High Sierra Music Fest | 07.02-07.05 | CA


Everest :: HSMF 2009 by Krolick
It's no wonder Neil Young signed these cats to his label. Earnest, deep, shit-kicking rock & roll with a soft side that'll make you weep, Everest is a no-brainer for Vapor Records. When it was time to bleed they'd circle the troops center stage like Crazy Horse and let it rip, but when frontman/guitarist Russell Pollard peals it back he can also burn you slow with his smoky voice. Rock of this type requires a serious rhythm section, and these dudes crush it. Elijah Thomson's pile-driver bass was way up in the mix for both sets (just the way it should be) and drummer Davey Latter was relentless, rolling off thunder fills with effortless cool. In addition to Neil, there are trace elements of Band of Horses, The Mother Hips, Black Crowes and there's something about the acoustic/electric dynamic that made me think of Wilco (though way grittier), but it never sounds derivative, just inspired. Showing remarkable restraint and control of tempos, Everest would stretch things out, always paying attention to space. It felt right to hear this music outside amongst the trees. Of particular note during both sets was the cry of, "Don't make promises you can't keep." Deep within a drawn out beauty full of delays and reverb, Pollard repeated this phrase over and over, eyes closed, taken over by the moment. It wound down until a spark set the whole thing off and the set came crashing down in full rock pomp. (Kayce)


ALO :: HSMF 2009 by Krolick
For lots of bands High Sierra seems like home. It's the closest "jam friendly" music festival to San Francisco, so many bands that call S.F. home often feel like their band is a part of the annual festival. ALO hasn't performed 12 times (like The Slip has) at High Sierra but their performances this year clearly indicated their love of playing to this crowd. All the members of ALO have individual side projects and many of those side projects played at High Sierra, but the music that was created between the four members of ALO was far superior to any of the side gigs. Having just recorded a new album in Hawaii, ALO treated the High Sierra crowd to many new songs that still seemed a bit unorganized and in need of more road testing. The seeds for amazing songs and jams where already evident and with more time these songs will no doubt become fan favorites. One of the things that's always interested me about ALO is how accessible the band and their music is. The songs they play are unabashed pop tunes, which, I'll be the first to admit, can turn some listeners off. The lyrics are up-beat and cheery (Lebo sang on Thursday, "We got to try just a little bit harder/ And let it shine just a little bit brighter/ We got to walk just a little bit taller") which almost seems to act as a disadvantage to the band. They rarely get serious with their lyrics and their vocal styles - it's Jam-Lite. There's nothing wrong with being happy all the time but if you're constantly laughing, smiling and singing about how good life can be there's really no room for the seriousness that's required if a band wants to be a well respected act that consistently manages to churn out well made albums and interesting live shows. One thing that I will say about ALO is that they have always managed to impress me with their jam abilities. For a band that is known for their pop tendencies and studio refined sound, the ALO guys really can crank out some crunchy jams. At High Sierra, they felt comfortable with the crowd, which let them stretch out and explore new musical territory. For a band to be able to reach a high point with their free form jams the group really needs to trust the crowd. And as evidenced by ALO's sets at High Sierra, the band is comfortable and seems to treat the gathering as a sort of hometown festival. (Gillett)

Tea Leaf Green

Reed Mathis - TLG :: HSMF 2009 by Miller
Trevor Garrod, Josh Clark, Scott Rager, and Reed Mathis were so massively influential, not to mention busy, at the 2009 High Sierra Music Festival, they made me tired just watching them play. It felt like they were part of every band, and they almost were. These princes of the festival kicked things off with their own band, Tea Leaf Green, in the Funk'n Jam House during the second half of Thursday's late night show. They primed us for a few hours of dreamland by getting intensely sinister and deeply funky. Guest guitarist Sean Leahy jumped into jam on a killer "Sex in the 70s" that was a spacey and psychedelic homage to the mother ship. Then, they unleashed the highlight of their set, a "Panspermic De-Evolution" > "The Invasion Sandwich" that was en fuego from the get-go. Clark was doing his nasty lower lip snarl all evening, and as he snarled he'd dig into the guitar and make it howl like a real rock 'n' roller should. Clark even jumped on keys for a few minutes as Garrod got a jam started on harmonica. Tea Leaf Green backed that funky bus right over the screaming crowd and a grooving, moving mass of raging bodies bounced around, dragged along by the music.

Their Friday Big Meadow set wasn't nearly as dirty, but it had a great pace and made a few believers out of those unfamiliar with their music. The "Standing Still" opener was a very charming tune, and nice way to start off. They played a great "Garden 1" > "Garden 3," and Mathis was all "O" faces as he dropped bass bombs that worked the magic sauce into "Red Ribbons," featuring crowd participation from some clever folks who tossed streamers. And if that didn't win ya over, their stunning cover of CSN's "Wooden Ships" had to seal the deal.

