Once a year comes a festival where dreams materialize before your very eyes. Countless musicians show up to share and learn, entertain and teach, to be fans as well as performers. Thousands of people come together in total peace and love in Northern California's beautiful forests. Yes, this is the one and only High Sierra Music Festival - the fantasy camp for music freaks.
With 75 performing bands in attendance, you will never know what may happen. The beauty of this festival is the magic that is created by spontaneous jams around the clock. Between the "Playshops" and the Late Nights, all six music stages, and the impromptu campground and park bench jamming, High Sierra is made up of these incredible musical moments.
Here we have summed up but a few...
Jessica Lurie wins the JamBase MVP Award |
The saxwoman from Living Daylights showed that the hardest working man in jam is really a woman. She is an incredible horn player, who we saw meld perfectly, in a number of different styles with every band she joined. Never staying put the whole weekend, Jessica rocked from stage to stage.
Soulful jazz with The Slip during "Weight of Solomon"
Deep trance with Sound Tribe Sector 9 on the Showcase Stage and at their late night show at the Funk'n Jamhouse
Deep into the heavy grooves of The Motet late night at the
Jamhouse and also in their at the Showcase Stage
Bringing out the funk with the Godfather, Karl Denson, during his late night set at the Music Hall
Playing with the Living Hanumama a spontaneous amalgam of three
bands, the Living Daylights, Hanuman, and the extinct Tough Mama, formerly
Seattle's favorite jamband.
Heavy squelches and honks with our friends in the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey in the Vaudeville tent set.
Oh, and the Living Daylights had multiple sets of their own, on multiple stages!
Sector Nine on the Showcase Stage |
In a jam during Sound Tribe Sector 9's set at the Showcase Stage, drummer Zach Velmer seamlessly passes the sticks to Andrew Barr, the incredibly talented drummer from The Slip. As Andrew takes over the jam, Zach puts on wearable drums and begins to beat his chest and legs in front of the stage in a duet with Andrew. Incredible energy. As the next song (Time Within an Evolving Living Vehicle, Earth) starts, the moon begins to rise just over the left side of the stage.
"Bass Is the Place" Bass Workshop with Marc (The Slip) Friedman, Arne (Living Daylights) Livingston, and Tye (Leftover Salmon, Keller Williams Trio) North. Bass fans got to ask the questions that intrigued them, the bassists told of their influences and who moves them, and they showed techniques and, oh yeah, they played bass too, including a cool attempt at a triple bass version of Jaco Pastorious' "Teen Town." Sick. Read Full Review
||Karl Denson gets his Fred On|
The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey got a blessing from the Godfather of Jam, as Karl Denson was checking out their Showcase Stage set. He was interested enough to jump into one of their far out jazz numbers. Karl told me later that he was impressed with the classicly trained talent of these boys from Oklahoma. I hope this puts the JFJO on the jazz map, as they are grand!
||Emergency Withdrawal Hanuman ATM Set|
Hanuman had multiple opportunities to perform during the festival, with both a Grandstand Stage slot and a closing slot on the Showcase Stage. However, one of their most inspired performances was when they set up next to the ATM by the main entrance, as the Grandstand Stage was closing for the evening, around 11 on Friday night. As people were leaving through the front gate, the vibe and groove were too true to leave, and nearly 500 people were gathered for this spontaneous set by the end. Percussionist Jarrod Kaplan called it the "Emergency Withdrawal" Set, as those on line for the ATM got front row views of this Seattle quartet.
||Olu Dara and the Sunny Morning Groove |
Olu Dara and his band warmed up the crowd just as the sun was warming the field in front of the Main Stage. I made it a point to catch Olu, as I had never seen him before, and I had heard great things. Those who could rally in the morning got treated to a true sunny morning groove, and right at the perfect time, before it got so hot. I hear Olu is over 60, but he's got energy of half his age with the wisdom of twice his age. His set was groove after groove, an amalgam of all the music I like that moves ya! It's based on African rhythms, with half-sung and half-spoken soulful lyrics which are rich with creole heritage. Coster Massamba provided African rhythm and much spirit on the congas, no surprise my favorite tune was his namesake "Massamba". A soulful song with a mellow, raw energy.
In his music, Olu pulls from experiences of his roots growing up in Natchez, Mississippi. His set ranged from free jazz to country blues, using simple grooves to take you there. He can better express the simplest of grooves because he had years of free jazz experience. For years, Olu played some of the most out there trumpet with seventies bands like Henry Threadgill and David Murray. He now incorporates a hint of gospel mixed in with the bluesy grooves. Through countless moments in decades of creating music, Olu and his band know what works and lay down the groove to perfection. I reccomend checking out Olu the first chance you get, I did and was not dissapointed.
