Photos and Review by Michael Pegram
This must be heaven, tonight I crossed the line.
You must be the angel I thought I’d never find.
Was it you I heard singin’, while I was chasin’ dreams?
Driven by the wind, like the dust that blows around
And the rain fallin’ down…
Man, the West Coast Fare Thee Well shows did not disappoint. I was sad that I was not going to be in Chicago to bid one last grateful adieu to the band that has continued to influence my life for the better part of 26 years. I did take solace in knowing that I’d be joining my new family gathering the following weekend in Quincy for the 25th Annual High Sierra Music Festival. Because, “there ain’t no place I’d rather be…” Having this to look forward to somehow made the drive home less bittersweet.
As we began the ascent up the Feather River Canyon that Monday evening to volunteer for the Ambiance crew, a crew I have been a part of since 2003, I began to reflect on my past experiences at High Sierra Music Festival…how the music and camaraderie has helped shape who I am and what I believe; and, how the festival has grown with me as opposed to growing out of me, or me growing out of it. The weather was calling for 100 degree days. I have seen and dealt with many different temperatures in the Sierras and I know what 100 degrees feels like in dry heat!!! I had packed everything I needed – light fitting shirts, scarfs to soak in the cooler, and I even brought a fan to put inside my tent to provide white noise as well as a cool breeze for afternoon naps. I also brought great shoes as this year I also received a media pass to photograph and document the event for this here fine publication.
Well I never know (sure don’t know),
Never know, never know (sure don’t know).
I picked up my photo pass and bracelet at the festival entrance and we headed to the regular staff check in on the backside of the fairgrounds. But, a little unfortunate for us, at this hour all of the gates were locked. Trying not to panic, we circled back to the main entrance, happy to be let in the front gate to set up camp and get a good night sleep before diving into volunteer work the following morning. I set up camp in the same place I have camped for 12 or so years between the pig and swine barn nearest the Vaudeville stage. I took an evening stroll through the fairgrounds and as this was just Monday, the grounds were barren. There was two little tents in the mainstage area and that was it. The actual stage hadn’t even arrived to the festival grounds yet. After saying hellos and giving hugs to my High Sierra Ambiance family, I tucked into bed and had the most quiet sleep one can hope for in a festival environment.
Many years ago, the Plumas County Fairgrounds had planted a baby tree in the camp area for Ambiance crew. This tree was so small and fragile that we put a border around it to protect it from being damaged or tripped over. As the years passed, many of us that have camped and grown together have witnessed this tree grow sturdy and strong right along with us. Now this very tree we once looked over towers over us, and provides shade and protection from the sun.
But I digress… After fueling up for the day, I headed to the backstage area where several trailers had been delivered early that Tuesday morning and proceeded to decorate the backstage area for the bands and friends and family to enjoy. The project was the idea of artists Dolores and Rob White, and they easily conveyed their vision to create a nature scene where the beer garden would be under the cap of a giant mushroom. This was no easy feat but once completed, it provided an unusual and psychedelic alternative to your standard beer garden tent. The rest of the area was sprinkles with little mushroom sculptures alongside woodcarvings of animals and daisies. One of the greatest things about High Sierra is that it is unpretentious as hell. Unlike some larger festivals that spend a ton of money on decorations and effects, High Sierra relies on the spirit of its attendees that combine creative forces to make High Sierra the magical place that it is without being too over the top. A crew of nearly 50 people worked into the night getting the three outdoor stages areas decorated and begin to decorate the late night music halls. It was a beautitful night under the stars and we were blessed with a rare event. Venus and mars were within 1/3 of a degree of each other in the sky, the closest they have been in nearly 2,000 years. Some say it was the very same conjunction referred to as the Star of Bethelehem. Whatever it was, I knew it was a sign of good things to come for all of us at the festival. The photos I took cannot do it justice.
