Elevated culture

Splash into tourist season. From mountain music to mountain mayhem, Lake Tahoe has a summer-long roster of festivals.

Kites take flight at the Soaring Kites & Music Festival.

Kites take flight at the Soaring Kites & Music Festival.

Photo By David Robert

It’s not like summertime isn’t fun enough in Reno. We celebrate our sporty, arty natures with festivals on the river nearly every week from spring ’til fall.

But there’s one thing we don’t have: sandy beaches abutting a huge alpine lake, where you can watch the sun set over snow-capped peaks as you listen to jazz, taste wine or laugh at Shakespeare’s jokes— half a millennium old and still funny.

Tahoe state parks and ski resorts are the grand backdrops for all sorts of summer festivals, so any time between now and September is a good time to drive up the hill for a big double dose of culture and nature.

Just one morsel of advice to the lower-elevation dwellers: If you want to experience your culture and nature in relative comfort, bring a sweater.

No Barriers Festival
June 28- July 2; Squaw Valley USA
1960 Squaw Valley Road, Olympic Valley, Calif.

If you’ve been looking for an excuse to bust your excuses, here it is. The focus of the No Barriers Festival is outdooring for people with disabilities. But, says event founder Jim Goldsmith, “There are a lot of reasons for people who have, quote, able bodies to come here. A lot of people don’t know how to relate to a blind person or an amputee. [It makes you] realize these people are just like you and me.”

Just like you and me, that is, if your butt never touches the couch all summer because you’re too busy hiking, climbing, fishing or kayaking.

For the sight-impaired or otherwise “disabled” (after meeting some of the folks at this festival, you might think a better word choice is in order), interactive clinics will demonstrate adaptive kayaking and mountain climbing techniques.

A technology fair features cool new devices, such as speech-heavy, Braille-heavy GPS units for blind hikers.

Evening symposiums address hot topics such as the argument over mainstreaming athletes who use prosthetics. (A recent New York Times headline summed up the question: “An Amputee Sprinter: Is He Disabled or Too-Abled?”)

If anyone can manage to feel enough like a couch potato to even sit down after this high-adrenaline shot of no-excuses inspiration, check out the Sunday-night film festival.

Free. Visit www.nobarriersusa.org.

Soaring Kites & Music Festival
July 7; Squaw Valley USA
1960 Squaw Valley Road, Olympic Valley, Calif.

Ever seen a 40-foot, aquamarine octopus or a puffy, bus-sized teddy bear sailing above a pine-treed mountain? It may sound like science fiction, but it’s just the country’s highest-altitude kite festival. At 8,000 feet, kite-worthy gusts are almost guaranteed.

If these big, flying creatures or the professional stunt-kite exhibitions make you want to set your own kite aloft, there’ll be kite vendors on site. Or, if these ambitious fliers stir your creative juices, sign up for a kite-making clinic, and learn how to build your own.

The “music” part of the festival involves high-energy bands on a nearby stage, anchored by San Francisco’s Aphrodesia. These young, white Afrobeat stars, who proved their mettle when they won the hearts of audiences in Ghana and Nigeria, plan to arrive in a veggie-diesel-powered tour bus.

Free. Cable car to event location: $10. Visit www.squaw.com/summer/html/kitefest.html.

Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival
July 8-Aug 27; Sand Harbor State Park and various satellite venues around Reno/Tahoe

To attend, or not to attend? It’s hardly a question anymore. Celebrating Shakespeare has gone cross-cultural, multimedia and even downhill. Down in altitude, that is. A Texan comedy, Greater Tuna, broke through the festival’s string of Shakespeare plays this year and is slated for a satellite performance at Reno’s Bartley Ranch Regional Park.

Five hundred years hasn’t done much to dull the Bard’s poignancy. As long as people keep lusting, murdering and double-crossing, Shakespeare’s plays will likely still be performed on pinecone-lined Tahoe beaches, along with Broadway numbers, Reno Jazz Orchestra concerts and A Midsummer NightMARE, featuring Cirque du Soleil dancers.