Mathis should perhaps win the High Sierra MVP for most appearances all weekend playing with Steve Kimock Crazy Engine, the Benevento Trio, Tea Leaf Green, and at least two other sit-ins, but my favorite incarnations of him were defiantly with Tea Leaf Green. Garrod could also be found sitting in on keys on top of the back road RV with Sean Leahy & Friends, as well as at the Troubadour Sessions and a couple late night guest spots with The Travelin' McCourys and much of Camp Harry's Surprise Me Mr. Davis set. To the best of my knowledge Clark had only one other spot at the HSMF during Guitarmageddon, where he sported a flowery green muumuu and some classic Ronald McDonald red Chucks. This now infamous gathering of High Sierra shredders featured a revolving lineup including Clark, Leahy, Dan Lebowitz, Jeff Pevar, Steve Adams, Dave Brogan and at points, Reed Mathis, Jason Smart, Simon Kurth and Jeremy Korpas. The Guitarmageddon set included a huge array of music including a 9-minute version of Nirvana's classic "Breed," a version of Ween's "Roses Are Free," Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus" and finally finishing with a relentless version of Iron Maiden's "Aces High." If you missed this I feel badly for you. (Krolick)

Red Cortez

Harley Prechtel-Cortez - Red Cortez :: HSMF 2009 by Law
Trying to guess which band will be the next to "make it" is a fool's game. Wise journalists never get involved in such ridiculousness. Lucky for us, one thing I am not is wise, so I have no problem telling you I think Red Cortez will indeed "make it." And it's not just because I personally really dig their blend of jangly, post-punk, soul-on-fire, tent revival rock; there are several obvious factors that play into "making it." First, you gotta have good material and you gotta want it – and these dudes burn it down every freakin' time. Then, you gotta have the songwriting – spend some time with their music and you'll hear the best of every generation from the '60s straight through to 2009. Next, and perhaps most important for the glossy mag covers, you gotta have the right guy to sing the songs. Switching from guitar to piano, Harley Prechtel-Cortez has a fantastic voice and is one of the most captivating frontmen around, plus he's got that crazy look in his eye. And then there's that intangible rock vibe, which these guys have coming out from under their dark eyes and leather jackets for sure. When they rolled through campsites late at night guys stopped and stared and girls started to whisper to one another. But you probably don't care about all that. You here on JamBase are here for one thing and one thing alone – the music - and these fellas play some seriously great music. Flailing across the stage barefoot, Harley sang about "original sin," quoted Walt Whitman and urged us to create our own freedom while searing guitars and primal drum slaps burned through our bodies. Later in the set, they dared us to wake up and live as the entire band screamed, "I'm not dead/ You're not dead/ Oh no." Of particular note was the old school War-era U2 aspect to much of the new material, just one more reason to believe the big time isn't far off for Red Cortez. (Kayce)

These United States

These United States & Red Cortez :: HSMF 2009 by Law
If it's 4th of July and there's a band called These United States playing you obviously go see them. But, what I learned on this particular 4th was that it actually doesn't matter what the date is; if These United States have a show, you go. A rootsy, foot-stomping blend of well-crafted American rock, it went down easier than a burger and Budweiser. The slower, tense moments were often built upon a soaring pedal steel, and the big, swinging ball rockers were ushered in by the thick rhythm section. Three-part harmonies over acoustic guitar rubbed up against burning electric guitar solos or crying slide work. As impressive as the instrumental interaction was, one was brought back time and again to the songwriting and delivery of frontman/brainchild Jesse Elliot. During standout selections "Six Fast Bullets" and "Honor Amongst Thieves" there was a touch of honky-tonk and something made me think of Okkervil River, but before I could figure out why I was spinning around on my heels, kicking up dust and thinking about how timeless it all felt. Truly a marvelous way to begin one's Independence Day. (Kayce)


Skerik (w/ Galactic) :: HSMF 2009 by Miller
Skerik was this year's artist at large as well as playing two shows of his own with varying personal styles. His first appearance was as one half of the "In the Kitchen" playshop, where Benevento and Skerik got weird in the early afternoon. The duo warmed up for the day of music by running us through the zaniest stew of mountain sounds hatched out of pinecones dropping in the woods – it was all over the place and the odd just grew and grew and grew. At one point Skerik sang, "I like to frolic with the hippies," and followed it up with a bong-sized hit on his sax before working the honk into a version of Benevento's "Real Morning Party." Skerik popped up latter in the day at Bonerama's afternoon set to add his NOLA spirit for "Shake Your Regulator" and an amazing cover of Led Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks." Hand's down my favorite incarnation of Skerik was McTuff. The band started by Hammond organist Joe Doria and featuring Andy Coe on guitar and drum stud D'Vonne Lewis delivered their own incredibly funky takes on classic works from Jimmy Smith and Captain Jack McDuff. Between 5:30 and 6:30 Saturday afternoon there was no other place I'd rather have been as the Vaudeville Tent filled with some of the grooviest surreal funk played by some seriously heavy-hitting cats. At one point Skerik stepped back to admire the scene as McTuff tossed it out trio style. They finished their set with a classic from South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone's Team America World Police. Yes, they covered "America, Fuck Yeah" and it was easily another of my highlight's from the festival. (Krolick)