On Wednesday morning you can really feel festival in the air…the electricity and excitement is undeniable. After another solid nights sleep, from inside my tent I can sense the village come to life. Stages are being built, lighting rigs hoisted high. The vendor mall is thriving with tents and new merchandise displays. Food vendors are testing out their gear. This is the day of magical transformation, when the Plumas County Fairgrounds becomes something different, something bigger than itself, something unexplainable yet obvious A playground for the soul, so to speak. One of the perks of working for the festival is the early entrance and the avoidance of the insane land grab that takes place every Thursday morning. Instead, I opt to sleep offsite in a motel on Wednesday nights and casually join the festival in the morning after a hot shower and breakfast at the Thunder Café in downtown Quincy. This year was no different.
This must be heaven, ’cause here’s where the rainbow ends.
And at last it’s the real thing, or close enough to pretend.
When that wind blows, and the night starts to fall,
I can hear the silence call.
It’s a certain sort of sound
And the rain fallin’ down,
Rain fallin down…
Rain fallin down…
Rain fallin down…
I rolled into the Fairgrounds Thursday around lunchtime, and walked straight to the Vaudeville Stage to catch a bit of the Patchy Sanders set. Just like they say never miss a Sunday show, I say never miss a Thursday starter set at the Vaudeville Stage. So many acts that got their High Sierra start in that slot have catapulted themselves to mainstage status, and Patchy shows the same potential. Patchy’s great songwriting and harmonies slathered over pop laden Americana groove is guaranteed to win overt he hearts of fans young and old.
Next I checked out The Werks on the Big Meadow stage. A band hailing from Ohio, their sound reminded me of a mix between early Umphrey’s McGee, and The HA (The Human Assembly, a local SF Bay Area jamband creating their own form of what they call, Beach-Funk-Americana), with a sprinkle of Lettuce on top. The tight and lilting guitar solos take some time to get to the final destination and that journey is the prize with these guys. While The Werks currently tour the east coast, I hope to see more west coast appearances in the future. Those on the east may want to check out their own little festival, The WerkOut Music & Art Festival, happening August 6 – 8 in Thornville, Ohio.
I then headed to the mainstage where I planned to remain for the rest of the evening. The line up there was top notch the whole day through, starting with Fruition, the darlings of the west coast jamgrass scene. Next up, a California meets new Orleans style dance party ala the California Honeydrops, followed by the gospel blues virtuosos The Word, and ending with two nights of my favorite touring band, the String Cheese Incident. I’m glad I packed sunscreen and water because I wasn’t planning to go anywhere else for a while.
Fruition was the first band to grace the mainstage this year and they really set the bar for future festival performances. They played plenty of crowd favorites including “Blue Light” and “Mountain Annie” and quite a few I’d never heard before. The crowd was already decked out in full festival regalia and it was obvious they didn’t want to waste any time in getting the party started. And, Fruition provided what was musically necessary.
After strolling through the vendor booths and saying hello to old friends, I could hear soundcheck happening. It was the the sweet and sticky sounds of the California Honeydrops drawing my attention back to the stage. These guys really know how to work a crowd and they didn’t let the blazing sun faze them at all, nor did the grateful audience. But it was apparent the weather was about to change. It started as a hot but sticky day, as moisture clung to the air; but, now the weather report was predicting an 80% chance of evening showers. It was still too warm to know how accurate the reporters were this time. The Honeydrops worked their usual voodoo dance magic on the crowd and smiles were tossed about like confetti at the Macy’s parade. I tried to make it through the whole set but hunger kicked in and I headed over to the food court set up just near the yoga and kickball lawn. Plumas County invested in some permanent shade structures over the food court lines and you could tell that people appreciated the much needed addition to the fairgrounds. There were quite a few new vendors at the festival this year as well as a few missing that I had enjoyed in years past. Although tempted to try the burger with bacon jelly, I opted for a lamb gyro as the yogurt sounded refreshing on a warm summer day.
