They came from all corners of the country to converge on the Plumas County Fairgrounds in Quincy, California. For four days in July, Quincy becomes the greatest place in the universe, the center of our musical souls. Musicians travel from Georgia, Connecticut, Oklahoma, Chicago, Oregon and everywhere in between to make it to this mecca.
High Sierra is a retreat for our entire scene - a place for everyone to gather in peace and harmony to share and celebrate the things we love the most: freedom and music. All the musicians came out and played their hardest, trying new things, making new friends, experiencing new music. After all, High Sierra only comes once a year... so you've got to make it count!
For one thing, a theme throughout the weekend was good ol' rock 'n' roll. It seems that many of the scene's contemporaries were bitten by the SHRED bug. So many were rocking it out at every chance they got. At any point in the weekend, you were susceptible to increased blood pressure from a serious guitar solo. There were just so many of these little rockstars running around. Where did you all come from?! What a wonderful thing!
Following in the footsteps of last year, and carrying on the collective vibe that runs throughout everything High Sierra, we would like to share some of our highlights from this year's festival.
|HSMF 2002 MVP: Fareed Haque
Fareed was everywhere! He was definitely the "stud" of the festival. He always seemed to come on stage with a different guitar, too. Besides his performances with Garaj Mahal, the list included the following (let me know if we're forgetting any): Sound Tribe Sector 9, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, The Slip, Netwerk: Electric, Umphrey's McGee, Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, The Radiators, Yonder Mountain String Band, Living Daylights, Medeski Martin & Wood, and The Motet. My favorite Fareed moment was his appearance with JFJO on the Showcase stage. Fareed and drummer Jason Smart ensued in a guitar-drum duel that was so firey. They were completely vibing each other and it looked as though Fareed was handing down something intangible to the young drummer.
By the end of the festival we were used to seeing Fareed everywhere we went. (“Why does he keep following me?” became a common theme at each stage we frequented.) So on the way home, at Cassidy’s restaurant in Oroville, not far from Quincy, we all just rolled our eyes when Noah pointed straight ahead with his eyes and casually said “Look, there’s Fareed.” But Fareed really was there! Sitting in a vinyl booth, finishing up some post-fest grub with a few folks, and no doubt decompressing after his marathon string of guest appearances at High Sierra. It was such a fitting end to the weekend, our catching one last glimpse of this ubiquitous performer before heading home.
|High Sierra Shred Fest 2002
The workshops at High Sierra are completely impromptu meetings of different musicians. The High Sierra people thought they'd be cheeky and put four up-and-coming guitarists together for a playshop called "The New Monsters
of Rock." If guitar solos make you weak in the knee, then imagine four of the shreddiest young axemen that were at the festival. Nothing cures a music festival hangover faster than more rocking. The players included Jake Cinninger (Umphrey's McGee), Josh Clark (Tea Leaf Green), Tim Palmieri (Psychedelic Breakfast), and David Shore (Moonshine Still) and had shreddy guests like Jason Concepcion from Netwerk: Electric and Charlie Hitchcock from Particle. These guys almost blew the walls out as they traded fierce and fiery fast licks with each other. Hot damn!
|Mark Vann Memorial Parade
This year's festival was dedicated to the memory of the late Mark Vann, Leftover Salmon's former banjoist. There were altars built all around the festival grounds, and there was a beautiful one in Mark's honor that lived next to the main. There was a memorial parade in New Orleans jazz funeral fashion: people laughing and smiling and dancing and having fun, just as Mark would have wanted it. It was a beautiful service with his friends and fans and band members, showing the thoughtful side of High Sierra.
Headbanger's Ball with Umphrey's McGee
The Umphrey's came to High Sierra with one thing to do - to rock! Their
three sets were tight and full of energy - the spirit of many
Their main stage set included a great cover of "Band on the Run" (nice vocals Mikey!) and some of their best originals including "Push the Pig" and "Roulette."
Late night, they made new fans with their Pink Floyd cover of "In the Flesh" and their classic original "All in Time." Now they might be from the midwest, but these boys can play. On the Showcase Stage, they invited many friends to play as they completed their High Sierra performances with precision and heavy jams. Spoke with a few first-timers who had never seen the band, and they were impressed with the manual dexterity and vocal chops of the fingers of da Umph.