Pretty Lights

HSMF's small layout is so amazing that you can get a taste of just about everything. Case in point, I was fully prepped and ready for Bonerama as the sizzling Friday sun burned at my shoulders. Over by the Vaudeville Tent a sprinkler wagged its water tail cooling all in the vicinity. As I approached to get some wet relief I was struck by the ass-shake going on under the tent, where MC Serch look-alike Pretty Lights, aka DJ Derek Vincent Smith, was laying it down hot and heavy accompanied by drummer, Cory Eberhard. Together these two were stimulating the potpourri of hippies, freaks, players, sprayers and girls wearing nothing but stickers and fruit into a frenzy. The front row was passing around a clear skin filled with pinkish jungle juice that was being freely chugged as the raucous dance party blew up. The spirit of Dionysus blew through the tent as the DJ and drummer tapped into something primal and quite nasty, like the score to a particularly dirty porno one watches curiously from a distance. It was dance madness, ecstasy and indulgence at its best and worst. (Krolick)


Bonerama :: HSMF 2009 by Krolick
Trombones are awesome! Perhaps it's just that this instrument can speak as well as any guitar, but it's way more then that. It's just such an expressive instrument in its movements. It was just so great to watch trombone players Mark Mullins and Craig Klein flick their wrists and push that glistening, telescopic slide out into the space in front of them on Friday afternoon! Mullins and Klein are the founders of Bonerama. One thing that has pushed Bonerama's reputation is their use of multiple trombones and other brass instruments to play rock riffs. Mullins is all business and doesn't miss a note. It's no wonder because he's been playing trombone since he was 13. Klein resembles a character out of some endless summer rather than a funkateer, but he can play a trombone with the best of them. This brass funk band from New Orleans helped to transport a little more NOLA love our way by doing an evening set on Thursday (I heard I missed a "War Pigs" encore) and a playshop with the Pimps of Joytime earlier on Friday. Friday afternoon they offered a 10 song set featuring guests, trombone dance moves, stage antics and some insane 'bone moments. The first came during "Hard Times" as the frontline just wailed away, each man pumping hard with their eyes closed. Skerik joined them as their first guest and the crowd went nuts. I watched dancing road construction workers, flying monkeys and plenty of kids riding shoulders. Marco Benevento followed Skerik, jumping in on organ for "When My Dreamboat Comes Home." The interplay between Klein and Benevento was spirited as Klein encouraged him to bust out a jam on keys during "There's A Certain Girl." Bonerama concluded with a cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Crosstown Traffic," complete with the trombones running through sets of wah-wah pedals. In my next life I'd truly enjoy being a trombone player. (Krolick)

Del McCoury Band

Del McCoury :: HSMF 2009 by Krolick
The Del McCoury Band's set in the afternoon at the grandstand was delightful. A lesser-known moment from that session actually came before it started. The McCoury family sat before the set next to an old Model T Ford that was parked behind the main stage. Ronnie McCoury and Rob McCoury warmed up on mandolin and banjo with a bit of "Nashville Cats." Del walked up and inspected the car. The camaraderie he has with his sons was unashamed and it's no wonder that their music is so insanely grand and timeless. It struck me a lot like that old Model T Ford, which I saw putting around the fairgrounds all weekend, bringing smiles wherever it went. Their music, similar to the car, continues to truck forward making new generations happy. This was the third year that the Del McCoury Band had played the HSMF and Del's Carolina-infused vocals, slow handed kindness and gentle eyes captivated the Friday crowd, showing them once again why they are legendary in the bluegrass world. (Krolick)


There was significant buzz around Cornmeal and since I had yet to see them I was intrigued. Allie Kral lived up to her hype, not only as a striking and spirited fiddle player but as a serious songstress, a siren among scruffy men. I was bouncing back and forth between their late night set and The Disco Biscuits and caught Vince Herman's sit in on "Get No Better." However, the highlight of what I caught was "When the World's Got You Down," featuring a feverish ripping of the bow across the fiddle strings by Kral and Kris Nowak's spirited fingers on guitar. If this music didn't get your heels kicking then nothing would. They never seemed to take a break and I later found out that the late night set lasted three hours with no stops. Hot damn! Cornmeal offers some serious pickin' and obviously I'll need to further investigate this band later in July when they are back East. (Krolick)

HSMF 2009 by Krolick
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