I heard some killer picking going on so I walked over to the Big Meadow stage to enjoy my lunch with the bluegrass powerhouse known as Cabinet. Jumping into the scene in 2006 and soon to be a household name for sure. They certainly know how to spin and weave that “americana quilt” of roots, bluegrass, and a little folk with the best of them.
After wrapping up my late lamb lunch with Cabinet, I headed back to the mainstage to catch the gospel stylings of The Word. This all star cast of characters, including Luther Dickinson, Robert Randolph, and John Medeski, was as good on stage as it sounds on paper. The Word formed as an instrumental gospel super group in the early 2000’s and Luther recruited a then unknown, Robert Randolph, to round out the sound with his impressive pedal steel skills. They reunited again again in 2007/2008 for a series of shows and have played sporadically ever since. As High Sierra was celebrating its 25th Anniversary, the producers of the event dug deep into the archives to secure and revive many acts to celebrate this milestone; and The Word was one of the acts bestowed upon us (thank you Rebecca, Roy, and Dave!!!). The Word did not disappoint. Their bluesy gospel sound quickly taking over the audience, everyone swaying their hips as the smell of sacred smoke filled the air. Their instrumentation was intense. Luther and John kept the backbeat steady, giving Robert room to move and groove; and groove we did. While Robert has a shy onstage demeanor, every once in a while his pursed lips would part in a smile as he looked in amazement at Medeski literally RIDING the keyboards. I’m pretty sure both feet were off the ground at the same time, and often. All the while Luther stood cool as a cucumber, keeping steady the beat and never wavering. When the band was done and the audience redeemed, it was time to recharge the batteries and get ready for the first of four sets of the String Cheese Incident.
I come to High Sierra every year no matter the lineup, but having the Cheese there for me was something special. As the Grateful Dead changed my life during adolescence, the String Cheese Incident was the catalyst for change in my adulthood. Most of the friendships I now hold dear to me were forged in the early days of SCI and many of my friends from that scene were in Quincy at High Sierra for their very first time. So, I had the best of both worlds in one place – my festival family as well as my Cheese family. I felt like a sweepstakes winner!!!
I had just enough time for a shower and a change of clothes then I headed to the photo pit in anticipation of photographing my favorite band for the first time. I was instantly greeted by familiar faces in the crowd and I just knew this was gong to be an Incident for the ages! The “‘Round the Wheel” opener was fitting as not only did this festival help SCI get its start back in 1996, but the SCI lore is steeped in stories about High Sierra. Just ask the band about the skinny dip pool party. Or ask Billy about his wife going into labor while he was at the Festival years back, promoting his young band. The energy kicked up with Kang’s first mando solo as the rest of the band followed suit, and off we went into that magical place. That place has no name but it keeps us coming back day after day, year after year, show after show. The highlight of the first set for me was when the band squeezed David Bowie’s “Fame” into the sweet spot…smack dab in the middle of the song “Sweet Spot”! Towards the end of the first set, the sky opened up and it began to rain over the festival grounds. This was real rain, not some 50,000 dollar gimmick!!! (We all know the joke, right?) At setbreak I put the camera in a secure dry place and found my friends in the back of the meadow and we got ready to throw down for the second set.
Holes in what’s left of my reason, holes in the knees of my blues.
Odds against me been increasin’, but I’ll pull through.
Never could read no road map
Now I don’t know what the weather might do,
Hear that witch wind whine, see that dog star shine,
I’ve got a feelin’ there’s no time to lose,
No time to lose!
The moisture in the air was building during the first set, but the rains came as the band regrouped and hit the stage with a powerful “Beautiful” to open the set. There was some great interplay between Michael and Billy, before Michael opted to trade out the mandolin for the fiddle, and the first great fiddle jam of the evening spilled off the stage and soaked the audience. It was smiles all around in my camp as we danced and laughed the night away. Call it a west coast debute, “Stop, Drop, and Roll” was a first for the west coast fans, unless you went to Electric Forest in June. Now, I’m convinced that their work a few years back in the studio with Jerry Harrison of the Talking Heads has transformed them into one of the truly great dance bands and this song is proof! Kyles vocals and synth sounds set the stage for a funky adventure chock full of deep bass and steady licks. Is this the band I fell in love with nearly 20 years ago? It sure is!!! After the dance party, the band reverted back to some moldy cheese to wrap up the set with, “Sand Dollar” and “Miss Brown’s Teahouse” with a nice little Sierra Jam in the middle. “Bollymunster” found itself in the encore spot and the Indian trance groove left the crowd ready to party all night long and into the morning.