With over 100 performances scheduled across four days, it took some serious energy and strategic planning to make sure you saw the bands you came for. Of course there's no way to see it all, but as consolation the random musical encounters that drifted through the festival made up for missing the acts on stage. Friday evening Railroad Earth spun soulful bluegrass harmonies from atop an RV in the parking lot, silhouetted by a deep indigo twilight. On Saturday some turntables were set up by the food court and (finally!) a few DJs spun funky breaks all afternoon. How about cyclo-jam genius Jamie Janover, cruising the lanes on a three-wheeled recumbent bike, banging out sick rhythms on a mini drum set while carting around guests like Kai Eckhart in a trailer? Or maybe you ran into Al, the conscious name-dropping MC from San Diego, and caught some wicked rhymes. These guys all blurred the line between participant and observer, bringing us all into the grand performance, and encouraged the spirit of positive interaction that flowed through the entire festival.
From Macon, Georgia (or Milledgeville, depending on which band member you ask) Moonshine Still is a six-piece southern rock n' roll act with equal parts incredible charisma, proficiency on their instruments and constant, soothing three-part vocal harmonies. Lead vocals of Scott Baston show the personality of these Georgia boys, and his rhythm Gibson guitar weaves in and out of keyboardist Trippe Wright's funky keys and lead guitarist David Shore's driving guitar solos. A great choice of tones on all three of those instruments, and a solid extended rhythm section of drummer/singer Will Robinson, percussionist Bill Jarret and bassist Ray Petren. Walking out of their set at the Americana stage on Friday, I couldn't help but sing along to the closer of, "It ain't good for you but it sure do make you smile." Their Showcase Stage set was capped by the JamBase house favorite entitled "Vial." Thanks for the explanation on what that tune was all about, Will!
Another band that came all the way from the East Coast is Psychedelic Breakfast. Now their latest CD is relatively good but definitely not over-the-top. Nevertheless, I was really anxious to hear them play. Will another guitar player really win my heart? Well, it happened. The entire band is very tight but guitarist Tim Palmieri's proficiency on guitar really shines through, constantly playing off the solid drumming of Adrian Tramontano. The band had a highly energetic set highlighted by PB originals and the ambitious cover of Zappa's "Echidna's Arf (Of You)."
|Keller Williams Packed the Showcase Stage
The one-man-band was an absolute dream on Saturday evening. The Showcase
Stage area was empty after the John Butler Trio fans walked off to get dinner and such. As the looping toys were brought out to the stage and it started to get closer to Keller time, the place really filled up and was totally packed, crowd extending past our seats at the JamBase booth. Keller Williams came out and proceeded to play some highlights from his expansive musical repertoire for an hour and fifteen minutes. His set was perfectly Keller: fluid, humorous, melodic, delighting, and frankly awe inspiring. Highlights included the "Freeker by the Speaker" that came back as a reprise towards the end of the set, a gorgeous rendition of "'Til the Morning Comes," and a favorite of mine, "The Plant." At High Sierra, it really feels like it is 4:20, 24/7, 365...
The Jazz Odyssey from Outer Space
The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey floored the entire crowd on each of their three performances. The passion and intensity with which these three conduits approach their art is unparalleled in music today. On Thursday in the Vaudeville tent bassist Reed Mathis left more than one person shaking their head saying, "I have never seen any one do that with a bass before." On Saturday afternoon on the Showcase stage and Sunday late night before Karl D the trio displayed their disjointed, mind boggling jazz blend to large crowds that couldn't believe what they were seeing. I think a young musician friend of mine who had never seen the JFJO before said it best when he commented, "That was inspirational, it makes me think about music differently." Maybe we'll get to see The Fred on the Main stage next year...
Redefining Space and Time with Sector 9
The fact that Sector 9 did not play the Showcase stage this year was kind of sad because of the incredibly spiritual experiences that have occurred there before. The band took the Main stage on the first night of the festival and unleashed their beauty into the dark moonless and star-filled sky.
In their playshop, the fans finally got to hear some of the musicians speak for the first time. We are very used to hearing bassist David Murphy saying things like, "We're going to take a short little break and be right back." We hear lots of people theorizing over the ideas of the 13 Moon calendar and the Maya, but we never really have heard it from the band's mouth. It was really interesting to hear the guys answer questions from the audience and contemplate different possibilities and choices that we are faced with. Thanks for sharing.
