High Sierra Music Fest | 07.02-07.05 | CA

Leftover Salmon Day Set/Vince Herman and Friends Kickball Set

Herman & Moore - Sunrise Kickball - HSMF 2009 by Krolick
If performers like Skerik and Reed Mathis are princes of the festival then Vince Herman is the king. After enjoying years of Leftover Salmon their main stage show did not disappoint. The vibe was loose and the festival spirit on Saturday July 4th was in full force. The afternoon set was a quieter down-tempo Salmon performance, but we had figured they would still have some Cajun funk slam leftover from their late night show. The highlights of an all around splendid show were mostly off of Salmon's Ask The Fish live album. "Bend in the River" included a nice bit of finger picking by all involved. A 15-plus minute "Lonesome Road" featured some great vocals and just really made me miss Mark Vann. At one point Vince Herman said that they should have the kids of the band play and he brought out his son, Silas Herman. The moments they shared together on stage were quite special as Herman smiled over at his son and encouraged him with proud glances. Their movements and mannerisms are really quite uncanny. Drew Emmitt was a bit understated during this show, but as always just amazed the crowd with his subtle mandolin acrobatics; it's just too bad he never really got a chance to let loose and slice the strings to shreds. The set was filled with poignancy as Herman told a story about their late friend Sandy Alexander, who had snatched up his headphones, found some sunshine and got one little dance in. "Woody Guthrie" made a great statement with the lyrics, "The big dogs are back at the door." This band is ready for a substantial tour and with some new blood joining them on stage one wonders if we will see them take on more tour dates. Personally, I miss seeing more of these Colorado legends. Like in days gone by, Leftover Salmon managed to jerk the heartstrings and make us chuckle.

Little did we know that during our early Saturday morning kickball game Herman and Emmitt would lead a small army of musicians, including Nathan Moore, Brad Barr, Steve Adams, Anders Beck and Silas Herman, running across the field with instruments in hand and grins on their faces. Hey, it's High Sierra so not many batted an eyelash until the ragtag crew of merry tricksters start playing. Sure, they started slow with a "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," but as soon as Herman started in on a homemade kickball song that questioned why Mr. Davis was still in suits many of us stopped playing and joined the sideline party. The sing-along ended in a two-minute chant of "kickball, kickball, kickball, kickball." It was another amazing High Sierra memory for the record books. (Krolick)

Leftover Salmon (Late Night)

HSMF 2009 by Krolick
One of the few bands that I can really appreciate for their no-nonsense jovial take on music is Leftover Salmon. They refer to their music as "Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass" for Chrissake! They're not afraid to do what they feel works, regardless if people accept it or not. On stage they're six goofy looking guys (Vince Herman accidentally tucked his jeans into one of his socks) that are able to craft some of the most jam-intensive music ever. Their sound is able to conjure images of their native country – Colorado (watching these guys I almost felt like I was at a mid-mountain hoe-down in some backwoods cabin in the Rockies). Their late night set was the first time I'd seen the boys live and they were in top form, playing their hearts out and rocking like they were in their prime back in the mid-90s. While many of the members have their respective side projects, (Vince Herman with Great American Taxi and Drew Emmitt with the Emmit-Nershi Band) taking time off from performing as Leftover, the boys' late night set Friday saw the group playing like they'd never left each other's sides. While the music was superb, Leftover Salmon's stage show was a bit dull. As mentioned earlier, the goofiness factor played its part, but the crowd never seemed fully engaged in the stage movement of any member of the band. With the exception of Vince Herman, who was sporting a perma-grin the entire show, none of the musicians seemed to move at all. Banjoist Matt Flinner was like a bluegrass shoegazer. He hardly moved at all, let alone looked up from his speedy, pickin' fingers. Hearing the classic "Mama Boulet" off their breakthrough Euphoria was something I'd been waiting for since I was a young lad grappling with understanding why someone would devote their life to following some obscure band around the country. Leftover Salmon's performances at High Sierra, while far from career defining, were still enjoyable and fun. It was good to see the aging jammers, visibly road worn, hold down a groove with ease while maintaining their signature sense of humor. (Gillett)

DeVotchKa

DeVotchKa :: HSMF 2009 by Miller
Knowing little to nothing about DeVotchKa before I arrived at High Sierra, except that they opened up for David Byrne on his most recent tour, I was more than pleasantly surprised with their set on the main stage Saturday. It could have been the drastic temperature decrease as the sun started to set, it could have been the Eastern European song orchestrations, it could have been the scarcity of dancing wookies, but regardless of the factors, DeVotchKa played one of my favorite sets all weekend. Their sound is an interesting mix of gypsy looseness combined with a chamber pop adherence to song structure and musicianship. The Denver four-piece were one of the most unique acts to be featured at High Sierra - one of the most foreign sounding at least - and their set was a nice relief from the jam intensive sound that permeated the four day festival. Frontman Nick Urata made good use of his Theremin and added an eerie element to the music that furthered the group's unique sound. The band seamlessly transitioned between several genres including Americana, folk, polka and punk, all while keeping a unified sound that held tight in the confines of the lush songs. (Gillett)

