During my 17 hour road trip from Boulder, Colorado to the small mountain town of Quincy, California, I could hardly contain my excitement for the 23rd High Sierra Music Festival. I had heard so many great things about this festival, but in reality I had no idea what to expect. As a Massachusetts native, this would be my first glimpse into the West Coast music festival. After countless Snapchats and Instagram uploads of the not-so-exciting drive through Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada, I finally arrived a night before the festival began. Energy was high as we all struggled to sleep before our four day Christmas run.
At 6 a.m. the following day, I awoke to the horn playing “Reveille,” which summoned us to hop out of our tents, drive to the campgrounds and let the festivities commence. Not even a quick car citation could ruin my mood. To quote the officer, “I would kill to see Plant.”
Immediately I could feel the sense of community, as our neighbors welcomed us with open arms while we played ‘how much duck tape does it take to set up a broken EZ Up.’ (Thank god for warranty). As we walked around the festival, we noticed people from all age groups – from babies to the elderly. Everyone worked together as we set up our makeshift utopia in the middle of the beautiful High Sierras. The campgrounds were decorated with various art installations including inspiring quotes hung on trees, a giant disco peace sign, and lights that lit up night time walkways. People were nestled all around the festival from the woods, to horse stables, to a corral. To endure the heat, staff and campers walked around with hoses and water guns, because everyone knows that cool campers are happy campers. I should probably include that free ice cold water and showers were available in the bathrooms all weekend. Heck, I even saw little kids vending their own makeshift lemonade stand. We were all pilgrims working together in our very own Jamestown.
High Sierra not only offered a strong lineup consisting of Robert Plant, moe., and Primus, but it also allowed a chance for lesser-known acts to shine. A new favorite of mine is the Shook Twins. These two blonde, you guessed it, twins took the stage Thursday, mixing folk, rock, and gorgeous harmonies to create the first dance party of the weekend. Using their banjo, guitar, and a big golden egg, this unique duo out of Idaho sang about chickens and their experiences growing up as daughters of a potter.
Instead of fireworks for the fourth, we got Robert Plant. (Fair trade, I’d say). Opening up with “Babe, I’m Gonna’ Leave You” and ending with “Whole Lotta’ Love,” Plant played songs from Led Zeppelin, his solo career, and his new group Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters. Just as he promised when he came on stage, he brought us a night of soft rock and bluegrass. Plant played in front of a gigantic self-portrait of himself in his earlier years, reminding the crowd that a few grey hairs can’t stop that distinctive, memorable voice our parents once thrived on.
Chills spread through the crowd as he sang “Going to California,” a song about that all too familiar feeling that moving west is the remedy to all. Plant ended the night by congratulating America for our independence from King George III and reminded the crowd that the following day was senior citizen’s day at Denny’s. (After all, the legend is now 64.)
As good as Plant’s performance was, other headliners including Primus and moe. deserve just as much hype with their Friday and Sunday shows. As a Primus virgin, I was ready to get weird and naturally Les Cleypool was too. With two giant sized astronauts at both ends of the stage and visuals creepy enough to give you nightmares for a week, the old man next to me summed up the whole show when he turned to me and stated “This is sinister.” Just when my energy was starting to ween on Sunday night, moe. recharged the crowd, mixing up their usual setlist and leaving us happy hour heros. (Sorry moe.rons, it was too tempting.)
Late nights were held in barns starting around 11:30PM and ending around 3AM. Unlike many “rager” festivals I’ve attended in the past, most people opted for a good night of sleep over staying up for early morning shenanigans. For those that wanted to resist their rising levels of melatonin, the festival offered Sunrise Kickball and Silent Frisco. Unfortunately, I went zero for four in my attempts at attending any kickball, so I did the next best thing and bought a sunrise kickball t-shirt. Other memorable acts of the weekend included Rubblebucket, The Infamous Stringdusters and Fruition. Fruition, a folk band out of Portland, played Friday late night and was a personal favorite of mine. They dished out a sexy cover of “No Diggity” and collaborated with fiddle player, Jeremy Garrett of The Stringdusters. I caught them in Boulder recently and was blown away by female Mimi Naja’s ability to serenade the crowd with her voice and mandolin skills. In terms of funk, this festival had enough to make legend George Clinton go crazy. With acts like The Greyboy Allstars, Pimps of Joytime, North Mississippi Allstars, John Scofield, Orgone, and Lee Fields, it was impossible not to put your boogie shoes on. Lee Fields was a new name to me in the funk scene and can be compared to a modern day Marvin Gay. His set on Sunday afternoon awoke me from my nap in my shady hammock and drew me in closer, a sort of opposite affect the Sirens had on Odysseus.
One of the most magical parts of my weekend was going to see music and literally walking straight into a parade. This turned into a 45 minute hardcore dance party among a disco alien, colorful birds, a giant banjo player, and some bootilicious stilt women. Peter Pan, I don’t blame you for never wanting to grow up. Put on by Third Planet Ceremonials, this parade was a wonderful addition to the already lively, positive ambiance of the festival and a great median for kids and adults to dance together.
Overall, High Sierra was by far one of my favorite festivals. For us East Coasters, it can be compared to Nateva: a family friendly, clean, local festival in Maine held in the summer of 2010. There were no deaths, no sketchy characters, no neon, and most importantly no YOLO hats. Instead, there were daily parades, yoga workshops, a bloody mary ball, and even an Allman Brothers jam where people could jam out with their own instruments inside an air conditioned room. It’s gatherings like these that remind us the core purpose of music festivals: to forget about the hassles of every day life and create positive memories through music, art, dance, and human connections.