By: Andy Tennille
Surprise Me Mr. Davis
Going into High Sierra 2008, there were a few acts I'd marked on my schedule as "can't miss," and Surprise Me Mr. Davis topped the list. Despite having regularly stopped through San Francisco the last several years on their way to and from the festival, I'd never had the opportunity to catch them, but this year's lineup afforded several opportunities to see the foursome in action.
| Marc Friedman - Surprise Me Mr. Davis by Scott Galbraith|
The Slip has been around forever, or so it seems. As one of the preeminent '90s jam bands, the trio has played nearly every hole-in-the-wall venue and graced every festival stage our country has to offer, but it wasn't until the winter of 2003 that they met their musical match in Nathan Moore. Legend has it that Surprise Me Mr. Davis was formed when Moore was snowed in at The Slip's Boston apartment and the result of being holed up for a week was their 2004 self-titled debut released on Butch Trucks' Frogville Records.
For their Big Meadow stage set at High Sierra, the quartet drew from their album, but beyond the song selection, it was apparent that Moore's presence enabled the Barr brothers and Marc Friedman to relax and just play, something akin to The Band's backing of Ronnie Hawkins or Bob Dylan. The trio moved and grooved behind Moore's capable singing and hefty songwriting and delivered one helluva set. But more than anything, what Surprise Me Mr. Davis proved is that the whole is often times greater than the sum of its parts.
Eric McFadden Trio
With the cobwebs of Friday night's festivities lingering in the midday sun, Saturday's music got off to a ferocious start with the Eric McFadden Trio. Augmented into quartet status for the weekend by percussionist Doug Port, the Trio – with James Whiton on double bass and Paulo Baldi on drums – blew through an hour-long set of dark originals interspersed with a few choice covers, including an absolutely incendiary cover of The Clash's "Guns of Brixton," an instrumental jam and a slowed-down take on Outkast's "Ms. Jackson." With a new album out this summer, EMT continues to be among the best of the Bay Area bands. Should they gain some consistency in the drum seat, it's only a matter of time before San Francisco's best-kept secret becomes a household name for rock fans across the country.
| Harley Prechtel-Cortez - TWU|
By Josh Miller
The Weather Underground
While many groups on the High Sierra bill are habitual attendees, returning every year to perform in front of a sea of familiar faces, a few bands make their festival debut each July and have the opportunity to grow their fanbase in the process. For The Weather Underground – frontman Harley Prechtel-Cortez, bassist Ryan Kirkpatrick, drummer Diego Guerrero and guitarist Sho Bagley – High Sierra 2008 marked their first foray into festival gigging, but the immediacy and urgency of their mid-afternoon Thursday performance was well-received by the small crowd gathered at the Big Meadow stage. By the time the band took the stage the following afternoon at the Vaudeville Tent, word-of-mouth praise had spread across the festival grounds and the High Sierra faithful had packed the shaded stage to see what the buzz was about. Drawing songs from across their three, self-released EPs, TWU delivered an electric set that had the crowd calling for an encore and thus cemented the Los Angeles-based quartet as one of the festival's biggest surprises.
Bassist Charnett Moffett - named after his father, jazz drummer Charles Moffett, and mentor, jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman - was born with an undeniable gift for improvisation. He is a prime example of a musician that just feels the music and what he plays comes out effortlessly and naturally. Somehow, he is able to put this innate sense into words as he did at the improv playshop at High Sierra. Joined by Andrew Barr on drums, Marco Benevento on keys, Stephane Wrembel on guitar and Laurence Scudder (Ryan Montbleau Band) on viola, Charnett gave a lesson on how to listen to other players and combine sounds to create one. In a very cosmically charged session, we learned that "all sounds are created equal" and that all keys can blend together to create something beautiful. And then he proceeded to drop jaws by playing a distorted Jimi Hendrix style "Star Spangled Banner" on his upright. Truly an inspirational High Sierra moment!
| High Sierra 2008 by Julie Blaustein|
And with that we start planning for the 19th installment of the High Sierra Music Festival. It's the one place we know we'll be each and every year!
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