All the world’s on a stage
Go ahead, cross the Redwood Curtain. Two Northern California festivals bring global music within easy reach of Reno.
Bay Area expats siphon into the Truckee Meadows and call it home. We sit longer in traffic and pay more for housing than we used to. It’s easy to resent our neighboring state sometimes. But being California-adjacent has its advantages. Like the two multi-day, multi-genre music festivals that take place just over the hills. With the California Worldfest in Grass Valley and the High Sierra Music Festival in Quincy coming up, it’s a good time to go meet the neighbors.
Nevada County Fairgrounds, Grass Valley, Calif.
Tickets: $50 (1-day), $120 (three-day pass) in advance, $15 more at the gate
Dan DeWayne gained a new perspective on music in 1977 as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali, where playing music wasn’t reserved for professionals.
“Music and dance were just a part of everyday life,” he recalls. Everyone would play an instrument. DeWayne, inspired by the social cohesion he saw in Mali’s music scene, started California Worldfest in 1997. He says seeing people from usually disparate walks of life unite over music is his favorite part of being the festival’s co-director.
Julie Quarterman, a high school teacher from Chico, Calif., praises the event’s food, camping amenities and workshops (as a clarinetist, she enjoyed a seminar on the etiquette of jamming and improvising with other musicians), but she feels the congeniality in the air is the festival’s best asset.
“There is a culture to Worldfest. It’s hard to describe. The atmosphere is very loving,” she says. Not only has she brought her children to be among Worldfest’s 4,000-strong crowds, she also feels safe enough to let them roam around on their own. That includes her youngest, who was 3 when the family first started attending seven years ago. (“They’re not allowed to do that anywhere else,” she notes.)
“I thought I was going to lose my kids to the henna lady,” she jokes, explaining how they easily made new friends. Last year, her four kids, whose ages range up to pre-teen, hung out with the sketch artist and played soccer with the guy who runs the barbecue stand. Her 12-year-old, no more easily impressed than any other 12-year-old, is impressed with the teens-only drum circles and by the fact that Worldfest organizers called a meeting of teenagers to get their feedback on what would be cool to include in future festivals.
While family-friendly to the extreme, the festival doesn’t ignore adults’ needs; microbrew by the plastic cup and spicy Asian and Indian food are easy to come by, and Quarterman appreciates the full-service coffee bar in the camping area. Concession lines can be long, but many of the vendors are close enough to the stages that concertgoers don’t have to miss much while they’re waiting to be fed.
At night, the nearby camping area is lively but mellow. Jam sessions around tents and RVs are easily joinable or, for those who prefer to sleep, easily avoidable.
This summer’s line-up includes acts from most corners of the Earth on eight stages, spanning genres from headliner Michael Franti & Spearhead’s hip-hop funk ’n’ roll to Nickel Creek’s acoustic-pop bluegrass to Jake Shimabukuro’s fusion-ukeleke. Among the 50-plus acts on the bill are Afro-Cuban, country blues, West African and mariachi performances, most of them playing two or three shows each.
DaWayne says the most positive feedback he receives from audience members is sometimes about bands they’ve never heard of.
He says, laughing, “Maybe you go home with a new way to shake your booty a bit.”
If you go: Camping is available, but RV sites are sold out. Bring mosquito repellent; Grass Valley is more humid than Northern Nevadans are used to and therefore home to a few more bugs.
High Sierra Music Festival
Plumas Fairgrounds, Quincy, Calif.
June 29-July 2
Tickets: $131 (2-day pass) to $167 (four-day pass)
“The original idea was to create a camping music festival that combined bluegrass music with electric music,” says High Sierra Music Festival founder and organizer Roy Carter. Since its inception in 1991, the event has embraced a few new genres (“world,” Americana, digeridoo), moved a few times (too much snow in Leland Meadows in June) and settled in Quincy, Calif., about an hour-and-45-minute drive from Reno.
“We put it together like we’d want a festival to be,” says founding partner Roy Carter. That includes logistical concerns, such as having enough shade, and events such as industry panels offering career advice and legal information to musicians. Also unusual, says Carter, is that bands often stay for the event’s whole four days and camp among fans, and many bands give three to four different performances on the five stages and in three late-night, indoor venues, which are a lot like night clubs.
That’s good news to Jill Snyder, a singer from Reno, who attended last year’s festival. There was enough happening on the grounds’ tree-lined roadways and meadows, she says, that it was easy to miss a key performance or two the first time around.
High Sierra’s atmosphere, according to all reports, is all-out festive. There’s a parade each day. Photos from 2005 feature a high concentration of Burning-Man-esque fashions, belly dancers and fire jugglers. Many campers join forces in the service of a “theme,” competing for “coolest camp” award. (Last year, the Pirate Camp took home the gold.)
For some, things can get too festive. Snyder noticed a few confused-looking children searching for parents among the at-times-intense revelry. One outdoor-events blogger wrote, “I had to comfort a few lost souls each night who were completely lost, not only directions-wise, but also lost in their own heads.”
Still, Snyder felt the festival was kid-friendly enough, and she plans to bring her three young ones (who range from pre-school to high school) again this year.
“People were extremely friendly,” Snyder says. “People left out little wading pools in front of their camp sites for people to come over and cool off in.”
She was also impressed with the shopping opportunities. She stocked up on the usually hard-to-find athletic style clothing she terms “hippie-jock.”
Despite the festival’s size, Snyder felt it was well managed. Even with 10,000 or so hungry music fans, she says, “I don’t remember waiting in lines at all.”
This year’s High Sierra Music Festival includes such household names as Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Haiti’s Emeline Michel and the aforementioned Nickel Creek, as well as some up-and-comers: Mia Dyson, hailed as “the new Bonnie Raitt” of Australia, and Japan’s guitar-rocking Meltone. Renoites might recognize Lake Tahoe’s Blue Turtle Seduction and San Francisco’s Hot Buttered Rum String Band, both of whom have played in town in recent months.
If you go: Choose a campsite wisely, especially if you’re considering actually sleeping. Many campsites are close enough to the stages that the music, which goes on late into the night, is clearly audible. Bring a bicycle and a lock. Biking is permitted in many parts of the fairgrounds, and there are several areas for bike parking.