Andrew Barr / Brian Haas |
Space-Jazz Duo Late Night in the Vaudville Tent
Two of the most energetic musicians in the scene got together for the first time to have a percussion throw down. After playing together in Tahoe last March the drummer from the Slip and the organ player for JFJO decided they would like to sit down and see where they could go as a duo. What better palce to try this experiment than at High Sierra. Those in attendance were treated to the best both brothers had to offer as they faced each other on stage. One point in this hour long jam session, the beats were so heavy that Andrew simply couldn't stay on his kit any longer. He reached over and started banging out rhythms on the metal railing that went around the stage. Brian continued to charge ahead, and soon they found thesemlves in a Latin jam highlighted by the clanging of the metal. Truly a unique High Sierra experience.
The following day, we caught up with Brian Haas to get his take on the
evening's performance: "I would have to say that Andrew Barr probably one of the most underrated jazz genius drummers alive today. I think Andrew Barr is going to be in the history books. Andrew's drumming, the accents that he was using, he was playing 4 or 5 rhythms at the exact same time. The stuff he was doing was so polyrhytmic, some of the deepest craziest african shit I've ever heard in my entire life. I'm still spun out from it, it felt like I was in the void the entire time. It was similar to playing with Jacob Fred in that the whole thing seemed like it took 5 minutes."
Tea Leaf Green Quadruples Fan Base in One Hour |
We spent the first day of the festival telling over a hundred people not to miss two bands they'd never heard of: Umphrey's McGee and Tea Leaf Green. Almost a thousand people turned out on a blazing sunny afternoon to see this small bar band from San Francisco who has never graced a stage half as large as the Showcase before. Beautifully crafted Steely Dan-esque songwriting by keyboardist Trevor "Professor T" Garrod meld perfectly with the searing guitar chops of Josh "Trey in the 80's" Clark and his jaw-dropping solos. I overheard three people in the crowd remark that these guys had the same raw power of a young Phish. Perhaps it is just Clark's guitar tone, because he plays that note - the loud, sustained guitar note that cuts through you and makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up on end. This kid can do that, he's got the tone and the chops. Ripping through material from their forthcoming release, Midnight on the Reservoir, with soon-to-be-classics like "Freedom," "If You Believe It, It Will Come True," and "Sex In the Seventies," Tea Leaf Green won so many new fans that they sold out of all the CDs they brought to the festival before the weekend was half over. Welcome to the "next level" boys!
"Vitamin B-3" Organ Summit with Melvin (JGB) Seals, Robert (20th Congress) Walter, and "Mighty" Dave (Tough Mama) Pellicciaro, who all brought their organs onstage. This was supposed to be a question and answer session, but they warmed up with three numbers for about an hour. What an absoutely smokin' organ trio with the rhythm section of the Living Daylights keeping the organ-ic grooves locked in.
Playshop with "Skins" Tabla Master Trilok Gurtu and Banjo Extrodinare Bela Fleck|
Two amazing muscians who had never played together before sat down for a very unique afternoon. The hammering fingers on the tabla just raced along with the nimble picking of the banjo to create some very other wordly grooves. The packed house was amazed at the fluidity of the jams and were even more blown away by the answers Trilok was giving to the questions from the audience. One question about the differences in time signitures between Eastern music and Western music, asked by Victor Wooten, even had Bela scratching his head. Trilok couldn't really put his answers into words, or rather the audience couldn't really comprehend his answers coming from a culture which doesn't have an understanding of the tabla. Instead Trilok tried to verbally explain the beats. "Buh da Da da da Da da Da Da." After Bela said that he was still a little confused Trilok would just start playing and Bela would then follow along into another flowing jam. Proving once again that Music is a language unto itself. Another classic High Sierra moment.
Umphrey's McGee Blows Out the Power|
Umphrey's McGee took California by surprise High Sierra week. After three killer performances in the Bay Area, as well as an extensive first trip to the West Coast, they were ready to settle in to the festival atmosphere and let loose. Who could have imagined such intensity coming from a bunch of beer-can swilling Indiana boys? On the first night of the Fest, Umphrey's threw down a late night set at the Vaudeville Tent. Being right after the day's festivities, and just before the late night shows commenced, there was a packed house to see this band with the wierdest moniker. In the middle of Brendan Bayliss' solo in their epic composition "All In Time," the power went out and all the instruments went quiet, except for the percussion section. Guitarist Jake Cinninger jumped onto percussionist Andy Farag's kit, as the situation was being rectified. Once the power came back on, they jumped right back into the sickest part of Brendan's solo. Perfectly played, another moment!
The Prescription Renewal's Horny Horns|
Mike Clark and his Prescription Renewal tour were on day 13 of a 13 night tour on Thursday evening. This didn't hold them back as Robert Walter, Charlie Hunter, Fred Wesley and Skerik, along with Mike Clark, gave us a lesson in booty shakin' as they ripped through Headhunter and JB tunes for the funk hungry crowd. If they did need a kick in the pants, they got it as Karl Denson hopped on stage to form a diverse and extremely talented horn section with a sense of humor.