Late Night with Sector 9 at a music festival is like nothing else. They play so differently for the night crawlers - dancing shoes are a must. STS9 took the evening to incredible new heights at their late night gig in the Funk'n Jamhouse. After The Slip played cerebral yet rockin set, everyone was in the
Jamhouse and had claimed their dancing space for what was about to come. They kept everyone in high gear until the wee hours of the morning. With special guests Fareed Haque, Kai Eckhart, and Jessica Lurie, the Sound Tribe kept the smiles on everyones faces and the heat turned up. Certainly one of the highlights of the festival.
| Tea Leaf Green
Tea Leaf Green's three amazing sets capped off with a career peak night at the Late Night Funk'n JamHouse. As their late in the evening set started to progress, it became clear that something special was happening. The sound, the energy, and the vibe were all growing strong from song to song. The true moment of musical greatness came when the band started their now classic "Ride Together." As the song built up steam, the players all locked in together, building the jam to a familiar peak. When the ride reached that awesome cliff of epic delight, guitarist Josh Clark threw in a totally new melody which opened up the sound to an entire universe of musical possibilities. Jaws dropped, fists pumped, and everyone there knew they were witnessing some groundbreaking Green. In deference to last year's amazing Showcase Stage set, the boys in Green did it again, taking an empty field at the beginning of their set and filling it with pumping fists by the end of their set. TLG also got the opportunity to perform on the large Grandstand stage, easily the largest stage these youngsters have been on thus far, highlighted by their "Pan-spermic De-evolution."
|Respect and Love for Each Other
The respect between artists was ever present throughout the festival. Band members were constantly interchanging, musicians would make special efforts to get over and catch their favorite sets, and young musical minds had the opportunities to watch and even play music with their mentors. One of my
most treasured memories from the weekend came when Brian Haas of
the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey turned to Brad Barr of The Slip right
before their Slip and Friends set and said to him "You are a powerful shaman." It is so clear how much love and admiration these bands have for each other. The Fred have a song called "The Slip" on their next album, and The Slip dedicated their mainstage performance of "Sometimes True to Nothing" to Jacob Fred. These two power-trios are constantly breaking new ground musically and pushing the sounds to the limits while they take risks seeking adventures in the groove.
|Dan Bern Makes You Feel Like a Human Again
Dan Bern's mainstage performance on Saturday afternoon brought tears to my eyes. As he sung stories of love, life, pain, evolution and the Beatles, Dan's sincere and passionate voice overlay the simple melodies on the guitar. His band The International Jewish Banking Conspiracy, allowed him to build the sound energy larger and fill the main meadow. Dan's lyrics are not only poetic, political and humorous - they are real, and hit you right in your chest time and time again. As I've gotten to know Dan's music over the last year, I have found an oasis of cynical jestering combined with positive thoughts, lessons from the past and outlooks on the future. Dan tells stories from his life, of loves gone bad and that deep dark feeling inside of himself when he wakes up every morning. He just makes you feel like a human being again.
Space Porn Funk in Quincy|
The Space Porn Funksters from Los Angeles have had a memorable summer so far- from opening for Claypool to destroying Bonnaroo- and they hit the High Sierra stages in full swing. Particle's Showcase stage set on Thursday was packed with intense peaks, ripping solos, and a very lively crowd that was as dense as any would get on the Showcase all weekend. Highlights were the funky opener "Shoe Goo," the new gospel-fueled Charlie Hitchcock composition "Make it Real," and a Steve Molitz led "Golden Gator Reprise" as the sun set on July 4th.
Particle returned for another hour to the cramped, sweaty and raging Vaudeville Tent on Saturday, this time with guests like Umphrey's McGee drummer Mike Mirro and keyboarist Joel Cummins (who continued his playful rivalry with Molitz) along with horn players from Ray's Music Exchange and Cabaret Diosa. So many people were trying to get a good glimpse of Particle that the tent simply could not hold everybody. The highlight of the set was a 25+ minute "Kneeknocker" featuring all the aformentioned guests. Particle will definitely be back at next year's festival!!
|Double Rhythm Playshop
About 250 people escaped from the mid-day heat on Friday, July 5th when they entered the first Playshop for the Double Rhythm craziness featuring the drummers and bassists from Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey and Living Daylights. Little did they know that it was hotter inside than out. The players, Dale Fanning (drummer for LD), Arne Livingston (bassist for LD), Jason Smart (drummer for JFJO) and Reed Mathis (bassist for JFJO), didn't come to talk about their art but rather show it off... and show it off they did. The improvisational experience that these four musicians have gained from years of touring and thousands of gigs in their respective bands showed through. Dale and Jason locked in like they were sharing the same kit and Arne and Reed's styles complemented each other to a "T." Arne held the lines and creatively went outside the norm, creating a fluid feeling that captured the audience, as Reed demonstrated his trademark bass wails and moans. This incredible interplay must have awed even the musicians: at the end of a particularly fierce improv, when Reed asked the audience “So, do have any questions about what we’re doing up here?” both drummers promptly raised their hands. For you classic rock heads, you'll want to hear the Zeppelin and Rush teases that these four threw down. After the two standing ovations and three broken bass strings the room was a buzz. For those of you not in attendance, festival goers or those who could not make it to beautiful (but dusty) Quincy, fear not. Quite a few tapers were in the house. Don't delay on this one. Hunt for it, find it and listen to it... NOW!