I was tired from a few days of work and I decided to pass on Thursday night’s late night shows and try to get a full night rest. But, not before trekking around the campsites and marveling in the freekiness that is the High Sierra after midnight. I finally crawled into my tent at about 2 AM and instantly began to dream…
I awoke on Friday happy in knowing my girlfriend would be arriving in the afternoon to join me in the festivities. I walked over to the JavaGoGO booth for a mocha with a cacao boost. Let me tell you, this cacao stuff works wonders! It is so legendary in my tribe that we actually have a private Facebook page named after this boost where we plan all our events. We even have our own battle cry, “RAWCACAO!!!” While they won’t give us proportions, we do know it is made of mesquite, maca, and cacao. This is coffee on crack but the high is smooth, uplifting, and you don’t crash from it. I took my time in the morning, and from the comfort of a hammock, I watched the morning stretch at the yoga lawn. I took a shower, had an acai smoothie for breakfast then took out the schedule to see what acts I’d like to see for the day.
I started at the Vaudeville stage with the T-Sisters, a wonderfully talented trio of sisters hailing form Oakland, California. While relatively new on the scene, they seem to be playing just about everywhere these days. I can see why, as the three sisters approach folk and Americana with sultry and sassy vocals and seductive harmonies as well as proficiency with their instruments. My girlfriend’s daughter is inspired by them and wants to be a fiddle playing astronaut when she grows up.
Next up was one of the bands I was most excited to see this weekend, The Living Daylights. This trio of fine jazz musicians, including Jessica Laurie, Dale Fanning and Arnie Livingston, is a musical force to be reckoned with. Once an integral part of High Sierra, over the years they began to tour less and less, and about 10 years ago they stopped appearing on the High Sierra bill all together. As this was the anniversary year and they had begun to tour again, it was only natural for them to join. The trio came on stage to cheers and whistles of delight, the sound of old fans greeting old friends and showing their eagerness to be seduced for the next hour and a half by Jessica’s jazz sax licks while Dale and Arnie keep her from flying too high… They played some familiar songs from earlier albums like “Falling Down Laughing” and “Electric Rosary”. Momentum is building and they are releasing some of the pressure right here on stage!!! There was new material in there too, a sign that they do not plan to stop this train anytime soon.
I checked the time and realized the Santa Cruz based Banana Slug String Band was about the take the stage in the Family Village. Compromised of educators and hippes, the Slugs provide an entertaining and educational set of music that is catered for the little ones but sprinkled with enough adult humor to keep the big ones happy too. They have been at it for nearly 30 years, singing about the banana slug (of course), the mighty moose, germs, dirt, bugs, you name it. And best of all, they know how to get the kids involved, whether they invite kids onstage or the band joins the crowd, there is no separation between performer and audience. Toddlers danced with their daddies and mommies, and some even bigger kids formed their own dance routines in front of the stage. A good time was had by all. It was a hot day and seeking respite from the sun, I found myself in the late night music hall for the Slipping Daylights playshop. Basically this is The Slip (rock trio out of Boston) and Living Daylights (above referenced jazz trio from Seattle) all on stage together, creating improvised rock-jazz magic. Once again, this was a blast from the past as Living Daylights has combined forces before with The Slip along with Hanuman and Tough Mama (referring to Living Hanumama at High Sierra in 2001), but that legendary show can take up a few pages on its own. I was glad to see Dr. Bob recording at all the Living Daylight projects as each performance is absolutely unique unto itself. This lineup gave us two drummers, two bass players, guitar, keys and sax. It was really great to hear Brad Barr’s sonic soundscapes from his guitar just glide so effortlessly over and around Jessica’s saxaphone squonk. This was the most experimental and raw music I saw all weekend long. I was mesmerized by the patience and respect each musician had for one another, in order for each to be clearly heard, as well as be able to express themselves as individuals. As a whole, I was blown away when Brad picked up his foot pedal and used that to play his guitar… oh that subtle feedback.. and watching the dual drummers, Dale and Andrew, egg each other on was a delight. It doesn’t get much better than this.
