Annual Santa Cruz Mountain Sol Fest – Where the Music is as Hot as the Sun |

Annual Santa Cruz Mountain Sol Fest – Where the Music is as Hot as the Sun

October 5, 2019

Review and Photos by Linda Tulett


This year’s annual Santa Cruz Mountain Sol Festival brought some pretty great bands over the three-day long jam scene in the mountains.

While I was unable to make it up for Friday (ugh, other commitments), the line-up for Saturday and Sunday was plenty good. We were offered up bands from around the state and country, some well known and some soon to be more. The crowd arrived early and stayed late, taking in every note from both stages. 

Here’s a little rundown of the bands that played reggae, bluegrass, psychedelic disco dance jam, and all out jam bands we love and can’t get enough of. 

Saturday started out with a band out of Asheville, NC, Toubab Krewe, whose music is described as, “free, questing, overflowing with immediate, tangible life.” With sounds of rock, jam mixed with African traditions, international folk strains and more, I was sad to have missed them, and will certainly keep my ears open for them in the future.

When I made it through the gates, into the open air of the meadow, The Mighty Diamonds were on stage, tearing it up and throwing down some ooey gooey reggae. I recognized a handful of songs, like “Reggae Street,” I remember cranking through my speakers in colllege. Around for decades, they can still put out the strong vocals and deep grooves I remember. Towards the end of their set, they tossed in a little tribute to Bob Marley with, “Keep on Movin,” before waving goodbye. They sure had the early crowd up dancing and sweating in the full sun of their music. 

The Mighty Diamonds

As The Mighty Diamonds were finishing up, I headed down to the main stage to see Dispatch. I’ve never seen them before, but heard of their happy sound through whispers in a crowd years before. By the time I’d made my way from the other stage, the crowd had already gathered thick. I moved up as far as the crowd’s energy would allow, so I could get some shots and catch their show close up. Man, did they put out such a feel good vibe, they were all smiles and fully taking it all in. The joy sure flowed from the stage to the crowd, who ate up every note. It is truly honest music, and the band has directed this happy energy towards things they and their fans believe in – humanity and the collective consciousness. Below is their set list, thanks to our friends at 

Dispatch, during “Uncle John’s Band”

Time Served, Only the Wild Ones, Be Gone, Windylike, Beto>In the Air Tonight>Beto, Bang Bang, Bats in the Belfry (that one was for my cat Simon, who is currently under quarantine for catching one), Skin the Rabbit, The General, Letter to Lady J, Uncle John’s Band (acoustic) and Flying Horses.

After sweating it up at Dispatch, I headed back down the meadow to catch Tourkaz. Dressed in brightly colored toss backs to the 70’s, they really got the place raging; elbows flying and knees jumping, the energy was, well, commanding you to dance. Don’t ask me what songs they played, because I’m not sure I would know any, but I sure had a good time capturing their fun vibe and making my way through the happy dance wave on the lawn. Cranking out funk, rock and R&B, they brought a rainbow of sound and color to the day! Hailing from Brooklyn, strong guitar, wild horns, spirited grooves and balanced vocals and harmonies, their energetic fun was just what the afternoon called for. 


Saturday night’s headliner and deadhead favorite, Melvin Seals and JGB, with John Kadlecik on guitar. I was also super giddy to see they’d asked Sunshine Becker to bring the backing vocals, along with the vivacious Lady Chi, one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s funk and soul goddesses. Good lordy the two of them on stage amped up the energy even higher. We love Melvin, our powerful presence on stage, he looks out with such a peaceful smile at the audience, especially connecting with the smiling faces in front of him. Holding down the blues and funk, Melvin directs the sound, mixing up blues, funk, jazz, rock and some gospel to wrap you up in. The special moment for me was when Sunshine played the flute during Scarlet Begonias. I used to play so I’m very attuned to when I see that instrument on stage. It made me yearn to play again; but, in that moment, I absorbed her playing which was accompanied by her angelic cries and moans, making me feel like I was floating on the breeze. So good. 

Melvin Seals and JGB

How Sweet it Is, Cats Under the Stars, Struggling Man, After Midnight, Eleanor Rigby, After Midnight, Catfish John, Cumberland Blues, Scarlet Begonias (with Sunshine on flute and hypnotic vocals), Rubin and Cherise, Gomorrah, Run for the Roses, My Sisters and Brothers, Mighty High, Shining Star

Sunday started out with Painted Mandolin, local to Santa Cruz and loyal to the acoustic music of Jerry Garcia Band and the ‘Reckoning’ days of the Grateful Dead, they play tribute to the psychedelic era jam scene. The band includes members of other local jam bands, such as The China Cats, Spirit of ’76, Shady Groove, Slugs N’ Roses, and the Banana Slug String Band. So, just in case you didn’t know, Santa Cruz is known for these large yellow banana slugs. It’s even the school mascot….

While, unfortunately I had to skip that opener, I was able to catch almost all of the next band, Achilles Wheel. I’ve had a chance to see these guys before, a few years back, in a bar in Placerville, while celebrating my friend’s birthday. He and the folks out that way have big love for these guys so I really wanted to get to hear them again. Based in roots, psychedelic rock, folk and even grass, they played hard and got the morning crowd willing to get into the sun, to get closer to the stage, to grab onto their sound and let it move them into dance. OK, in reading a bit more about them on their site, they have a fan-group that goes out once a month and cleans up garbage and other debris along the roads in Nevada City, their hometown, which can get volunteers free tickets to their shows. Right on. 

