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From city stages to mountain retreats, nearby music festivals have what you need

Cassandra Wilson is playing the Monterey Jazz Festival this summer.

Cassandra Wilson is playing the Monterey Jazz Festival this summer.

On a clear night, you can probably see San Francisco beaming with pride all the way from Reno. The big news in the Bay Area is that music lovers are getting giddy about not having to travel all the way to Indio for three days of outside revelry with their favorite alternative bands.

But if sitting in a symphony hall or prying open a bottle of Chianti over a picnic blanket are more your type of festival activity, Northern California’s National Parks, symphonies and folk-music organizations are lining up all their favorite acts, too. RNR’s guide to Northern California Music Festivals can help you sort it all out.

Berkeley Festival and Exhibition
June 3-8, Calling all fans of the lute, the bray harp, the bagpipe: The University of California, Berkeley brings 16th-century Italian art a week’s worth of “early music”—that means lovely European songs and dances from way, way before you were born—to its celebrated concert halls and churches. True music geeks can convene after class for scholarly presentations and roundtable discussions on topics such as “The Future of the Recorder.”

Harmony Music Festival
Santa Rosa, June 6-8, Remember rock ’n’ roll? Jefferson Starship and Mickey Hart join jazz, blues and world musicians in a New-Age-ish, environmentalist, socially conscious festival where a Hawaiian spirit goddess and a Yaqui Indian chief are among the featured speakers. If none of that floats your boat, George Clinton and the P-Funk Allstars will play. They’ve been leading the funk revolution for decades, and they can still rock it like 19-year-olds.

California Bluegrass Association’s Father’s Day Festival
Grass Valley, June 12-15, Forget about neckties and Old Spice. Take Dad to the shady meadows of the Nevada County Fairgrounds, where he can learn from a workshop leader how a banjo works or just relax in a lawn chair and tap his feet along with the twanging of a couple dozen bluegrass acts. The music camp, which lasts all week, is already full, but maybe if Dad takes “Playing By Ear For Newbies” this year, he can sign up for the camp next year.

Scenery and music compete for attention at the Lake Tahoe Music Festival.

Kate Wolf Memorial Music Festival
Black Oak Ranch, near Laytonville, June 27-29 California folk singer/songwriter Kate Wolf left this world in the 1980s, but her family had so much fun at the retrospective concert they held in her memory in the ’90s, they decided to make it an annual event. Ani DiFranco, Todd Snider and Los Lobos headline. Everyone else peaces out in lawn chairs or takes classes in hoopdancing, yoga or music for babies and toddlers.

High Sierra Music Fest
Quincy, July 3-6, While some featured acts—Bob Weir & RatDog, Michael Franti & Spearhead—are famous for their mellowness, High Sierra is the quintessential party festival. Club-like, indoor venues rage long into the night after the outdoor stages close. Carnivalesque parades are participatory, microbrew flows in quantity, and musicians’ workshops are so much fun they have to call them “playshops.” Check the online message board to connect with other revelers, and start your party planning now.

Lake Tahoe Music Festival
Truckee and Tahoe City, July 10- Aug 9, Ditch the suit and tie. Put on your flip-flops. Pack the tuna tartare into the picnic basket, and stake your spot on a grassy, green ski mountain or lake-adjacent meadow. You have a whole month to catch a roster of smooth jazz, R&B, or one of the Reno Philharmonic Orchestra’s several outdoor shows under the sunset and the stars. Free shuttles from satellite parking spots can help you combat that nasty Tahoe summer traffic.

Music lovers dance at the California Worldfest.

Mendocino Music Festival
Mendocino, July 12-26, When the music instructors who started this now-two-week-long event in 1986 said, “Music for everyone,” they meant it. Chamber music, opera and Django-esque, gypsy jazz from The Hot Club of San Francisco liven up the serene hills of Mendocino; the Emerging Artists Program showcases accomplished teen musicians; the Festival Orchestra plays children’s matinees; and afternoon rehearsals are free to attend.

California Worldfest
Grass Valley, July 17-20, Even with eight stages and a veritable kitchen sink of “world” music—everything from Joe Craven to Big Bad Voodoo Daddy to the Wailin’ Jennys to the Cuban Cowboys—the vibe is always chill enough so you can get your 5-year-old to the water slide or the crafts class without much hassle, and somehow, there’s always time to improve your hand-drumming, tai-chi or capoeira skills at a morning class.

Outside Lands
Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, Aug. 22-24, Outside Lands, debuting in Golden Gate Park, is expected to rival Southern California’s legendary Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival for coolness. In both senses of the word. It’s 110 degrees in Indio right now, and nothing of the sort in foggy San Francisco. San Francisco is notorious for pricey lodging and public transport that takes longer than you think it’s going to. If you can tolerate the travel hassles, word in the Bay Area music world is that it’s going to be worth the effort, with Radiohead, Beck, Wilco, Devendra Banhart and Tom Petty just a sampling of the lineup. If you can’t, just go armchair-style by tuning in to Outside Lands Radio, right from the home page.

Strawberry Music Festival
Yosemite National Park, May 22-25 and Aug. 28-31, Don’t be sad that tickets for the Memorial Day Weekend concert in one of the country’s most gloriously scenic places are long-gone. (You did miss Carlene Carter and Emmylou Harris, so if you sulk a little, we won’t blame you.) This family-friendly camping and bluegrass/country extravaganza will be back for Labor Day. And so will Patty Griffin.

Monterey Jazz Festival
Monterey, Sept. 19-21, The Monterey Jazz Festival set out, 51 years ago, to preserve and perpetuate jazz and to educate young musicians. If the event’s 20 forested acres featuring 500 acts are any indication, the medium is thriving. Expect to hear legends like Cassandra Wilson, favorites like the Joshua Redmond Trio, and some of the thousands of high school jazz musicians this festival has helped educate. If you can’t make it to Monterey, catch some of them 24/7/365 on the festival’s online radio station.