Las Tortugas V | Review | Pics

Words by: Dennis Cook | Images by: Chad Smith

Las Tortugas – Dance of the Dead V :: 10.28.10-10.31.10 :: Evergreen Lodge :: Groveland, CA

Las Tortugas V by Chad Smith
We are pulled through this life by small miracles. One needn't be religious or even spiritual to understand this. The muck of bosses, bills and bullshit we trudge through would be simply unbearable if not for the oases along our trek. For several years, a nigh-perfect music festival in the lush Yosemite woods has proven such a blessed respite for a growing tribe, and the fifth anniversary installment was far & away the finest outing yet, one of those small miracles that makes all the weary miles fade and invigorates us for the rocky road ahead.

Las Tortugas V, like previous outings, miniaturized and refined all the best aspects of a festival, throwing an incredible four-day party with an extraordinary soundtrack. While other fests may have bigger names and carnival rides, Tortugas focuses on serious musicians who overflow with passion and heartfelt artistry. This is a showcase for some of the best music coming out of California today paired with kindred spirits from around the country, a place where veterans embarking on a new thang (7 Walkers), utter pros seeking one of the most engaged, joyful audiences they've ever encountered (Yonder Mountain String Band), workingman's lifers (The Mother Hips, ALO, Cornmeal) and crazy talented comers (Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers, Antioquia, Big Light, Pimps of Joytime) mingle. A feeling of creative freedom and smiling connection with all the things that originally got these players into the music game floats in the air.

And this palpable, happy charge buzzes in equal amplitude from the attendees. Perhaps more than any other festival I've experienced, Tortugas creates a beautiful crucible that burns hot and bright because EVERYONE throws a pinch or two into the pot (Jam Cruise is the only thing that compares, though each gathering is singular & beautifully strange in its own way, and something any serious music geek should experience at least once, like Glastonbury, Bonnaroo and a handful of others). With most folks bringing different costumes every day and an all-in enthusiasm that hums loudly before the first set kicks off, Tortugans are a rare breed. The near total absence of thievery, sketchiness and rudeness common at most music fests immediately sets Tortugas apart in a big way. It's not to say that everyone is cool but un-cool moments are quickly defused, and there's so much obvious love and care bouncing around the tents and trees that even grumps inclined to kick up dust are charmed into grinning contentment. The depth of conversation and generally open-handed attitude that abounds at Tortugas is a glimpse of our better angels, the way the world might be if we shared our bounty and lived with less fear and worry.

If this seems like an overreach for a music festival it isn't. Las Tortugas is a playground for music loving people with an amiable synergy that relaxes muscles, eases minds and lifts spirits. Scoff if you must – modern cynicism is hard to shake – but four years running I've witnessed this vibe grow & grow & grow, seeing it put the zap – in the best way – on the heads of first timers that leaves them pleasantly shaken by weekend's end. It is why the vets scheme all year long on how we might delight others, tickling fancies and pricking up ears in any way we can dream up, and then sharing that dream with anyone willing to jump through the looking glass with us.

Nestled in one of the most unique, idyllic settings in the United States (Evergreen Lodge), Las Tortugas situates about a 1000 people in a world apart and lets them share in a fully communal shindig. Each year a couple tunes spring into my head during the course of my wooded walks, a few lines that repeat like mantras as I gather up as much Tortugas mojo as I can before heading homeward. This year it was these verses from Jackson Browne's "Farther On" and the Grateful Dead's "The Music Never Stopped."

Las Tortugas V by Chad Smith
Adrift on an ocean of loneliness
My dreams like nets were thrown
To catch the love that I'd heard of
In books and films and songs
Now there's a world of illusion and fantasy
In the place where the real world belongs
Still I look for the beauty in songs
To fill my head and lead me on


There's a band out on the highway.
They're high-steppin' into town.
They're a rainbow full of sound.
It's fireworks, calliopes and clowns

And everybody was dancing, drink hoisting blurs of color and laughter that convinced one that the world might not be so bloody awful after all.

What follows are some musical highlights, pointers towards sweet new bands, and a whole bunch of great pictures from Chad Smith, heavy on Tortugans and their mirthful ways. Even if every band isn't mentioned it's important to point out that EVERY band that graced a stage at Tortugas V was the real deal, dedicated craftsmen born to meld melody and verse. Where one might wonder at other fests why a band made the lineup, Tortugas only presents quality, ranging from the newly born to the well-seasoned. It's a formula that's generated a lot of connections between the bands, resulting in some of the finest sit-ins one can find in the festival world. The sense that we're ALL in this together – both for this weekend and in a much larger sense – is inescapable on both sides of the stage at Tortugas.

Continue reading for Thursday highlights...

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