Achilles Wheel

As the day progressed, the crowd grew larger and larger. Sunday’s draw surely related to the closer that night, who also joined the next band, the Golden Gate Wingmen, but if just for one long and jammy tune. Led by John Kadlecik, Jeff Chimenti, Reed Mathis, and Jay Lane, this band certainly keeps the spirit of the ’60s and ’70s alive, covering the likes of the Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia Band, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, and the Beatles. They might even do a song from John’s days with Hairball Willie, a band he was in prior to Dark Star Orchestra. Don’t count out Reed Mathis either, as he can rip off a lead guitar solo on his bass, and sing ever so sweetly on tunes like Dylan’s, “Just Like a Woman,” or his own, “The Ladder.” Noticing an extra mic up there, there was a chatter in the crowd about who that was for. The two fellas I was hanging with were at Bob’s show the night before and instantly recognized the guitar getting tuned up. As I got to my tippy-toes, I could see the recognizable guitar strap and knew I needed to stay planted for the whole set. 

Bob Weir sits in with the Golden Gate Wingmen

Cleaning Windows, Lazy River Road, Just Like a Woman, I’ve Seen Love, The Ladder, Help on the Way>Slipknot> Nobody Told Me, Lady with a Fan*>Terrapin Station* (* w/Bob Weir).

As the crowd in front of the stage remained thick and rooted, I had to quickly make my way down to the other stage to catch just a bit of bluegrass, with Billy Strings, before getting back to try to hold a decent ground for the festival closer, Bob Weir and the Wolf Brothers. Kind of a bummer there is no safe space for photographers, no pit in front to be able to get some good shots, even if for the typical three songs. It makes it hard to be able to move about to both stages without that thought in the back of your head, “If I leave this good spot to go to the other stage, I’ll never get it back…….” Maybe next year they’ll consider the barricaded area in front of the stage the area for media. It is typically big enough, and always just empty, so….

Billy Strings had his own gathering packed in front of the stage, to catch his set filled with bold bluegrass, distinctive American roots, and big moments of psychedelic jamminess. (I hear he started his career with a Metal band?) He plays with an intensity that reflects both his metal days and his family influenced bluegrass. Its quite a musical influence he’s got, which is why his sound is so distinctively him. Gonna have to grab up his new release, so I can get to know this guy a bit more than the few songs I caught that day. 

Billy Strings

Zipping my way back to the other stage, yup, the crowd was a bit thicker than it was a few minutes earlier. I got as close as the land-grabbing crowd would allow. You know, I can’t help but notice the number of deaf hippies at this particular stage at the festival. OK, selective hearing hippies. I must call people out. So, there was a section in front of the main stage that had hay bales all around, making it clear that was the dance floor. Signs were posted reflecting, “No chairs,” and “No blankets.” Pretty clear to those of us who can read. So, what did they do? Bring in blankets anyway and try to land-grab so no one else can get close. So, the security comes in to kindly tell them that they can’t have blankets down, point to the signs showing them that it is a dance area only, please pick up your stuff. He was being really nice about it, but what did they all do? Completely ignore him. He asks again, this time, bending down and making clear exactly who he was talking to. But, they still ignore him. He gets another security guard to help, still ignore. Then, the festival staff have to come out and do the same. Still get ignored!!! I’m just flabbergasted. Finally, they literally start tapping people on the shoulder and pulling up blankets under them. Seriously folks, what the…… I’ve never seen so many people just pretend the rules don’t apply to them, ignore requests, and just plain not give a crap about anybody but themselves. My Mother taught me better than that. 

Billy Strings on the Sol Stage

Anyway, enough about the party poopers, and back to the music, THE reason to go to a music festival, lest not forget. Closing out the weekend was Mr. Bob Weir and his Wolf Brothers, Jay Lane (drums) and Don Was (bass). Bob’s distinctive guitar rhythm paired with Jay and Don driving more bass and beat gives this band a deep warmth to each song that drives the music. Their setlist is usually stacked with plenty of Grateful Dead, some of Bob’s own tunes from various years, and possibly a little Bob Dylan sprinkled on top. I was hoping he’d toss in one or two from his recent, “Blue Mountain,” but, alas, not to be. Bob had joined the Golden Gate Wingmen earlier that day, sitting directly in the sun’s path and feeling the heat. For his set, he delayed his start by just about 20 minutes…. possibly to wait for the sun to fade a tad so he could confidently grip the guitar he had so much trouble with earlier due to the direct heat. Patiently and eagerly waiting, the crowd burst into cheer as they made their way to the stage. Bob was in typical fashion, shorts and Berks, white hair glowing in the reflecting light of the heat ball in the sky. There is a look that Don Was may give Bob now and again. Is it a respectful smile? Is it a knowing grin? Whatever the thought behind, the soft smile on his face tells us of his admiration, tells us he’s taking it all in just like we are. Lane’s drums were solid, as usual, and there was an extra soft jazz he added to support the finger thumping of Don’s bass, giving songs like, “Bertha,” “Peggy-O,” and even “Shakedown Street,” a sort of shuffle and swing. Playing until sunset, the most appropriate encore, “Brokedown Palace,” followed by a crowd supported final, “Not Fade Away,” the festival ended on a sweet breeze, as the sun faded behind the Santa Cruz mountains, taking rest beyond the ocean, finally cooling down the air. The little pretty lights hanging up around the meadow provided a beautiful afterglow upon the fest-goers, as they made their way to the gate. 

Bob Weir and the Wolf Brothers closing out this year’s Santa Cruz Mountain Sol Festival

Not Fade Away, Bertha, Peggy-O, She Belongs to Me, Althea, Samson and Delilah Eyes of the World, Shakedown Street, Standing on the Moon, China Cat Sunflower>I know You Rider, Brokedown Palace>Not Fade Away

Until next time…..

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