Photo by Dave Waldorf
The High Sierra Music
Festival of 2003 again exceeded expectations. If you weren't there, you
might perhaps be thinking, how could one music festival really be that good?
I mean, there are hundreds of festivals all summer, many with similar lineups
and activities. What is it about High Sierra that makes it the best fest?
I saw absolute glee in the faces of first-timers. I saw young families with their
children running in the sun, joining in parades, and getting their little
faces painted. I saw musicians walking around and enjoying music from their
fellow comrades. I saw music lovers spinning around barefoot as they watched
their favorite bands give it everything they've got.
What is it about High Sierra that is so wonderful? High Sierra gives each person
a true feeling of personal freedom. What better way to spend Independence Day
weekend than to celebrate our freedom. The freedom found in the sprawling woods
and mountains of Northern California is not perceived, it is real. And just
when we might be afraid that our freedoms are being taken away from us, we gather
together with 10,000 other free people and realize that we have the power every
day to be free.
Paintings by J Garcia | Photo by SuperDee
The main stage closed out this year with an inspiring set from Michael
Franti & Spearhead which proved to be particularly appropriate for this
festival. While his set doesn't vary much from show to show, his message is
uber-important and he must repeat it far and wide. When we gather together and
see thousands of like-minded souls who are crying for peace and justice, it
allows us to be hopeful in a time when hope is so easily lost. (Franti in 2004,
OK, so on to the music. I've enlisted the help of other JamBase members to
submit their High Sierra highlights and here they are:
This Year's MVP(s)
Marco Benevento | Photo by Jon Bahr
There was noticeably less sitting in going on this year. In past years, there
was much more stage jumping and usually one person stood out above the rest
(Jessica Lurie in 2001, Fareed Haque in 2002) showing up virtually EVERYWHERE.
This year sets were more band-pure in that the bands really got to give High
Sierra their sets without other people in the mix. This could be a good or bad
thing depending on what you're looking for. Personally, I found it to be refreshing
to see bands play their own stuff.
However, honorable mentions must be made to a few musicians who were seen out
and about with their instruments.
John Whooley (Estradasphere): John was all over the place and he was hard to
miss being about 7' tall and dressed in all gold carrying his saxophone
(sometimes two) wherever he felt so inclined. He was spotted with Jacob Fred Jazz
Odyssey, Michael Bizar, Les Claypool and The Disco Biscuits.
Josh Clark (Tea Leaf Green), Eric McFadden
Photo by Jon Gelbard
This guy is an absolute ripper on guitar! He was definitely one of the top fresh
faces of HSMF 2003. In addition to the amazing Improv Playshop (we'll get to
that), he played with Tea Leaf Green (whoa!) and mandolin with Les Claypool
during his late night show. Keep an eye on Eric!
MC Alfred Howard (of the K23 Orchestra): Another fresh face to keep an eye
on. Alfred tore it up at the Improv Playshop as well as...
Marco Benevento bringing his ultra cool B3 fashion to many stages and always upping the ante.
High Sierra with Attitude: Super Dee
The Disco Biscuits | Photo by SuperDee
This year's High Sierra had some raw attitude mixed in. When Les
Claypool came in the house, everyone was amped and then became totally spun
around by devil music. One of the things we've been waiting for is the inclusion
of The Disco Biscuits
at the festival. It took a while for High Sierra to come around and invite the
raucous quartet from Philadelphia and it seemed to go over well. This year's
fest ended with a triple exclamation point as The Disco Biscuits were the last
band standing early Monday morning after their epic late night set that Bisco
fans were calling one of the best ever. (But then again, everything at High
Sierra is the best ever, right?) Check
out the setlist if you would like to relive the madness. I thought that
show was over four different times.
Fire Dancers: Super Dee
One of the most unbelievable sites was the fire dancers that performed with
Sound Tribe Sector 9 during their incredible main stage and late night sets.
The group responsible was a troupe called Phoenix Rising based out of
Santa Cruz. See for yourself:
Girl Power comes to High Sierra: Super Dee
Patrice Pike | Photo by SuperDee
It was a refreshing change to see so many talented women performing at this
year's High Sierra. Why does this scene have to be such a sausage fest all the
time?! Notable performers were Leslie
Helpert, Theresa Andersson and the mesmerizing Kaki
King. I would like to recognize the wonderful addition of Patrice
Pike and the Blackbox Rebellion to the scene. Hailing from Austin, Texas,
Patrice absolutely rocks, plain and simple. You might remember Patrice from
such bands as Sister Seven (which used to be Little Sister). She is now rocking
with the Blackbox Rebellion which plays a little bit of everything. Her vocal
abilities are hard to deny as she squeals, scats, and soars with ease. "People
ask me, 'What kind of music do you play?' And I say, 'I don't know, it's just
music!'" Patrice told intrigued listeners at her Vaudeville Tent set. "High
Sierra should have a T-shirt that says, 'It's all just music!'" Patrice
won some new fans that day.
