High Sierra Music Festival
High Sierra hangover Well, free people, the 361-day wait has reset its clock. As I write this, I’m recovering from the 21st annual High Sierra Music Festival, my third consecutive visit to the Plumas-Sierra County Fairgrounds in Quincy to spend four days having my mind blown by funk, rock, jazz, reggae, world, electronic and bluegrass (and everything in between) along with 15,000 liked-minded music lovers, all of whom are too damn groovy for their own good.
I lived in the town of Hillside in the makeshift city, a place where costumes are the norm, and adults spend the days lettin’ loose and playing with toys. With the Evergreens and blue sky as my backdrop, and constant hum of the electric guitar in the air, I tried to wrap my head around the fact that it’s 2011, not 1969. Technology has improved, and peace signs and tie-dye are mainstream, but the mindset is old-school: “Happy festival,” you beautiful people. Let’s shut out the ugliness of the outside world, if only for these few days.
You got that right It takes some time to shift the mind, but I felt myself succumb to “festival mode” by Friday afternoon, when Ivan Neville’s Dumstaphunk took the Grandstand stage and got, well, really funky. “Shake off those bad vibes and put ’em in a dumpsta,” he said, to the approval of the crowd. Hundreds of festival-goers danced in the sunlight, sweat beading down their foreheads and saturating their shirtless or scantily clad backs. The festival peaked the next evening, when guitarist Warren Haynes (of the Allman Brothers, Gov’t Mule and The Dead) and his band melted thousands of faces under the moonlight. Haynes paused to catch his breath: “If you didn’t feel that, you got a hole in your soul,” he uttered, tossing his rock-star hair behind his shoulders.
Damn, girl Let’s just take a moment to honor the bad-ass bitches of the HSMF, the women who titillated our minds with their commanding vocal and physical beauty. Sy Smith of Orgone stuck out—she belted, “If you wanna scream, scream … Do your thing,” her silky skin glistening during a Friday set at dusk. Gospel singer Ruthie Foster accompanied several bands throughout the festival; her soulfulness forced the eyelids to close and the hips to sway. On the other end of the spectrum were the ladies from Beats Antique, drummer/dancer/performers with venomous expressions and haunting dance moves. I swear they had green blood—their bodies writhing to the rhythm, their drums vibrating the stage.
Spotted! As usual, hordes of Chicoans trekked to Quincy this year, as I constantly found myself surrounded by others from the “bottom of the hill.” MaMuse kicked off the festival at noon Thursday at the tented Vaudeville stage, their snaps and soothing “boom booms” the first rhythms to grease the festival’s wheels. The following days unearthed other Chico locals: Chris Henderson of Electric Circus, bobbing his head at the Big Meadow stage; Stuart Illson and Dylan Miller of Poa Porch Band tromping through the campgrounds in sun hats; Bob Backstrom of Bustolini’s Deli and Coffeehouse cackling in the crowd at a buzzing stage. And, it seemed all-too-fitting that MaMuse played again on day four, also at noon, smiling dreamily and massaging our tired ear drums. “This song is about livin’ and dyin’, just like we all are,” Karisha Longaker said softly. This was the livin’ part.