My girlfriend arrived towards the end of the set and I greeted her at the gate. We set her up in camp just in time for dinner before the final night of the String Cheese incident. Happy to be together and pumped for a night out with one of our favorite bands, we put on our dancing shoes and headed to the grandstand stage for round two!
The photo pit was full of FestivALL ticketholders as well as friends and family of the band. Instantly I felt right at home with my people. There was an electricity in the air that night. Perhaps it was simply that Friday night vibe but you just knew you were in for a treat. The dance vortex began with the few notes of the opener, “Search”, and the crowd began to swing and sway in unison; a puddle of arms and legs, bodies seemingly intertwined yet so free….yes, another Incident had begun. I had to focus on the job at hand and take photos but the urge to dance was unstoppable! I bebopped my way to the center and snapped off as many photos as I could in between bouts of ecstatic ecstasy through dance…but I managed to get the job done. The Cheese dusted off a few oldies for us, the highlight for me being the rarely heard “Dudley’s Kitchen” in the middle of the first set. Billy really got going for this one and the band had a good time playing off his musical antics. “45th of November” followed and while I was never really a fan before, this version really spoke to me. Such a great ballad and Kang’s mandolin realy soared through the jams. The drumming was solid and driving, pushing the song forward with precision and urgency; a stunning display of how well The Cheese is playing together these days.
The show really took off during the second set where every song seemed to grab your shirt collar and shake you back and forth, commanding you to dance. The “Lands End” and “Glory Chords” jam was just beautiful, a painting of sound across the canvas of the mountains and our minds, which at this point were blown wide open. As they ventured out of some unchartered territory, the band invited Jennifer Hartswick of the Trey Anastasio Band to join them for a rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)”. Cheers erupted as the crowd began to dance like their lives depended on it. I can’t say anything else but that it was just plain fun. You could see the good time they were all having together, and when the song was over, I didn’t want to see her go. Billy then asked everyone to turn around to view the amazing [nearly] full moon that was rising behind the meadow and he called for a group “hoot!” to celebrate the moon in all her splendor. They continued to keep us dancing till the end, giving us an amazing “Rivertrance”, which is perhaps the most psychedelic fiddle tune ever explored. All in all, The Cheese really delivered the goods over their two-day stay, with four solid sets of fine dance music.
A big fan of everything the Barr Brothers lay their musical hands on, I did skip over to the Big Meadow stage to catch the end of their set. I had to miss the last few songs of The Cheese but I’m happy to have caught the Barr Brothers’ rendition of “Shine on you Crazy Diamond.” There is something about hearing a Pink Floyd song played on the harp that just tickles me. So good.
We wrapped up the night with a stop by the Troubadour sessions where singer songwriter symposium of sorts was taking place with the likes of Grahame Lesh of Midnight North and Bo Carper of New Monsoon, both SF Bay Area bands. Well, wrapping it up was not happening because when we got back to our campsite, it was filled with people… a movie screen was hung from an RV and a bunch of String Cheese family and band were seated around, all watching a documentary about the String Cheese’s early days and rise in the jamband scene. The movie was nostalgic to the core and it was great actually seeing myself briefly in the film.
