HIGH SIERRA MUSIC FEST: BETTER EVERY YEAR


Aphrodesia in Vaudeville Tent by Susan J. Weiand

APHRODESIA
Sex appeal clearly has a lot to do with an artist's success—if that weren't the case talentless hardbodies like lil’ miss Britney would never make the megabucks. Taking this truism to heart, the 11 clever members of Aphrodesia showed up to their Meadow Stage performance dressed down in revealing beachwear. But this is a mixed band, not some mall-ready group of pinups. Even as the three hot-pantsed female vocalists randied up the crowd, their allure was oddly balanced by the shameless dudes in the rhythm section, all of whom were also sporting teeny-weenie bikinis. It was almost as if they nullified each other, or more accurately amplified each other, giving everyone in the audience some eye candy to chew on.

Far less bare was their phenomenal set of heavy-swinging Afrobeat, culled from original arrangements of traditional African folk and pop, Fela Kuti covers, and a few odds and ends thrown in. One song in particular, with lead singer Lara Maykovich settling into a sweet melody on mbira (African thumb piano), brought welcomed rhythmic variety to Aphrodesia's upbeat party vibe, and showed these guys are more than a bunch of pretty faces.

- Jonathan Zwickel


Aphrodesia in Vaudeville Tent by Susan J. Weiand


KAKI KING: BIG MEADOW


Kaki King by SuperDee
Believe it or not, I'd never heard of Kaki King before her set. How I managed to miss out on this phenomenon is a mystery to me, but in hindsight, I'm almost glad I'd never heard of her because it made her set that much more enchanting. What she does with a single Ovation guitar many four-piece bands can only dream of accomplishing. She slaps the guitar with her palm to create beats and then has multiple bass lines going underneath these hypnotic melodies. As I inched my way to the front, awe silencing the packed field, this 24 year-old acoustic goddess gifted us beautiful renditions of some of her new material off her soon to be released album Legs To Make Us Longer. Truth be told, while she was playing, I couldn't help but daydream about what would happen if she and Keller Williams had children.

- Monica Way


Dan Bern by The Kayceman

DAN BERN: VAUDEVILLE TENT
"I am the Messiah." -Dan Bern. Damn right! At his midday Vaudeville set on Saturday everything came together. Sure his Big Meadow set on Sunday was good, but it was dwarfed by the connection he made with the tight knit crowd under the Vaudeville Tent. I can't remember the last time I really cried in public. But when Dan Bern speaks the gospel, and when it's really working, emotions take over and to be honest, I didn't care, not one bit. Bern very well may be the greatest lyricist we have, and his politics couldn't be more poignant and on spot. And it wasn't just me. As I looked around people had tears in their eyes as they smiled at the stage. Next to The Slip melting my late night, this was the pinnacle of High Sierra for me. Songs like "Jerusalem" (do yourself a favor and read the lyrics), "Alaskan Highway," Estelle," and the duet he pulled off with Chris Chandler reading poetry from his little black notebook were inspirational, emotional, and beautiful. His storytelling, both in song and between compositions, is as good as any you will find. The manner in which he draws each and every person into his world is a gift that only the greatest performers are capable of. I could see Dan Bern every night and never get sick of learning from him. Dan Bern is the Messiah, don't forget it.

- The Kayceman


Mike Dillon and JJ "Jungle" Richards by Susan J. Weiand

HAIRY APES BMX
Just in case you haven't been paying attention, Mike Dillon is a freak. And I mean that in the best possible way. His band Hairy Apes BMX is the perfect vehicle for Dillon to just let it ALL hang out. With a heavy punk ethos and downright nasty instrumental capabilities, the Apes are an energetic bunch that fears nothing on stage. With Dillon doing his best Iggy Pop contortion moves and eventually diving off the top speaker into the crowd, this had to be one of the most insane sets of the weekend. But it's not all shtick or show, this band can play. When Dillon brought out the tabla and welcomed three horns (Skerik, Houser, Cheme), and a few percussionists (Jeffree Lerner, Joe Russo) to the mix the crowd was thumping with some type of world Beastie Boys sound. Going from Eastern drum-led excursions to D.C. go-go beats and more, this is one band that escapes classification. If you think you can handle some serious heat and aggression, go move your ass with Hairy Apes.

- The Kayceman


Cheme, Skerik, Brad Houser, and Joe Russo with HABMX by SuperDee


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