Traveling Late Night with the 9: Kayceman's Highlights
Keller Williams | Photo by Jon Bahr
Without question the most impressive musical event of High Sierra for me was
Sound Tribe Sector 9's
late night show. The event kicked off featuring the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey eventually
adding special guests Skerik, Jessica Lurie, Mike Dillon and a bit of John Whooley.
It was like JazzFest all over again. Following the Fred STS9 came out and killed
it. Traveling late night with the 9 is certainly an enriching experience, and
this evening left everyone satisfied. Amongst a myriad of good shows
and young jams, a few gigs that rose to the top and are indeed worthy of mention
were The Slip's Big Meadow Stage performance, Kaki King's one woman show, Les's
late night with a touch of McFadden, and the wandering Marco Benevento and Joe
Russo Duo, including their amazing opening slot for Keller
Williams late night which featured Brad Barr on guitar. In fact, Marco Benevento
blew so many minds in the mountains that he gets my "High Sierra All-star
Award." In the end the most enjoyable part of HSMF for me was the vibe,
ease and wonderfully kind people. Everything runs very smoothly up in Quincy
(due to incredible planning and dedication by the organizers). It's hard not
to have fun when all you need to do is think about friends and music.
The Georgia Influence: TK
Perpetual Groove | Photo by SuperDee
Walking by the Perpetual
Groove and Moonshine
Still late night Tulsa Scott set because I was summoned by the sounds emanating
from the building. Moonshine Still brought the best harmonies in modern southern
rock and really hooked me during their set with the song "Consequence."
Their cover of "Earth People" was so alienesque that the band had
to leave the stage and be replaced mid-song. Actually, I think that was planned,
and as the jam progressed, slowly everyone in Moonshine Still became everyone
in Perpetual Groove, and the jam only got better with the fresh blood that rotated
in. Perpetual Groove proceeded to stun and daze me with their layered groove
effects. For fifteen minutes, no one could speak a sound, the band had put us
into that late night festival trance... that's the reason we stay up late!
Rock 'n' Roll Journey Through a Monsoon: Geoff Harrison
new monsoon, a
San Francisco-based band that is creating a huge buzz around the country, blew
the roof off the Vaudeville Tent on Friday night at 12. Their cover of my favorite
(and most under-appreciated) Hendrix tune "1983...(A Merman I Should Turn
To Be)" had the crowd scratching its head in amazement as the septet plowed
through 14 epic minutes of rock 'n' roll journey. Next, the Americana Stage,
thick with its largest crowd of the weekend, was simply En Fuego during new
monsoon's set on Sunday afternoon. The interchange between jazz great Fareed
Haque and new monsoon's Jeff Miller was electric, sending waves of
musical energy out to a crowd that had been dancing for four days, and inspiring
them to dance some more.
The Slip's Sixth Shining Year at High Sierra: Jon Bahr
Brad Barr (The Slip) | Photo by Jon Bahr
To follow up [six-year HSMF veterans] The Slips late night Thursday set
in the festival's new late night venue, the Tulsa E. Scott Building, the band
wowed the Big Meadow stage crowd. "Soft Machine" was the song of the
weekend for many. The version at 4am on Thursday night had people talking, but
there was a strong indie-rock vibe at the Big Meadow stage epitomized by the
other new songs, "Children of December" and the Built to Spill and
Elvis Costello covers that are new to their repertoire. These new songs that
are being crafted and adapted by the virtuoso trio can only be summed up by a quote
I overheard describing this Big Meadow set:
A fan to Brad Barr of The Slip, That was amazing. I have never heard
a band in this scene do that
It was hipster meets hippie. Jambands
have a new genre!
