more funk based or had more flow than some of his other projects.  Keep an eye out. I think you’ll hear some great sounds coming from these guys.

I then headed back to the Music hall to catch another workshop.  This was The Ramble Gramble: A Tribute to Levon Helm.  Members of ALO, Surprise Me Mr Davis, and Brokedown in Bakersfield all put down a great tribute to the Late Levon Helm.  Steve Adams of ALO on bass assembled this group with 2 drummers multiple guitarists and 2 keyboard players.  For any lovers of Levon Helm or The Band, this was the place to be.

I then headed to the Grandstand to catch the last of Ryan Bingham.  He was raging some slide guitar with nasty delta sounds.  Hailing out of Texas Bingham has a blues background with singer songwriter soul and grit.  Very interesting since he finished his set with an acoustic solo version of “This Land Is Your Land.”

I headed back to Big Meadow for Red Barat.  This is a great 9 Piece brass band hailing from Brooklyn who have a lot of influences including Indian Bhangra rhythms, jazz, and funk.  This is not your normal brass band from New Orleans doing covers of well-known songs brass band style.  These guys have a sound all of their own.  If you like brass bands, you will love these guys.

I managed to catch a few songs of Kids These Days. With a wide range of influences and sounds such as rap, blues, rock and ambient, this group from Chicago is certainly unique with their sound.  With a female singer and a few horn players, the band is pushing their sound further and further.  No rest for the weary.

Now its off to the Grandstand to see The Devil Makes Three.  This Trio from Santa Cruz, CA has been blowing up in Northern California.  They have a big rockabilly feeling with hints of ragtime, blues, country and folk.  Definitely a crowd pleaser as everyone yelled “one more song” when their set time was up.  With a bit of a punk sound as well, The Devil Makes Three will certainly be in this scene for many years to come, and from the sounds of it, they will be back at High Sierra soon.

After a quick food break, I headed back to the Grandstand where most of the entire festival was at Ben Harper, the headliner of the festival was giving the crowd his artful sounds of soulful blues and rock. The 2 time Grammy award winner pleased the crowd with his roots music for a 2 hour set.  On the way back to my camp I had to stop by Big Gigantic at the Big Meadow stage. This 2 person band throws down heavy electronic sounds laced with Dub-Step bass and great saxophone solos overtop.  The band has beats and rhythms from a computer as Dominic Lalli jams on sax and his partner in crime Jeremy Salken bangs on the drums raging the crowds with their music.  I was in the photo pit looking back at the railing shaking back and forth from people holding on to it while dancing.  Front row center behind the railing were a handful of girls that felt the need to disrobe during the show, hmmm, the band must be doing something right when you got naked girls ragin’ in  the front row.  At one point I thought the railing was going to come down.  Good job Big Gigantic!  And good job High Sierra crew for keeping it together and doing a great job of handling all the wildness that can happen at a music festival.

I started late night with March Fourth Marching Band opening for The Royal Family Ball, which is comprised of Soul Live and Lettuce.  They are a large band of many drummers and horn players and dazzled the crowds with their over the top performances. All dressed up with a circus or carnival theme outfits and with beats representing a large drum circle, the band parades all over the place even crowd surfing.  This can be interesting especially when the guy crowd surfing is on stilts..  March Fourth is a large spectacle of a show and pure entertainment,

Next was Railroad Earth across the street at the Music Hall.  Jamming out their soulful bluegrass,  all the night owls soaked it in and danced on.  As I was exhausted. I turned in early for the night, which means I missed most of the Royal Family Ball.  Not to worry as I caught Lettuce and many other bands the following day.

Lettuce was at Big Meadow stage for their Sunday set.  Playing songs from their newly released album FLY as well as the older favorites, Lettuce gave the funk to the people.  Some tunes even have a go-go beat, and I am not talking about the 70s dancers, I am talking about the style of music that you only hear in the Washington DC or Baltimore areas.  With a cow bell sounded rhythm, Adam Deitch laid down the “go-go” beat on drums leading the band on some funk jams with great dynamics ranging from soft to outer space.

Other sets worth mentioning: Grupo Fantasma, a large 9 piece band, delivered Latin rhythms like Mambo and funky songs to the crowd at the grandstand.  I did what little salsa style dancing I know and we all kicked up dust into a great cloud.  I met up with friends soon after at Rubblebucket.  Electronic sounds with harmonizing, the 7 piece band had sounds of pop and ambient backgrounds.  Members of March Fourth joined in with the band and did more crowd surfing; what ever you do “Don’t drop him”.  Around 10pm my feet were done and I had to call it a wrap.

Packing up tents and cars the next day everybody had smiles that were a little less bright.  Saying goodbyes, I packed it up and headed off for that swim at the North Feather Fork River.  It was very refreshing, but not as refreshing as it will be to see High Sierra’s line up for 2013.  Big thanks to High Sierra crew for all the hospitality.  See you next year!

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