|The Slip Trilogy
As a serious fan of The Slip for quite some time, I was definitely going to all three of their performances even before they left my mouth agape at their first show of the weekend, "The Slip & Friends" at the Vaudeville Tent on Friday evening. The show was flat out epic! The guests included Leslie Helpert adding wonderful vocal work on "Sometimes True To Nothing," Fareed Haque and Brett Jacobson (Hamsa Lila) on strings blending exquisite Mid-Eastern scales, Jessica Lurie (Living Daylights) with sax on "Rhythm-a-ning" and Darol Anger on fiddle for "(Take A) Beetle To the Badlands." Although the sound system was experiencing overload, if you were close enough to hear the monitors it was obvious we were witnessing something very special.
Coming off the amazing show with their "Friends," the High Sierra favorites opened up for Sector 9 late Saturday night. The sound was perfect inside the Funk'n Jamhouse as The Slip bounced from vocal numbers like the reflective nighttime opener of "In Your Dreams" to instrumentals such as "Nellie Jean." Again, The Slip turned in an amazing performance displaying telepathic connections.
In their final performance on the Main Stage Sunday afternoon (this time with drummer Andrew Barr wearing clothes), The Slip repeated a couple of songs, "Get Me With Fuji" and "Sometimes True To Nothing," but turned in perfectly different versions of each. An undeniable highlight was a new Marc Friedman instrumental "Driving Backwards With You" which, coupled with their amazing rendition of "Wompsett," left the crowd in awe. The Slip seem to epitomize High Sierra with their unique brand of Americana, incorporating long instrumentals with touching vocal numbers that leave fans fulfilled and inspired.
|MMW and the Late Nite Freakout
Medeski Martin & Wood late night at High Sierra: that pretty much says it all. These guys have been freakin' people out for over a decade now, and have only gotten better as they've matured. Seeing them in the wee hours of the morning in a decked-out, fully-packed barn is truly an experience. These master musicians of Downtown & Brooklyn put on a high-energy, very intense set that sent people to their tents still shakin'. John Medeski wasted no time bringing out the dark side with heavy disjointed organ work, while Billy Martin proved why he is perhaps the best drummer alive and a fan favorite at High Sierra. Never to be outdone, Chris Wood held the low end all night, in a silent way. Wood has no trouble switching from stand up acoustic to heavy mind thumping electric bass. The trio knew their audience, and delivered big time! Oh, and their main stage set to close Friday night was classic outdoor MMW, covering some fan faves off Bubblehouse and Friday Afternoon In the Universe.
|Ray's Music Exchange and Skyline Chili...|
...are two great things that come from Cincinnati. Ray's Music Exchange brought their eclectic jazz-fusion to Quincy and fit right in. They responded to their first trip to California with two amazing sets: in the Vaudeville Tent on a hot Saturday afternoon and on the JamBase Showcase Stage on Sunday. Most bands would try to hook new fans with short and catchy numbers, so after their opening number Ray's front man, "Mad Dog" Mavridoglou, tells the crowd to relax and they launch into about 40 minutes of Miles-style '70s freakout, covering "U'n'I" from Star People. If you did not see Nick Blasky play the bass during either of this band's sets, then you missed one of the true masters of his instrument. It was awesome to see the love flowing between ex-members of groups. Former drummer (and current JFJO stickman) Jason Smart got up with Ray's and played percussion for most of their Showcase Stage set. That's the spirit boys, lose the ego and dig the music exchange. Ray's Music Exchange: check 'em out.
|OM Trio in Paradise City
One of the most talked about shows on Thursday was the OM Trio at the Showcase Stage. The instrumental trio from San Francisco gained a plethora of new fans as they delved into psychedelic jazz heavy improvisation. Jumping from Brian Felix keyboard leads to Pete Novembre bass fills they utilized the wonderful, unique drum patterns of Ilya Stemkovsky to push the boundaries of what the crowd was expecting. Rounding their set off with Guns-n-Roses "Paradise City" they walked off stage to a raging crowd, and a building buzz about "the new band to see." They delivered the goods once again in their Sunday set that closed the Americana Stage. This fine display featured guests Jessica Lurie and Kai Eckhart (bassist from Garaj Mahal), who tore it up with the trio as the sun went down on the boogying crowd. What a great way to send us into our last night at High Sierra, and onto more incredible music.