The Improv Lotto: SuperDee
Brian Haas freestyling | Photo by SuperDee
The description for this playshop in the program read: "Watch and listen
as we randomly choose musicians from JFJO, UM, The Slip, OM Trio and others to
jam together and honor the true spirit of improvisational music." What
ensued was some musical magic created by improvisational experts. The following
is a list of musicians that I witnessed on the stage, in no particular order,
some simultaneously, some tag-team: Eric McFadden (guitar), Jason Smart (drums
- JFJO), Andrew Barr (drums - The Slip), Jake Cinninger (guitar - Umphrey's
McGee), Brad Barr (guitar - The Slip), Brian Felix (keys - OM Trio), John Whooley
(sax - Estradasphere), Pete Novembre (bass - OM Trio), Joel Cummins (keys -
Umphrey's McGee), Tim Palmieri (guitar - Psychedelic Breakfast), Alfred Howard
(MC - K23 Orchestra), Leslie Helpert, and Ilya Stemkovsky (drums - OM Trio)
to name a few - whew! But the best part was when a bare-chested Brian Haas
(keys - JFJO) stepped to the mic and proceeded to freestyle as jaws dropped
to the ground. BHaas has some skillz to pay da billz! It was definitely the
most hilarious moment of the weekend.
Euphoric, Fist-Pumping Bliss: Andy Gadiel
High Sierra once again brought me back into that wonderful space of musical
overload - where there is so much going on that I am forced to blissfully enjoy
whatever it is that I'm currently doing. An awe-inspiring reminder to live in
the moment, High Sierra is filled with beautiful people, incredibly positive
vibes, great food, amazing weather, loving family, friends and some of the best
music in the world.
I couldn't see it all, of course, but some perfect musical moments for me included:
new monsoon's "Downstream" on the main stage, Tea
Leaf Green's guitar sex with Eric McFadden, Psychedelic
Breakfast's awesome rendition of "Whipping Post" with Tanya from
Mountain of Venus,
"All in Time," Steve Kimock and Pete Sears acoustic, JFJO's entire Big Meadow
set, Sound Tribe Sector 9's fire dancers, OM Trio's Vaudeville throwdown, Railroad
Earth's Americana set, Jamie
Janover's Hammer Dulcimer, ALO's easy "Sunday Morning," an introduction
to Bockman's Euphio, Michael Franti's sweet music, the Jessica
Lurie Ensemble, the thumping army of Les Claypool, Moonshine Still, Perpetual
Groove, and The Disco Biscuit's entire late night set - especially the "Magellan"
Marco Benevento & Jessica Lurie | Photo by SuperDee
Very special shout outs to Chunky B and the whole Fess Head crew for getting things
done right. Great to see all of you again, see ya next year!
Papa Cirrito's Highlights
afternoon set on the Big Meadow Stage on Friday. It was the first time I had
seen these St. Louis scenesters and their bubbling approach to improvisation
proved to be a light and refreshing mid-day treat.
Ilya Stemkovsky (OM Trio) | Photo by Susan J. Weiand
OM Trio's late(ish)
night set in the Vaudevillian Tent on Friday night was a total throw-down. Unlike
their more ambient and atmospheric sunset set on the Big Meadow stage earlier
in the day, this performance was an unabashed excursion through some of the
band's deepest and more melodically-driven grooves.
Steve Kimock on
the Main Stage: There may be no more appropriate artists, in my opinion, to
help drive down the sun at the end of a long, hot day then Kimock. His shimmering
and polished tones fit nicely with the mellow warmth of twilight in the Sierras.
The Indian nan raps available from the vendor's row. I forget the name of the
vendor (they were from Monterey) but they served up some tasty Indian treats.
The spinach, rice and chicken nan roll was a staple of my diet over the weekend.
BMarket from 'Illadelph
The improv workshop on Saturday was something crazy... I think pieces of JFJO,
Umphrey's, OM Trio, and others created some sick ass shit. This very well could
serve as "the" definition of jam music.
Soulive | Photo by Jon Bahr
I woke up in my tent at 5am Saturday morning and got to hear Karl Denson doing one of
my favorite break beats that has been in about a million hip-hop songs. The JB's
"The Grunt" (it was either "The Grunt" or "Pass The Peas," but either
way, great horns).
Soulive's Main Stage show on Friday afternoon, early in the set, possibly part
of "Steppin'," they broke into the beat from 50 Cent's and Nate Dogg's "21
questions"... I'm not sure if anyone else picked up on it, but I listen
to a lot of hip-hop so I definitely did.