If Shakespeare needs any more modernizing, Lake Tahoe Chautauqua is keeping it right-this-minute. In a nod to the fact that pirates have practically replaced superheroes, their historical-theatrical piece introduces the Bard to the 16th-century Irish Pirate Grace O’Malley.

Oh yeah, and there are some Shakespeare plays, too—two months-worth of Taming of the Shrew and Romeo and Juliet.

$14-$67. See www.laketahoeshakespeare.com.

Lake Tahoe Summer Music Festival
July 14-Aug 4; Various venues TBA around Lake Tahoe

If you’ve ever thought the great indoors wasn’t the best place to listen to music—symphony halls seem to lack some important details, such as dazzling sunsets and bats fluttering around in the twilight—the Lake Tahoe Music Festival is on top of that problem. The event features a month-long series of concerts “from Bach to blues and beyond” at state parks and ski resorts around the lake.

The genre constraints are as casual as the atmosphere. This year, the festival’s 25th, the menu is a sampler ranging from Beethoven’s Ninth to Broadway hits, with jazz, opera, and Jefferson Starship’s Craig Chaquico in between. Tahoe’s own Jo Mama kicks off the series with a free taste of Latin-funk-jazz at Commons Beach in Tahoe City. Word from the box office is that soft-rock chart-topper Kenny Loggins’ show looks like the one to sell out fastest.

A music fan from last year’s audience says the atmosphere is “like a great big picnic.” So, be sure to do as the locals do: Bring a blanket to sit on, and pack some dinner into a basket. (The authorities say if you can get your buffet and beverages together without bringing any glass, they will be extra happy with you.)

Free-$50, with all-festival passes available. Visit www.tahoemusic.org.

Art, Wine & Music Festival
July 21-22, Squaw Valley USA
1960 Squaw Valley Road, Olympic Valley, Calif.

The narrow, winding pedestrian streets of Squaw Valley USA already have kind of a classy, European feel. But if you get a kick out of overdoing the Euro-style tourist thing without leaving the Intermountain West, here’s your big chance to meander down the sidewalk with a glass of wine in your hand looking at paintings of Venice.

Purchase a wine glass at the Main Welcome Booth, and at least a dozen wineries will be set up to pour as you stroll.

A long-time festival-goer complains that the artistic offerings are dominated by that same-old-art-fair kind of art. Organizers say they’ve been choosier about looking for higher-end artists this year.

You can be the judge of that as you swirl your California pinot while listening to Portland banjo rocker Tony Furtado and perusing Tahoe-made quilts and furniture crafted from old ski-lift chairs.

Free. Visit www.squaw.com/summer/html/artwinefest.html.

Truckee Renaissance Faire
Sept 15-16; Truckee Regional Park
10607 Brockway Road, Truckee, Calif.

All the world is a stage for these two days, and it’s more like the join-in-the-fun kind of theater than the sit-down-and-watch kind. Dust off your chain mail and corsets—or maybe you won’t have to, as the Truckee Renaissance Faire is right after Burning Man—and prepare to throw darts, clash swords and clink steins of mead with people dressed in Medieval finery.

“There’s plenty of good-natured mischief to go around,” reports one reveler, who attends regularly. Others corroborate: “Cleavage,” “flirtation,” and “impish merriment” abound. Most awesomely, perhaps: “There was a guy who had sling shots and a potato gun to launch marshmallows. They went really far.”

Whether your idea of whooping it up old-old-old-school style means brushing up on Egyptian dance moves, sending the kids off to “etiquette classes” with a “noble English household” or just knowing those Society for Creative Anachronism geeks from college are still out there jousting on the lawn, just make sure you’re dressed to party like it’s 1599. BYO lavish attire, or pick some up from the costume purveyors at the faire.

$5-10 (plus $5 for parking). Visit www.truckeerenfaire.org.