I woke up feeling a tad sore on Saturday. My feet and back were tired from a few days of labor as well as lugging my camera gear around, so we went to see about getting a massage at the main stage. We signed up for a massage the following morning and just knowing relief was close at hand, it made it easier to play through the day and Saturday was no slouch when it came to the schedule. I on the other hand decided to take it easy, and after my morning boost (RAWCACAO!!!) I headed over to the kids stage where Mikey Henderson was teaching youngins of all ages how to play the ukulele. That is what I love about this festival; there is something fun for everyone no matter how big or small. I slipped on over to catch some more of the Living Daylights… it was such a treat to have them there this year, I wanted to take full advantage. It was obvious by the crowd that people were hungry for more and Jessica and the gang played like it was their last gig on earth… with reckless abandon! I worked up quite a sweat juggling between photographs and dancing my ass off. Arne and Dale were having the best time keeping the beat. Every time they would look at each other they would just grin. It think they were having more fun than the throngs of people dancing in the afternoon sun!
It was now time to seek some shade and rest up for the evening, and where better to rest than with the Soul Sisters of High Sierra play shop in the air conditioned High Sierra Music Hall. This play shop featured the many women vocalists at High Sierra, including Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds, Rachel Price and Bridget Kearney from Lake Street Dive, Nicki Bluhm of Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers and The T Sisters, who I was once again pleased to hear a few songs featuring them – those ladies sure got around!
On our way back to camp we stumbled upon ALO (aka Animal Liberation Orchestra) playing for a packed crowd in the Family Village. Of course we had to stop in to check out some very heartfelt and tender songs for kids. And, like The Slugs, the adults were just as entertained by double entendres and other silly stage antics. Lebo (as we call him, but he might also go by Dan Lebowitz) provided some tasty licks while Dave Brogan and Steve Adams provided the glue and Mr. Zach Gill? What can I say? He was in rare form… as usual.
Then, I got sucked into the vortex of yet another stellar and fun High Sierra Parade, this one complete with a full marching band! There were costumed revelers everywhere and it was difficult to make the distinction between parade participant and patron. The lines had been erased and people danced ecstatically together, the crowd parting at one point for a couple wearing inflatable Sumo costumes. Amid the parade hooplah, I heard the call of dinner beckon and it was off to the food court to try the burger with bacon jelly. Yes. Bacon jelly. With this offering, the paella, and the tasty organic treats, the food vendors have really upped their game this year!
After the scrumptious dinner I headed back to camp to recharge for the evenings main event, Umphrey’s McGee on the Mainstage. Man, what a show this was!!! Right out of the gates, you could tell the boys were serious about rocking the freak outta us! Their set opener, “Similar Skin” provided us with an anchor, but only for that anchor to be removed as the band chugged into “Hurt Bird Bath”, a swath of metal riffs interlaced with crisp guitar licks and vocals that seem to spin around in your head. But the real treat was the nearly 25 minute “Bridgeless> Hajimemashite> Glory> Hajimemashite> Bridgeless” in the middle of the set. While “Bridgeless” showcases their technical prowess, “Hajimemashite> Glory> Hajimemashite” shows that they can slow it down, open it up to breathe a bit like fine wine. Another set highlight was the “Walking on the Moon” Police cover to help finish up the set.
I ran over to the Vaudeville stage to catch perhaps my most anticipated show of the festival, Surprise Me Mr. Davis. SMMD is comprised of The Slip and the mayor of High Sierra, Nathan Moore, with keyboardist Marco Benevento joining them in 2009. According to Moore’s website, SMMD formed in 2002…. “Nathan [then] visits The Slip in Boston and proceeded to get snowed in with them in the ‘biggest blizzard since ’78.’ This lead to massive amounts of playing around with their new home studio gear. By the end of the week they decided to give their experiments to Frogville Records as an anonymous release called only “Surprise Me Mr. Davis.” It is a rare and wonderful treat to catch these guys in action. As they all have their own bands and do not have time to rehearse, their sound is as raw as it gets and it works for this breed of straight up rock and roll. I’m still looking for tapes of this event just for proof that it really was as good as it felt at the time!!! Higlights included but are not limited to “Sissyfus”, “19th Nervous Breakdown” and hearing Nathan Moore tell stories about his grandfather Claude and his hand me down suit. Nathan always spins a good yarn that touches you in hard to reach places.