ALO on Sunday morning/afternoon
doing a little soul groove after breaking the news to me that Barry White died,
including "I need U Like Sunday Morning" (can't figure out the actual song title)
and Bill Withers' "Lovely Day"
Rhythmic Highlights: Dave Waldorf
J Garcia & Dave Murphy (STS9) | Photo by Andy Gadiel
Dave Murphy and J Garcia making a collaborative painting during Jacob Fred
Kaki King and her amazing finger-pickin' good times.
Barber from The Disco Biscuits walking by the JamBase booth saying "JamBase
ROCKS!!! I love you guys!"... dropping the plate of pizza that he was carrying
and then saying, "JamBase sucks!! I hate you guys... Dammit!"
Intimate Glory: Hawk
I live for the smaller stages where the bands are up, coming and hungry! Signal Path, Kooken & Hoomen, OM Trio, Tea Leaf Green, Maktub, Umphrey's, Jacob Fred - so many high-energy sets. I was a kid in the candy store eating it all up. The crowning moment of the whole festival was the Sound Tribe Sector 9 late night show. That was a legendary performance that just went all night long. The band was feeding off the energy of the crowd and the light show was spectacular.
BGetz's Highlights: Love at First Sierra
Crowd at Main Stage | Photo by Jon Bahr
Marco Benevento, Joe Russo and Jessica Lurie each straight-up OWNING shit wherever
they performed, delivering promise through profound improvisation in a myriad
of musical settings.
The bombastic KDTU all-star revue that raged 'til dawn, featuring a smattering
of luminaries including Alan Evans, Eric Krasno, Fareed Haque and Jessica Lurie,
all performing the rapidly evolving KDTU catalogue and a slew of sleek covers.
STS9's ethereal late night performance, expounding confidence draped in humility,
that egged on a wondrous sunrise.
Robert Walter's 20th Congress featuring Eric Krasno's faithful performance of "Flood
in Franklin Park"
Daytime performances by Fareed Haque Group at the Vaudeville Tent and The Slip
at the Big Meadow Stage are certainly on my highlight list as well.
The High Sierra Music Festival in its entirety. From the sight, to the staff,
to the otherworldly vibes that flowed, not to mention the incredible music.
A Great Vibe All Around: MP's Highlights
Thaddeus Turner (Maktub)
Photo by Susan J. Weiand
High Sierra epitomizes the West Coast vibe with its relaxed, open atmosphere.
The different array of people (of all different ages) living carefree together
for four days is amazing to me. The peaceful setting seems to bring out the
positive qualities in folks, and though people rage and party, they're not out-of-control
about it. People are there for the music, and the music is all around you -
literally. On my way to the larger shows I would find myself sidetracked by
sweet sounds coming from one of the many small stages. Some great "new" bands
I tuned into for the first time were Kaki King, Patrice Pike,
Perpetual Groove, Papa Mali, MOFRO, and Bockman's Euphio.
Bands I already love delivered some excellent sets as well: Kooken & Hoomen,
Signal Path, new monsoon, JFJO, TLG, Umphrey's,
Les Claypool, KDTU, Spearhead... too many to name!
Big Meadow set was very powerful, as was The Slip's heartfelt performance
on that same stage (no sit-ins, just pure Slip, and one of their best sets I've
ever seen). STS9's late night show, with the wonderful Fred opening
- you can't beat that line-up - was cathartic, just incredible. (Though
not a fan of "hippie-hop," I finally saw the light with their MCs that night.
Those guys were on.) Not to be outdone, The Disco Biscuits threw
down an epic late night show that was more... spiritual than I've seen them
in a long time. Plus Les's opening set was fantastic. The tight scheduling and
endless amount of music made for some very tough choices. It's impossible to
catch all the fine artists at the fest - that's my one major complaint about
High Sierra. But if that is your only real gripe, then life's not too
There you have it. Another year goes by and all we can think about is waiting
twelve more long months until the next time we can all converge on Quincy, CA
for another go around with High Sierra. With so much music, it seems we barely
scratched the surface of what went on 'round the clock for four full days. Special
thanks to Rob Newell and J Garcia for the gorgeous job on the set for the Big
Meadow stage and to everyone at High Sierra for creating the possibilities for
a beautiful celebration of freedom and music!
Until next time,
Go See Live Music!
Thanks to the following people for their contributions to this article: Geoff
Harrison, Jason West, Jon Bahr, Ted Kartzman, Andy Gadiel, Brian Getz, Susan
J. Weiand, Jon Gelbard, The Kayceman, Dave Waldorf, Brian Market, Mike Cirrito, and Margaret Pitcher.
Photo of the Year: "Great Advertising"
by Dave Waldorf