Review By: Elisha Gud
Photos By: Justin Zangerle / Shutter&Cut
High Sierra Music Festival – The Best Fest in the West!
July 29, 2017 – June 3, 2017
As a seasoned festival veteran from the Midwest I felt like when it came to music festivals I had it all figured out. You know, the usual bands, with the usual sets, with their usual fans (with me recognizing almost all of them or most of them at least). Those fans you see at every festival all summer long and become life long festie bestie’s with, ya know, those kids… But this time, that was not the case, not at all. — Let me tell you how refreshing it was to endure an out of the norm old fashioned west coast festival that has beyond earned its right to be called “The best festival in the West.” — The 27th Annual High Sierra Music Festival.
Driving from Los Angeles to Quincy, CA was quite the experience seeing as the festival grounds are damn near in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t mind though, I figured that if the venue was anything like the drive, I knew it would be a sight to see. Surrounded by the beauty of mother natures tall redwoods, pines, and mountains surrounding the outskirts in the distance. You could see stars for miles and a crisp moon the entire weekend. The wooded camping areas gave attendees a nice chance to camp underneath the shade and a good excuse to escape the extreme heat they would experience throughout the entire weekend. Sharing the same space as the Plumas County Fair Grounds, attendees also were given the chance to camp in barns that were previously used for their annual livestock fair. Allowing more shade and spaces for fun, funky jams and fairy tale lands throughout the weekend.
In its 27th year with one of the most promising line ups I have seen in my entire festival career. This festival is one that does not disappoint. The amount of showcased talent and daily activities is astounding. The festival includes artist play shops, workshops, parades, and an abundance of late night stages with artists from many different musical genres to adhere to any kind of festival attendee and their choice of tunes. With music staring early in the day it allowed attendees to romp around to check out the scenery, set up camp, and catch some early afternoon acts before the big headliners hit the stage.
Thursday started out with Tank & The Bangas, this years NPR’s, Tiny Desk award winners and Sweet Crude. I had the pleasure of interviewing Sam from Sweet Crude. As we were interviewing him many fans came up to admire the incredible first out of two sets the band would play over the weekend. When I asked him how he would describe the bands genre…he stated that being from New Orleans they like to call themselves a Cajun Pop band. Cajun – a term I had never heard while referring to music before. But the band did have that indie vibe with a Cajun kick to it. The day continued with the Jeff Austin Band, Afrolicious, White Denim, Big Something, and the Nth Power. Sometime in-between those sets we took a break to eat before the long evening commenced. As Thursday continued on so did the music, allowing Galactic to take the main stage while Billy Strings played to an intimate yet rowdy crowed in the Big Meadow. Later we had the chance to catch some STS9 and Fruition before ending the night with some Troubadour Sessions…also known as late night shows.
Late night shows were not included with tickets and had to be purchased separately, forcing people to choose between one or the other seemed kind of tricky to me. There it was Dopapod and The Werks playing in the Funk’n Jamhouse. Being from Columbus, I knew this was a late night I couldn’t miss. The Werks played an ever so funky set per usual and bassist Jake “Babyhands” Goldberg showed up on stage with Dopapod as their sit in Bassist while their bassist was out. Of course Dopapod played my favorite song, Faba causing me to dance uncontrollably with excitement. Other late night sets were The Grateful Ball feat. The Travelin’ McCourys & Jef Austin Band. With Brothers Comatose playing super late night. Day one was a success and I couldn’t have been more excited to see what the rest of the weekend had in store.