Brilliant. That is the only word to describe beginning your festival Sunday with an early morning shower and massage at the mainstage. The last festival day can be bittersweet. While being exhausted from three long days of dancing and not so long nights of sleeping on an unfamiliar bed can make you harken for home, it is hard to believe that there is only one final day left to do all the things you have procrastinated doing until now. I had camps to visit, promised margaritas to drink, and I had yet to spend money supporting the merch vendors. Ah, but I spent most of my day just hanging at friend’s campsites but I did mange to see the whole Nathan Moore’s solo set at the Vaudeville Tent. Nathan has a way of captivating and hypnotizing his audience with his storytelling and songs. The fans were in a particularly mischievous mood as they passed out hundreds of kazoos to be played in unison, giving a secret signal from behind the stage. When Nathan pulled out his kazoo to jam, he was answered by the sounds of a hundred kazoos – and of course, hilarity ensued! He ran through renditions of some of my favorite oldies like “So Close to Dreams” and “I Hate Love” which, despite the name, just warms my heart.
I then headed to the Mainstage to see Nahko and Medicine for the People. His positive message roots rock reminded me of Michael Franti and Spearhead, with a warm embrace of Bob Marley in the positive resolution of things. They had the crowd hopping and bopping through the set as feel good music and lyrics poured off the stage. At one point they brought out a little girl who was fighting cancer and sang “Black as Night”. “…I believe in the good things coming, coming, coming….” It was the most endearing moment ever to grace a stage at High Sierra. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Well it’s been heaven, even rainbows will end.
Now my sails are fillin’, the wind so willin’
And I’m good as gone again.
I know many of us wouldn’t be who we are today nor would be at this festival if it weren’t for the music of the Grateful Dead. While we were playing in our own wonderland here in Quincy, the Grateful Dead were reunited for their Fare Thee Well, set to be their “final” shows together, celebrating and wrapping up 50 years of musical history. It was only fitting that Joe Russo’s Almost Dead was set to close up the main stage for 2015. While a fan of many post Grateful Dead projects, often times they try a little too hard to replicate the sound of the Grateful Dead. Not this outfit. Sure, they played the songs and all their parts and transitions but it was played in a fresh, new style. The bass stayed in the back, assisting Joe on the drums to keep a steady rock beat. The leads still soared, although with a lot more punch on the front end of the notes and right on time, not that barely noticeable delay that defined Mr. Garcia’s style. They were afraid of nothing, teasing us with “Estimated Prophet”, Henly’s “Boys Of Summer” and even an Allmanesque jam in the middle of a hard rocking “Throwing Stones”. Later in the set we got a beautifully played “Terrapin” jam in the middle of “The Wheel> Saint of Circumstance”, one of my favorite Bobby tunes (can you guess by the lyrics scattered throughout?). But the real treat came on the form of “Morning Dew”. A true passion play, it was subtle, painful, dark, and it played upon my emotions. Tired. So tired. When the vocals subdued and the song took flight, it was apparent we were in for something special. Tears began to flow, friends hugged and laughed and cried…we all said our own goodbyes and fare the wells to the greatest band in rock and roll history…and JRAD provided the safest arena for us all to collectively let go.
I’m still walkin’, so I’m sure that I can dance
Just a saint of circumstance, just a tiger in a trance,
And the rain fallin down.
I walked back to camp with the sounds of the “Mighty Quinn” encore keeping one foot in front of the other. I wanted more than anything to snuggle up one last time with my honey and breathe in the mountain air before heading back to the real world in the morning. As I lay in my tent so close to dreams, affirmation came once again… I will always have this home in the hills of California. Thank you High Sierra Music Festival. I love you.
Visit High Sierra Music Festival website! http://highsierramusic.com