High Sierra Music Festival: 07.01-07.04 | California

Jake Krolick's High Sierra 2010 Highlights

High Sierra at Sunset by Krolick
Standout Moments on Thursday & Friday

Best Use of a Fretted Instrument
Both Nels Cline Singers sets in the Vaudeville Tent on Thursday and Friday were the place to be for some serious shredding, but the early afternoon set on Friday with guitarist extraordinaire Eric McFadden sitting in on a face melting "Maggot Brain" opener was an axe lovers dream. Speaking of great guitarists, by now you've probably heard of Big Light, and if you haven't then you will. Singer Fred Trophy, bassist Steve Adams, drummer Bradly Bilfulco and guitarist Jeremy Korpas played in some capacity everyday at High Sierra, and beside McFadden, who appeared everywhere throughout the weekend, Jeremy "Swordfish" Korpas definitely popped up on the radar of guitarists who made you lose your shit. Korpas really deserved the accolades as he wailed effortlessly at Big Light's sets, the White Stripes themed Guitarmageddon throwdown, the Gramble - where The Beatles "I've Got a Feeling" reigned supreme - and at a late night party at Camp Harry. Korpas has the patience of a much older guitarist with a confidence that allows him to shred effectively with any grouping of musicians. There were extra cheers every time he walked on stage and each performance the "Swordfish" was involved in was elevated to new levels of excitement.

Cult I'd Most Like To Join
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros trouncing of the Big Meadow Stage on Thursday left more than one person whistling "Home" on Friday morning. The highlights of the show were the opening "40 Day Dream," a stirring version of "Desert Song," and Alex Ebert conducting a sing-along in the center of a seated crowd to finish. The band may have appeared a tad cultish but by the end of their set the audience was ready to drop all worldly possessions and follow their charismatic leader anywhere

Best Band BBQ
Widespread Panic barbequed all Friday afternoon before they tossed us some bones in the evening. A heated "B of D" into "Worry" ended their first set, which hinted that the band loved the unique H.S. setting. The second set secured that notion and was jam- packed with guests, starting with Eric McFadden on guitar for a meaty "Bowlegged Woman." John Bell introduced Jerry Joseph as "the reverend" when he joined in for a rolling "Light Is Like Water" before Karl Denson added saxophone for a rowdy "Ride Me High." Domingo "Sonny" Ortiz played a late "Drums" and was joined by the illustrious Wally Ingram before good papa Bell sung us out with the touching and apropos encore "Heaven."

Most Fun Field Trip During The Festival
All visiting Quincy for the High Sierra Music Festival should take some time to explore the Feather River. We hit this beautiful landmark on Friday and were instantly impressed. It's easy to find a swimming hole just minutes from the fairgrounds, and its cold waters are just about as refreshing as a full night of sleep. It should also be noted that the weather was perfect cold at night for sleeping and warm with zero humidity during the day.

Community and Camps Shout Out
High Sierra is a wealth of good times that fit together like a well worked jigsaw puzzle buried in some hidden chest that comes out on a rainy summer day. The edges of this fest are all well worn and by now all the people attending know where they fit. Many of one's best moments and memories come from the hard work of the community and the camps that moved your feet or blew your mind wide open with visual extravagance conjured by this pack of pro concertgoers. Where else do you get a Wookie Bingo game run through Twitter or a trampoline 10-feet off the ground and covered in lights? How about false eyebrows made to look like mini Fu-Manchu moustaches or kickball games with musicians sweating alongside campers at 6 am? Who else has a Hippie Bar where you paid for a drink with a joke or a dance or Kamp Kwitcherbitchen, where frowns were even frowned upon? Where else are Red cards and Yellow cards tossed at flagrant music fan fouls? Legendary Camp Harry threw its own pirate/mojilto party and two late night shows with Big Light and Surprise Me Mr. Davis. And let us not forget the tongue-in-cheek mayoral battle between Nathan Moore and Vince Herman that included campaign signs throughout the campgrounds. There were hundreds of camps and thousands of creative freaks – I'm impressed with you all for your freaky prowess.

Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers by Krolick
A Band I Need To See More
My age makes me less than a thought when CSNY and Buffalo Springfield hit L.A. and wandered up into the canyon. Perhaps that is what makes Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers so appealing. Since I missed the first coming I'll be damned if I won't catch the second. Bluhm was an early breath of fresh air on Thursday and Friday. She's a stage darling in the same way her famous Laurel Canyon predecessors Jimmy Webb and Joni Mitchell were jangly social and musical icons. Her easy way with songs and smooth vocal delivery was more than enough to captivate the crowds, but when you tossed in Steve Adams' groovy bass and husband Tim Bluhm's gallant guitar strum into the fold there was something incredibly desirable about the music.

Standout Moments on Saturday and Sunday

Best Use of a Kazoo
Yes, Nathan Moore pulled one out at his solo set but it was a good thing he forgot the whole bag. The act of forgetfulness led to a stirring Surprise Me Mr. Davis cover of The Beatles' "Honey Pie" at around 2:00 am on Monday morning at Camp Harry. The moment the bag of kazoos was handed out you just knew it was going to be special. The crowd participation and the smiles between Moore, Marc Friedman and the Barr Brothers said it all.

Hottest Late Night
Hindsight reveals that the better Mother Hips set was on Sunday evening in the Vaudeville Tent with a four song finale that would grow hair on a bald baby ("Pacific Dust > Space > Turtle Bones > Hey Emilie"), but as a whole Saturday night's late night was the hottest four band bounce of the entire festival. After catching Tim Bluhm and Greg Loiacono with the Hips on the East Coast I knew I loved them, but it took a trip to the West Coast to really see them rock a proper crowd. Saturday evening's show was such a treat, with several highlights including "Jet Plane" with Nicki Bluhm and Grambler guitarist Deren Ney, "Been Lost Once" with TLG's Josh Clark, and a "Time Sick Son of a Grizzly Bear with ALO's Dan Lebowitz. The follow-up was a fast bounce over to catch Fanny Franklin and the L.A. crew Orgone, who established themselves as a funk force to be reckoned with. The crowd's energy during the end of their set was really incredible and steam poured out of all openings from the High Sierra Music Hall into the cool night air.

Meanwhile Dr. Dog was flexing their muscles at the Funk'n Jamhouse as they ripped through almost their entire repertoire, raging a version of "The Ark" off Fate and paying special attention to "Shadow People" off their latest album, Shame, Shame. Toby Leaman (bass) and Scott McMicken (lead guitar) were wild and energetic and their changes left the crowd stunned. Guitarist Frank McElroy even climbed to the top of his amp stack for a leap of faith before finishing at around 3:15 am. This left just enough time to get in to hear Karl Denson tear it up on flute and sax as well as toss us a joke about Giuseppe Garibaldi. The amount of steamy pizza flowing around Denson's funk down was obscene. I witnessed more than one patron dancing with a hot slice held high in their hands.

Vince Herman by Susan J. Weiand
Oddest Place To Find Sushi
The sushi guy next to the main stage making those delicious hand rolls in an "I am funkier than you" tee was surreal. The Widespread Roll was insane and included a wrapper filled with sticky rice, a smear of wasabi, huge chunks of albacore & mango, a spicy mayo spread and sprouts, all rolled to perfection for five bucks.

Best Sporting Event Combo
Kickball into the World Cup games. The new trampoline bases, the costumed Space Man, vevuzelas blown at 5 am, and the World Cup games made it worth never finding sleep. But the best moment happened on Sunday morning when a piñata was tossed into the middle of the kickball field. When it was finally broken open it was filled with airplane bottles of gin and all heck broke loose.

Best Use of a Child On Stage
Marco Benevento daughter Ruby has gained some serious stage confidence since last year's festival, and that showed as she used dad as her own personal jungle gym during his Trio's set. Marco made the best out of the moment when he took Ruby's hands and had her play the "Real Morning Party" to kick off the set.

The Well-Put Award
Nathan Moore summed up my feelings best on Sunday afternoon at his solo performance. To paraphrase what he said, "We are all out on the road day after day, each year just trying to hang on patiently until we are back together at High Sierra." I thought about this notion the rest of Sunday and realized that this festival never really ends; it just goes into a different mode, one focused on reconstruction. The community that has attended religiously for years, reuniting friends, campsites and intense feelings will no doubt be planning what they can do better for next year. It takes all the little touches coming together over the 4th of July weekend to really make High Sierra the incredibly special experience it is.

Continue reading for Dennis Cook's highlights...

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