Yonder Mountain String Band | Pickin' All Over Quincy
Yonder Mountain String Band showed up late, playing only the last two days of the festival, but really made their time count. Jeff Austin had the usual gleam in his eye during their Saturday late night performance. As the mammoth Sliptor 9 late night show wound down, you could still get your fill of pickin'. Yonder was also selected to close down the entire festival on the main Grandstand stage, a huge honor which they lived up to, totally pickin' the place to pieces. Fareed Haque and Darol Anger sitting in with Yonder was simply awesome. These two virtuosos really enhanced the show and gave it even more depth than the usual quartet.
| Scramble Painting Our Backdrop During The Motet
It was with great honor and pleasure that the ladies of JamBase and friends assumed responsibility of decorating the showcase stage. It came out beautifully - better than we had imagined. The lovely and talented Sarah Bean Snyder and her mom Martha painted the gorgeous tree that hung in the background. During The Motet's absolutely kick-ass set (Man, do they sound GOOD! The addition of Garret Sayers on bass is yet another huge jump for this band!) the improvisational painter Scramble was inspired to put the scene in front of us into Scramblevision.
- The Motet walking their percussion instruments from the Showcase Stage to the main stage right after their set, to join SambaDa and Cabaret Diosa for an impromtu drum/dance session on the main stage.
- The New Monsters of Rock playshop, showing everyone how much the young guitar players could shread our hearts out and create huge moments without ever having played on the same stage together before.
- Learning about musical time signatures, modes, scales, notes and chords from Kai Eckhart during the rhythm playshow with Alan Hertz,
Marc Freidman and Andrew Barr.
- OM Trio breaking new ground on the Showcase Stage, creating a full sound
to absorb and throwing down the serious dance groove for everyone to enjoy.
- Standout NYC drummer Joe Russo playing with John Medeski during his keyboard swirlfest playshop, where the wizard showed his magic.
- Netwerk: Electric's mindblowing late night set at the Vaudeville tent. They waited four days for their one shot at the stage, and completely stepped up to the occassion. It felt like the musicians had absorbed all the musical energy from the weekend and were exploding it back onto the audience.
- Closing out the weekend with The Motet, Brad Barr and Jeff Austin singing
a beautiful version of Van Morrison's "Into The Mystic" just before
the sun came up on Monday morning.
- Karl Denson's Sunday night late night to close out the entire festival, with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and a total of about 30 guest sit-ins.
- JFJO Made the Sun Fall Out of the Sky.
- More Fred theatrics: Although Jacob Fred are definitely off-the-hook they are still very tuned in, as evidenced in the story of the mullet… Hawk’s mullet wig makes it to many a sick show and never fails to draw a variety of reactions, from “Is it real?” stares to snickering to outright mullet admiration. Apparently the Fred boys were admiring the mullet wig (beneath an Umphrey’s visor, no less) on our pal Gene. When Drew spotted Brian Haas later that day, he asked if Brian would wear the mullet wig that night during their opening set for Karl Denson. “I’d not only put it on, I’d wear the mullet with pride,” Brian said. He added, “When you see us in a very intense moment, just hit me with it!” That night he was true to his word. During a particularly intense moment in their wicked set, the mullet was sent flying to the stage and up at Brian. Brian didn’t lose a beat as he slapped the crazy thing on top of his head, with his dark curls hanging out of the reddish sideburns, and proceeded to thrash his head back and forth in improv ecstasy. Was it us or were the Fred boys pushed to even greater levels by the mullet? For their closer, JFJO invited Karl D and “Big Sam” (Sammie Williams, trombonist with Dirty Dozen) to the stage. Brian introduced the duo whilst sporting the mullet (with pride), and this prompted a look from Karl that was part laughter, part “What the fuck?!” But all these theatrics did not eclipse their beautiful closer “Vernal Equinox,” a song almost gentle in nature that brings Jacob Fred into a whole different light.
These bands came from everywhere to be a part of the High Sierra Music Festival. We wanted to make sure to mention the bands that were new faces to us and those that came out to the West Coast (many for the first time ever) and played solid and memorable sets.
- Topaz (New York City)
- Rebus (Alexandria, VA)
- Spookie Daly Pride (Boston)
- Green Genes (Kentucky)
- Marco Benevento & Joe Russo (New York City)
- Ancient Harmony (Georgia)
- Flying Lu (Colorado)
- Len Paterson Trio (San Francisco, CA)
- Global Funk Council (Bay Area)
- Hamsa Lila (Bay Area)
- Trance Zen Dance (Santa Cruz, CA)
- Peter Rowan's Reggaebilly
With Much Love,
Your High Sierra-Dazed Friends at JamBase