To me, the High Sierra Festival has come close to emulating the magic created at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Albeit on a much smaller scale, the festival was equipped with three stages, a stage in a tent, and a playshop stage. Jams were created spontaneously by our favorite musicians in the parking lots, some even with free energy. There were musicians sharing stages with some of their “musical heroes”, to quote Brian Haas of the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey when sax man Karl Denson joined them on stage. There were early evening and late night performances which basically kept the music going nearly 19 hours of the day! Amidst all of this mayhem, the gem that I found to be most inspiring, thought-provoking and stimulating was the session held at the Workshop Stage on Friday afternoon.

Entitled "Bass is the Place" this session brought together Marc Friedman of The Slip, Arne Livingston of the Living Daylights, and Tye North formerly of Leftover Salmon. Seeing these three musicians sharing a stage in front of 70+ music lovers of all ages was an educational experience. Although Marc and Arne were familiar with each other, neither of them have ever shared a stage with Tye North. This was not a problem for these three talents as they each dutifully shared the microphone with one another. They swayed between playing songs and answering questions from the audience. Tye shared with us that he was a self-taught musician who had never formally gone to school. He learned to play, read and write music by listening to records and just playing. In communicating the complexity and intrigue of the live music experience, he relishes every experience he gets to be on stage because he claims he learns more about himself and his style each time he steps on the stage.

Arne also shared with us how he learned to play the bass in Charlie Hunter-esque fashion by strumming with this index and middle fingers while playing down with his thumb. He told us that he learned to play this way by playing up with this thumb until he was wrenching in pain and his strings were covered with blood. Once he could play up, he knew that playing down would be trivial.

When asked to name the three most influential musicians to his style Marc could only reply one name, Jaco. He passionately told us how Jaco Pastorius revolutionized the electric bass during the 70’s and basically has influence all electric bassists that have played since him. It was amazing to hear Marc sermonize Jaco’s otherworldly skills, and then pick up his fretless to play brief Jaco-esque riffs to parenthetically reference what he had just said. Then the three bassists nervously picked up their instruments (after some serious urging from the crowd) and hesitatingly said they would attempt to play the nearly impossible Pastorius classic, "Teen Town." They covered themselves by putting a disclaimer on the tune, simply stating that they most likely will not finish the tune, let alone get out of the first verse. Sure enough, they tried and failed, but even those 45 seconds of magic were enough to embody what we were all doing there. Sharing in the history and the creation of musical moments, all being taught in an interactive forum to novices and professionals the same. That was the true spirit of the festival, no one held higher status then another, musicians were fans and fans were musicians. It was pure, clean fun for all in attendance.

Your man on the Magical West Coast Scene,
Donald Butke

[Published on: 7/12/01]

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