J Boogie's Dubtronic Science

J Boogie's Dubtronic Science was combustible enough to almost fill the Vaudeville Tent Thursday eve. The white awning glowed under the moon while all the dancing California Freaks shook it to J Boogie. His dub music was set off by an extraordinary horn section called the Jazz Mafia. As they blasted out the notes, Rene Flores would slather them up with his Afro-Latin percussion. Singer Aima the Dreamer had nowhere near the flow of today's great female hip-hop artists. Her rapping was less than smooth, but when she sat back on the beats and just sang it worked much better. Their reggae-flavored cover of Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" was her redeeming factor and it held my attention a few minutes longer before skipping out to catch Greensky Bluegrass doing a blue-grassed out cover of Michael Jackson's "Beat It." (Krolick)

Paper Bird

Paper Birds :: HSMF 2009 by Miller
After riding my Dirty Projectors kick for far too long, along came Paper Bird and it appeared that I'm once again hopelessly smitten with the vocals of a band featuring a trio of ladies. Sisters Esme and Genevieve Patterson and Sarah Anderson have the harmonies of something otherworldly, or at least almost forgotten about until bands like the Fleet Foxes pulled out hymnal songs and made it popular to enjoy vocal harmonies again. However, don't roll those eyes. This Colorado-based group is all folksy Americana and their musicianship is just as fine as the vocals. The trombone (Tyler Archuletta), guitar (Paul DeHaven), banjo (Caleb Summeril) and bass (Macon Terry) all help add to the trio's harmonies. Paper Bird's afternoon set on the Vaudeville stage set my heart fluttering as they performed "Livin' Lucky." This dainty ditty trucked along with a pluck of banjo and soft blasts of trombone as the singers' harmonies soared. There was an interesting dynamic between Esme Patterson and red-haired Anderson. During the afternoon set, Patterson was very angelic and at any moment I thought she might curtsy to the crowd, while Anderson was fire to Patterson's ice as she tossed vulgarities and sassy looks freely. Put the two together and toss Genevieve into the mix and you had a fascinating group to watch as well as listen to. Their dynamic changed on Sunday during the gospel sessions, especially when Dre Anders joined the mix. Their harmonies and Anders just didn't fit and the look of discomfort on their faces was pretty obvious. From what I caught of their playshop the crowd ate them up as they encouraged the group to each take a portion and sing a round. This Colorado band is one to watch over the next few years. (Krolick)

Ollabelle

Reid Genauer - AoD :: HSMF 2009 by Miller
Named after legendary Appalachian songwriter Ola Belle Reed, Ollabelle is a rootsy five-piece playing old timey songs that touch on the gamut of American music - folk, blues, gospel, jazz, bluegrass, country and rock - and they play it all with effortless joy and big smiles painted across their faces. Featuring Levon Helm's daughter Amy on mandolin and vocals, Ollabelle certainly grew from The Band's tree, though blossomed into a peaceful patch of flowers as opposed to the tortured, drug-fueled briars The Band found themselves wrapped up in. Everyone shared vocal duties and they swapped instruments frequently. The twin ladies out front, Fiona McBain joining Helm, made quite the team, but it was Glenn Patscha on soulful, funky keys who just about stole the show when he led the band through the Grateful Dead's "Wharf Rat" and "Promised Land." (Kayce)

Assembly of Dust

Assembly of Dust has a new album landing at the end of July and it had been forever since I'd seen Reid Genauer and company play. Genauer is another guitar master on the same level with Brad Barr and Josh Clark. His fingers run the fretboard like a ferret chases its prey – fast and nimble with aggressive, cunning tendencies. Why he wasn't involved with the Guitarmageddon jam I don't know. Genauer performed three new songs from the upcoming album, Some Assembly Required, including "Cold Coffee," "Arc of the Sun" and "Second Song." The set was quick but fun, and I was disappointed to have missed his Troubadour Session, where apparently both Nathan Moore and Genauer had been hitting the sauce quite a bit and the banter went into some funny realms. It sounds like before the show Moore told Genauer that they were going to have a little competition on stage. If you know more please comment at the end of the story. (Krolick)

Gospel Sessions

Gospel Sessions :: HSMF 2009 by Miller
Before these even started you could sense something special in the air as The Lee Boys, Zack Gill, Dan Lebowitz, Shane Theriot, Dre Anders of Dre's Awakening, the Paper Birds, Dusty Rhodes and others warmed up behind the Big Meadow stage. The ladies of Paper Bird kept saying how amazing the experience was and they looked as if they would burst from excitement. During the warm-up, The Lee Boys basically led the group, asking if everyone knew this or that gospel song and the group would start to sing it and then move onto the next. They set the whole thing up about an hour beforehand, deciding which parts each person or group of people would sing and where they would take the session next. People would stop and watch them practice and it seemed that most of the fun was in seeing them work out the kinks and plan the arrangements. The session was steeped in traditional gospel songs, some well known and others that many had never heard before. Two that particularly stood out were Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released" and Albert Brumley's "I'll Fly Away," which really got the crowd going. It was wonderful to see many folks come down to the Sunday service dressed to the nines in their suits and large sun hats. When the jams really dove into high gear, arms went up and some folks just testified to the heavens, while others shook their behinds feverishly and swung their partners around. The morning's music was just the jolt needed to wake the entire festival and give them strength for the last day of festivities. (Krolick)