The Free Energy Project|
The extended family of the Sound Tribe Sector 9 have the future in mind. As our planet is currently facing an energy crisis, what steps are being taken to protect our precious natural resources. In an experiment in energy, art and music, The Free Energy Project demonstrated how solar power can be used to generate enough power to sustain a full band and camp for the 4 days. Each night, the Free Energy Project would set up and play a set of conscious grooves and trancey dance beats, often with guest musicians who just happened to be passing by their camp.
Spearhead at the Grandstand Stage on Saturday
There is something about an outdoor summertime Spearhead show that really moves people. This was the case yet again as Michael Franti's crew took over the Grandstand Stage on Saturday afternoon. Although they got started late, they still delivered the goods. With hands waving, feet flying, and asses shaking the crowd was treated to a feel good dance party. Lyrics like "All the freaky people make the beauty of the world" and "Sometimes, I feel like I can do anything" got the crowd not only moving, but dangerously close to heat stroke and smiling all the way. The good vibes that flowed across the meadow that afternoon were what the festival is all about; dancing with abandon with close friends and strangers alike, each with the knowledge that at that moment this is the only place in the universe you want to be.
More High Sierra Moments Sound Tribe Sector 9's Main Stage set encored with a (Full) Moonsockets
Living Hanumama (combination of Seattle's Living Daylights, Hanuman, and Tough Mama) threw a ridiculous party at the Vaudeville Tent Saturday late night
Mohead's Morning Swamp Blues, perfect to rise and shine to
STS9's "Kamuay" encore at 4:20am at the Jamhouse
Bay Area's human beatbox, Radioactive, sits in with The Slip... on his birthday!
Fareed Haque of Garaj Mahal sits in with moe., The Slip, Jazz Mandolin Project, and Karl Denson's Tiny Universe
Kimock delivers without Bobby Vega and with Melvin Seals
Jamie Janover rode around all weekend on a drum-cycle
Jarrod Kaplan of Hanuman did a fire dance on stage during The Motet's set on the Showcase Stage
Karl Denson and Bela Fleck sit in with Garaj Mahal at the Showcase Stage
The Americana Stage was packed beyond belief for the Yonder Mountain String Band
Jason Concepcion of Netwerk: Electric sits in with Karl Denson's Tiny Universe at the late night show
Brad Barr of The Slip hung out one late night on a bench with his new banjo and whoever wanted to come sit and play with him
These are real moments by real musicians, and High Sierra is everything that is good about music, all rolled into one long weekend. We're already looking forward to the 12th Annual High Sierra Music Festival. This one is just too good to miss!
For more photos, check out the High Sierra Photo Gallery!
The JamBase Crew
Did you write a High Sierra Review? We're always accepting submissions
More words from you...
All I Have to say is ... Yeah, I don't have much to say. That festival
rendered me speechless. I came for KDTU and Spearhead and left with an
enormous shopping list of new cd's and shows to attend. This was my first
HSMF. Previously, I had been a four year veteran of Mountainaire. And
although I've seen some pretty amazing things in my time, I've never
witnessed the overall spirit and vibe that could lift a finger to what was
going on in Quincy. 10K+ people and I cannot recall seeing a security guard
or any incidents during the entire festival. Is this the answer to world
peace? I definitely think we're on to something. Thanks to all the bands
who made musical history and to all the fans who paved the way for the future
of mankind. And of course, thanks to everyone who made those four days and
nights of High Sierra possible. Now, if it was only July 2002...
Sound Tribe Sector 9 | Late Night | Funk'n Jamhouse | 07.06.01|
These guys are quite simply, a non-stop jam. I had seen them before, so I had high expectations, and they satisfied my every desire at High Sierra. Moreso than any of their other sets, the latenite show topped anything that I've ever seen STS9 do. They took the jam's to new levels at the wee hours of the morning, and the addition of Jessica Lurie from Living Daylights was like a cherry on top of a sundae. After an enjoyable set from Cabaret Diosa, the nine took the stage at about 1:30 am. They amazed me by keeping it going until the sun began to come up, around 5:30am!!! Much to my surprise, they broke it up into two sets, each totalling 1 hour and 40 minutes. The jams segued together very nicely, and kept everyone in the Funk'n Jamhouse shakin' their booties without hesitation. I cannot say that they were the best band at the festival, but this show was definately one of the highlights for me. If you have a chance, go check out Sector Nine and get your mind blown.