Day two was flying right by and before we knew it we had conquered an early morning set with Butcher Brown and Sweet Crude while Stanton Moore hosted a Drum Master Class in the artist play shop area. Fruition and Tank & The Bangas lead us into the early afternoon while The Werks and The Travelin’ McCourys were throwing down for an old fashioned afternoon party, with quite a large crowd at the Grandstand and Vaudeville tent. After The Werks set we stopped by to mingle with those that were suiting up for the parade with Giant Puppets Save the World. Which is a collaboration between puppeteers, builders and performance artists, from across the United States and internationally. The day was well on its way when Mike Gordon and his band wowed the crowd with their set, even covering Cities from the Talking Heads, along with new debates from Mikes upcoming album and many other songs from the bands repertoire. Friday night seemed like the hardest night for stage choices and sets with sights to see. We had a killer Ween set, The Nth Power/ Earth, Wind, & Power, and Dopapod playing all at the same time…of course we mingled to see a little of each set. Leaving each one wondering what the next band had in store. Friday night late night sets consisted of Galactic and Afrolicious in the High Sierra Music Hall, and Manic Focus with Phutureprimitive at the Funk’n Jamhouse. We sat the late night sessions out to mingle around the campgrounds and catch some shooting stars above the tall trees.—which was one terrific way to capture the pure beauty of the campgrounds and everything Plumas County had to offer.
Saturdays are always the best days I personally think at a festival. It’s when the freaks come out and the line ups are the most stacked with eargasims and all around jaw drops. The Grateful Dead Jam started the morning out early. Followed by The Brothers Comatose singing a sweet Valerie, an Amy Winehouse cover sending chills through my spine and smiles over festival goers faces. The afternoon continued with The Suffers, Keller Williams and a Gregg Allman tribute set with Carolyn Wonderland. As Trey Anastasio Band was preparing to take the stage, attendees started to prepare for their evenings. We had become friends with our camp neighbors and decided to meander around for a while. At a stop sign we found a nice fellow pointing us to the jellyfish dome camp where we found the perfect group of people hosting a sake bomb off. Yes, I said sake bombs…so, we did what anyone would do. Danced around, banged on the table and joined the kind folks at this camp for a few rounds of sake bombs before heading on to see what Trey had in store. Trey band set one consisted of a lot of TAB originals as well as Phish covers. The band opened with Mozambique and headed into Gotta Jibboo by Phish. Amongst many more Trey songs and Phish covers the set included Soul Rebel by The Wailers and headed into set break with Sand. The TAB second set started once the sun went down and we headed up into the bleachers to take a look at the festival with a birds eye view.—you could see the whole place! They came out with Delta Lady, a Leon Russell cover and into Alive again, Ocelot(another Phish Cover) and into Feel It Still by Portugal The Man, with trombonist Natalie Cressman straight crushing it on vocals sending the crowd in cheers. TAB ended with on of my personal favorites from Phish—First Tube. Making it one of the best sets of the entire weekend. The night ended with Cory Henry & The Funk Apostles and of course more late night jams brought to you by The Troubadour Sessions.
You know what they say about missing a Sunday show…you just don’t do it. The Lil Smokies brought the early morning summer heat that morning. Cory Henry ended the previous night and came right on into the morning with a funky set that got everyone up, moving, and excited for the rest of the day. The afternoon continued with Bokanté, Keller and some Grateful Gospel featuring Stu Allen. Achilles Wheel and SunSquabi, Snarky Puppy, Lebo & Friends, and Jerry Joseph & The Jackmormons held down the fort and kept the party going well on into the evening before the incredible set that was Gov’t Mule. Boombox was the last band to play of the night before the late night sessions with The Greyboy Allstars and Polyrhythmics, Ott & The All Seeing I with SunSquabi for their second set of the day closing out the festival.
Other activities you could find yourself attending throughout the weekend were late night silent discoing through the campgrounds, sunrise kickball, giant bath tub shenanigans brought to you by Dr. Bronners, early morning yoga, and flow workshops. The vendors were top notch and the small random buggies of fresh fruit selling gypsies certainly added a perfect refreshing touch to the warm weekend.
Leaving High Sierra Music Festival wasn’t an easy task to do…leaving any festival isn’t always the easiest. There are so many hello’s and now so many see ya next years it’s hard to remember that you’ll be back before you even know it. Although, once the drive set in and we were cruising through the canyons on highway 70.. I looked over to my dear loved one and said, “Babe, this is one festival we will never miss!”
And that it is, High Sierra Music Festival.—The best damn fest in the West!