Dusty Rhodes and the River Band

It's Sunday and you're tired. Music, parties, and sunshine have taken their toll. You just can't seem to summons the energy, and then Dusty Rhodes and the River Band begin. Taking the stage directly after the Gospel Sessions, this was the ultimate one-two punch to shake off a weekend full of fun and slide us right into the final stretch. Wearing a sky blue jump suit and sporting his curly, wild white man 'fro, Dusty (Dustin Apodaca) wouldn't take no for an answer. At first the crowd was small and sitting 20 yards from the stage. He convinced us to get to our feet and slowly lured us forward. By the mid-point of the set it was an electric Holy Ghost revival. And boy howdy, Dusty truly gets taken over by the spirit. Easily the most animated bandleader of the weekend, when he wasn't slaying the keyboard – even taking a full solo with it on his back! – or punishing the accordion, Dusty was roaming the stage like a crazed preacher on moonshine and mushrooms. Running through sing-along anthems like "Ghost Trails," "First You Live," "Street Fighter" and the psychedelic burner "Goodnight, Moonshine," if the electric guitars didn't spin you out then the soaring violin surely did. Also touching on new songs like the stunning "Davidians" off the brand new Palace and Stage album, it was really the giant set closer of CCR's "Fortunate Son" that blew it open. Juiced up with gospel flavor and headed straight for sin, Dusty had us all kneeling way down low as he stared into the eyes of folks up front and said, "We can't let the rich people tell us what to do," before jumping to his feet and belting out the chorus once again, "I ain't no fortunate one, no!" It all came crashing down beautifully and seemed like the right way to honor America. Before he walked off stage Dusty addressed the congregation one last time: "Thank you very much. We're Dusty Rhodes and we're gonna make the rich people pay!" (Kayce)

Vieux Farka Touré

Vieux Farka Touré :: HSMF 2009 by Miller
Having seen all of the other "big names" on the lineup, it was Mali star Vieux Farka Touré who I was most excited to see at this year's HSMF. Like many other music freaks, Vieux's legendary father, Ali Farka Touré (who died in 2006), was monumental in shaping my perception of music. By taking American blues back to the source in traditional African (in this case Malian) roots, Ali offered the west a door to a whole new world of never ending sound. Vieux has taken the torch and run with it. Still built on the foundation of traditional Malian music, Vieux dips even deeper into the rock landscape and pushes the conversation further, though there were times where it felt like Ali was coming straight through his son's fluid fingers. The mid-tempo, foot-stomping rhythms, sharp sinewy guitar lines, heavy, healing bass and the deep wash of persistent vocals layered in as just another instrument created a hypnotic affect that put many in a trance. Bodies swayed left and right and before long people were getting their African dance fully on. And the five-piece band (bass, drums, traditional percussion, acoustic guitar and Touré on electric) was incredible, probably the tightest ensemble of the weekend. A few songs into the set, These United States guitar player Tom Hnatow appeared for a blazing guitar dual with Touré that found both men clearly inspired by the other. The more rock-oriented parts found Touré unleashing torrents of notes so fast and perfectly placed that it was difficult to even keep up, but it was the slower desert blues that were even more impressive. Patient acoustic guitar lines would wrap around Touré's silver guitar progressions to form intricate tapestries that held the crowd afloat as the band snaked along in gorgeous jams that seemed to last forever. This set was one of the most special treats I've seen in my decade attending High Sierra. (Kayce)

Final Thoughts

We've said it before but it's worth repeating: High Sierra is about the hang. We go to Bonnaroo, Coachella, Rothbury (if it weren't the same weekend) and the like for their lineups, but we head to the High Sierra Music Festival each year to kick it. Of course the music is the center and that's the setting for our hang, but we've stopped even looking at the lineup – many of us just know where we're gonna be on 4th of July weekend. The weather is always great, but this year it was perfect, about ten degrees cooler in the day and five degrees warmer at night. And then there's the Feather River, the epic sunrise kickball game, strangers - I mean new friends - bringing over homemade food to share, and this happens to be one of the very few festival I'd feel comfortable bringing a child to. There's a family vibe and good-natured slant to everything at High Sierra, but that never seems to take away form the crazy, all night good times either. It's a special place that seems to get better each year, and next year is the 20th Anniversary so you know it's gonna be extra special. Like Nathan Moore sang from the stage during Surprise Me Mr. Davis, "Oh, what a home away/ oh, what a home away from home." (Kayce)

HSMF 2009 by Krolick
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