Keller Williams | HSMF Americana Stage | 07.07.01|
Keller Williams is always the treat, and I made it there early to catch his afternoon set on the Americana Stage. It was hot, but a good number of people showed up to groove and sweat out in the heat with Keller. And believe me, he did not disappoint. The set opened with "Stupid Questions," surely a Keller fave, which nicely led into "Kiwi and Apricot," another ingenious tune. Keller is his own band, and somehow the man manages to play everything all at once. With Lou Gosein on the sbd and background vocals, Keller got us all rockin in the sun. Some other favorites that he busted out were "Doin that Rag," "Bounty
Hunter," "Fuel for the Road" and some teasing of "Dancin in the Streets." Keller played a Hot set on a Hot summer day. Check out Keller, this guy never ceases to amaze.
This was my 1st High Sierra. All I can say is "where have I been the last few years?" How could I miss such an incredible experience? 1st off the people! Wow! I have never meet so many people having such a great time, and being so kind to each other in all my life! It was a little hot and everywhere you turned people were smiling and spraying each other with water and kindness. An example would be the fella who gave 20 bucks to the watermelon vender and asked him to treat the next 18 folks who wanted some mellon...It was that kind of weekend!
2nd the music. A friend of mine once said, "You gauge a festival not by the music you saw, but the music you had to miss to see the music you saw." That is sure how this weekend went for me... I sure tried to see it all! A shout out to all the tapers who where able to get to everything. It was an endurance test. It killed me to miss the afternoon Jazz Mandolin Project, but a Freak has to rest sometime. Highlights are too many to mention here, but I will try. First and foremost, those Yonder Mountain boys stole my heart! From the late night, to the Americana stage to the main stage these boys where my personal highlight. They just get better and better. It didn't hurt that they were kind enough to play my request of "Left Me In a Hole" at the Americana stage! So much fun to see live! Anyway, see them at all costs. I think they are playing a two-night run at the Fillmore soon. Whoopee!
Other personal highlights would be "The Jazz Garaj Mahal Mandolin Project" late night before moe. I hadn't seen Jazz Mandolin Project and was blown away. Jamie Mansfield is a heck of a talent and the addition of Kai Eckhart and Fareed Haque really added to their set as did their contribution to moe.'s set. Speaking of Garaj Mahal, they were everywhere and I enjoyed everything they did. Other than that Bela Fleck's set was hot, as well as Tony Furtado's. I wish he was able to stick around all weekend. Steve Kimock Band was a main reason for going. It was slightly disappointing not to have Bobby around. Oh well.|
OK folks I am rambling so I will stop. But damn what a fun weekend! Special shout out to the HSMF staff. I have never dealt with such a friendly, and helpful staff. See you all next year! I won't miss another one.
High Sierra exceeded my expectations in dozens of regards I won't bother summarizing here, except to say that Drums and Tuba, Umphrey's McGee, and Tea Leaf Green each deserve more attention (for different reasons). The one detail I wanted to relate was an event whose visual image captured the weekend perfectly. During Garaj Mahal's afternoon set, one of the PA speakers began emitting smoke, lightly at first and then in a steady billow. Maybe it was from being in use in the sun for many hours already, as it was the unit getting direct rays on the most surface area at that time. Maybe the smoke resulted in part from the band's scorching grooves and blistering solos, the music becoming quite literally on fire. Or maybe it was a poetic reference to the grill Fareed Haque uses as a drum (occasionally in yellow grilling frock). Whatever the source of the smoke, the reaction is what I'll emphasize: The crowd reacted curiously at first (is it a prop, a stunt, or an accident?) then intently but with total control, while the event staff handled things promptly and appropriately - both patterns that recurred throughout the weekend.
Have any artists written to talk about how amazing their time at High Sierra
was? We camped right next to Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey and they were the first folks we met (not including getting attacked by members of The Motet as we entered the fair grounds) and definitely not the last group of friends we made while we were there. There was such a great bond and outpouring of love and support from all the musicians there. It really felt great to know that we were all there for each other and no one was trying to out due one another. We forgot that we were there to play for awhile having such an amazing time meeting people and catching other shows. It was such an honor to be able to get up there and contribute musically! We were just happy to be there PERIOD!
One of the most amazing jams I experienced was an improv late night outside of the late night music hall with members of The Motet, Cabaret Diosa, Chupacabra, John Brown's Body, Greyhounds, a dude playing a washboard, and whoever else came over with a drum or just to dance!
And the staff that was at High Sierra? The nicest people EVER! The stage crew was by the far the coolest group of guys I've ever worked with. And our artist liaisons went out of their way for us a few times and I just hope they know how much we appreciated them being there! We love you Jenna and JoAnne! Thanks for the sunscreen!
And to top it all off, the people that were there to hear us all play couldn't have made us all happier! I never saw an angry glance or a tense moment anywhere! I felt safer at High Sierra than I do at my own home sometimes. It was such a beautiful experience and I hope to live it again next year.