Review & Photos | Guitarfish | Cisco Grove

Words and Images by: Alan Sheckter

Guitarfish :: 8.2.14 :: Cisco Grove, CA

Read Alan's thoughts on his weekend at the Guitarfish Music Festival after the gallery.

The splendid, funk-ified Guitarfish Festival hit all the right notes again, August 1-3, way up in the utopian environs of the Sierra Nevada high country of northern California. Presented in the massive Cisco Grove Campground, with the scenic South Yuba River flowing through its midst, Guitarfish offered cheery and sparkly attendees a three-day jamboree of funk ‘n’ jams – and hot showers. It is hard to overstate Guitarfish’s pristine, mountain-aired beauty, deep in the alpine forest. In addition, several outdoor activities beckon nearby, thanks to rugged and remote pathways, trails, and high lakes of the Tahoe National Forest.

Oh, there are bigger festivals to be sure, like the mighty High Sierra Music Festival just a little to the north. But this still-intimate festival has a strong organic community spirit running through it that makes it ripe for forming lasting friendships.

In addition to Guitarfish’s noon-to-midnight-and-beyond musical backdrop, the fest advocates a cause: “to raise awareness of overfishing and pollution of the ocean and to help preserve our fresh watersheds, rivers and streams.” To that end, Guitarfish works toward “positive change to sustain and maintain healthy watersheds, rivers, streams, lakes and oceans and to preserve all living beings that depend on it.”

The Guitarfish folklore was partially shaped by writer and musician Jimmy Leslie’s 2011 book, “Guitarfish Adventure: Blue is the New Green.” This “eco-musical fish tale” chronicles the adventures of a guitarfish and his merry band of sea creatures attempting to tour without getting hooked by humans.

With people rolling up the mountain from Sacramento, the San Francisco Bay Area, Reno, Los Angeles, and well, all over, step one involved getting oriented, setting up camp and meeting neighbors amid the gorgeous high country. Step two was heading down to where the action was, a naturally formed portion of the campground aptly called, “The Fishbowl.”

Here, the two music stages, the Orca and the Dolphin, were situated, with a large carpeted - yes, carpeted – dancing and viewing area between them. Overhead, shade cloths helped filter the sun during the day and provided an artistic canvas for light shows at night. One path leading away from the stage areas offered enticing food choices, as well as gourmet coffee and Lagunitas on tap, and another footpath contained assorted artisan offerings.

An additional, smaller circular gathering area housed artistic pieces: a trio of giant sculpted abstract metal musicians, a 20-foot-high LED-illuminated tower, and a giant sonic butterfly, which housed an overhead stringed instrument plucked by performance artist Andrea Brook, who serenaded both midnight revelers and morning yoga sessions.

And then there were the 20-plus musical acts, with Everyone Orchestra, Pimps of Joytime, and the California Honeydrops occupying the headlining slots. From daylight to late night, the dance floor was open and thriving, with groups playing on alternating stages, and each band getting at least 90 minutes of stage time, allowing them to musically stretch out. In addition, a large Starfish Kids Area offered plenty of activities, such as the obligatory face painting and bounce house, as well as ecologically based learning stations and a giant bungee trampoline. The youth area also featured a stage at which festival performers offered kid- friendly performances.

I settled in late Friday afternoon to a blistering set by the Mother Hips, which have been led skillfully for more than 20 years by the twin guitar, vocal, and songwriting combo of Tim Bluhm and Greg Loiacono. Samba Dá, which delivered an irresistible danceable offering of Afro-Brazilian funk, took over next, preceded by a procession through the fish bowl by the high-stepping Samba Stilt Circus, and a whole host of audience participants.

The Everyone Orchestra, an ever-changing ensemble of all-star, jam-happy musicians conducted by Matt Butler, headlined the Friday night proceedings. On this night, the improvisational band was loaded up with the likes of Jen Hartswick and Natalie Cressman (Trey Anastasio Band), Trevor Garrod (Tea Leaf Green), Eddie Roberts (New Master Sounds), Greg Loiacono (Mother Hips), Mike Sugar (JAMBAY, The Fall Risk), fiddler Tim Snider, and funk drummer Jermal Watson.

The Space Cowboys sound collective offered beats and electronica till 3 a.m. both Friday and Saturday night, providing a thrill for late-night carousers and nice, distant audio background for those nestled in their camps.

Joy and Madness delivered one of Saturday’s music highlights, with front man/vocalist Hans Eberbach, Miss Nixi on bass, and Bobby G. on lead guitar, fueling a funk and soul pep-rally that whipped revelers into a celebratory frenzy.

With a theme of “funk guitar,” Guitarmageddon dazzled the assemblage with an impossibly robust collection of players that, even as personnel came and left the stage during their set, did a great job of providing a cohesive rock/soul/jazz soundtrack. Smiling, enthusiastic players included at the start Sean Leahy, Jeff Miller, and Josh Clark (guitars), Fletcher Neilson (keys), Mark Murphy (bass), Daria Johnson and Ezra Lipp (drums). During the 90-minute set, Pamela Parker, Tony Busalacchi and Tracorum’s Derek Brooker and Inkx Herman, among others, joined the fray.

Finally, the Brooklyn-based Pimps of Joytime headlined this night, with front man Brian J and charismatic dual percussionists Mayteana Morales and Cole Williams engaging the spirited spectators, many of whom answered the memo to wear their finest 70’s-era funk wear.

Unfortunately, I was unable to stay for Sunday’s proceedings, which featured the California Honeydrops, Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers and Dan “Lebo” Lebowitz appearing with several groups. From all reports day three was equally as magical as days one and two.

[Published on: 8/12/14]

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