HIGH SIERRA MUSIC FEST: THE BEST IN THE WEST
With so many festivals and tours yet so little time and money, one must choose wisely when planning out the summer fun. There are arguments to be made for almost every fest and any tour. Bonnaroo offers the biggest bands and most expansive lineup, Wakarusa and 10KLF give new demographics huge stages and massive names, Panic is on tour, and BIG appears to be going off without a hitch. But none of these, actually no festival we've found, offers the down-home vibe, ease of logistics and all-around relaxing good time that the High Sierra Music Festival has been providing for a decade-and-a-half. For their Fifteenth Anniversary, High Sierra didn't do anything particularly special, instead they did what they've always done: crafted a solid line-up and brought together some of the nicest folks in one of the greatest sites imaginable. What follows is not meant to be an all inclusive review. We're well aware that some of the best bands didn't receive proper treatment. We're not here to tell the whole tale, but rather to spread the good word on why High Sierra continues to be one of the few events we hit each and every year. We gathered words and images from our staff and friends and even poked around 'the biz' to bring you the Top 3 from HSMF. We hope you enjoy our little walk back to Quincy. After reading up on some of our favorite moments, we hope you'll save some pennies for the 16th Annual High Sierra next summer. We guarantee you won't be disappointed.
HSMF 2005 by Dave Vann
SURPRISINGLY EMOTIONAL: THE SLIP & DAVIS
Music is emotional. Music is life and love, pain, passion, heartbreak, exuberance, and every other color we feel. Music can explain what we have no words for. It can make sense of the senseless and give us hope when we have none. Music is a release, and it can often be as critical to one's survival (or sanity) as air and water. There are a handful of bands, perhaps even less, that can evoke these emotions, and few do it better than The Slip. Standing in front of the Barr Brothers (Brad - guitar, Andrew - drums) and Marc Friedman (bass) as they tore through their Late Nite set on Friday, emotions ran deep reaching climactic proportions during "Proud." When Benevento and Russo of The Duo joined in for the instrumental "Happy Snails," everything seemed to be right, even if just for a moment. High Sierra would simply not be High Sierra without The Slip. They embody the essence of the festival: an Americana band that can improvise wildly, touching on a myriad of genres yet always maintaining their identity. Ya, they're that good.
Andrew Barr - The Slip
HSMF 2005 by Jon Bahr
As I fought tears at the Surprise Me Mr. Davis double-slot (the band scheduled after them canceled, thus giving Mr. Davis three hours to play), I was reminded of the emotional qualities inherent in music. I remembered why I started buying tapes and sitting in my room when I was a wee one. Listening to Nathan Moore (ThaMuseMeant) tell the tale of how he was arrested on his way to the festival forced a sense of unity on the crowd. We were connected to Nathan and his Slip backing band, some of us (those who may have woken up in jail) perhaps a bit more than others. Regardless of one's back history with The Slip, Mr. Davis, or jail, it was impossible to deny the songs these boys played. In particular, "Summer of my Fall" may be one of the greatest songs you don't know (listen here). For anyone who digs honest songs, gut-wrenching delivery, and mind-boggling instrumental abilities (I was even reminded of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez of The Mars Volta during one of Brad Barr's heavily processed guitar intros), don't let Surprise Me Mr. Davis escape you.
B. Barr & N. Moore :: Surprise Me Mr. Davis
HSMF 2005 by Grace Dunn
TWO FOR ME, & TWO FOR YOU: THE DUO & TWO GALLANTS
You used to need three or four members to start a band, but that no longer holds true. In 2005 all you need is two. Bands like The White Stripes, The Black Keys, Death From Above 1979, The Benevento/Russo Duo, and Two Gallants (amongst others) have made it abundantly clear that you can do away with the extraneous instruments and strip it down to just two members. At both their Big Meadow set and their Sunday Late Nite the Benevento/Russo Duo (sans Gordo) continued their domination of the scene. Pulling off instrumental covers of both Radiohead and Elliot Smith, not to mention a slew of impressive originals, Marco and Joe proved without a doubt that they simply have no need for a bass player. As these two good time fellas continue to create massive walls of sound equipped with mind-eating monsters, jazzy improvs, impressive electronics, and a keen ear for detail, there appears to be nothing standing in their way.
M. Benevento - The Duo :: HSMF 2005 by Dave Vann
Following suit, the Two Gallants made their first High Sierra appearance to small but enthralled crowds. Covering lead, rhythm, and bass duties on his guitar, Adam Stephens not only wowed with his hands but moved with his words. The Two Gallants sat slightly outside the regular sounds and usual suspects at High Sierra, but that's exactly what made it so fun. Songs of death and murder, heavy drinking, and blood-soaked love made their performance at the Vaudeville Tent absolutely breath-taking. It was nice to see High Sierra take a chance on a young band that does not fit the peaceful easy vibe. With a new album coming out on Conor Oberst's (Bright Eyes) Saddle Creek record label and appearances at both the Reading and Leeds music festivals in England, the Two Gs are one hot duo. Keep an eye on the Two Gallants; they're making major moves.
A. Stephens - Two Gallants :: HSMF 2005 by Grace Dunn
RISE OUT OF THE WATER: JERRY JOSEPH
Just as the Two Gallants write dark songs of twisted people, so does Jerry Joseph. Jerry's been known to tell the audience, "You know what I hate? Hippies telling me 'It's all good.' It's not all good. It's not supposed to be all good." And while he didn't open up that can at High Sierra's Main Stage, he did launch into spirited versions of "Good Sunday" and "Light Is Like Water." As the fierce sun beat down on the faithful fans of rock, Jerry laid on the wah-wah pedal, assaulting his guitar and mangling our ears. Jerry's brand of sloppy (and that's a compliment here), emotionally charged rock is his calling card, but his songwriting is what sets him apart and what will be his legacy. As Jerry spoke of the Feather River that surrounds Quincy, California, he sang songs of water. As the words to the set-closing "Climb To Safety" rang over the heads of High Sierra, it was clear that inspiration comes in many forms. "Look around your room you find the paint is peelin' / Your reflective skin is fallin' off your bones / Well, I must admit I know just how you're feelin' / We must grab each other's collar, we must rise out of the water / And you know as well as I do it's no fun to die alone / Climb to safety /
After all that I've been through, you're the only one that matters / Climb to safety."
J. Joseph & B. Rosen - Jackmormons
HSMF 2005 by Grace Dunn
SURPRISE OF THE WEEKEND: AL HOWARD & THE K23 ORCHESTRA
What can I say, I've known Al Howard for years, and I've seen him play several times. But I ain't never seen him do what he did at the Vaudeville Tent late Saturday night. I can't be sure what the catalyst was: maybe the mass of people or maybe the fact that it was Saturday night High Sierra Party People. Maybe it was the sweaty tent versus the cool mountain air. I'm not sure, but whatever happened led to an inspirational set of music by Dr. Howard and his K23 crew. Al is always an energetic band leader, and he's always giving it his all, but one thing that set this evening apart was the expansive, borderline psychedelic groove music his band was creating. When not sharing his rapid-fire words of wisdom, Al was slamming on a tambourine and flopping all over the stage. As the crowd went nuts, Al matched their intensity and raised it a notch. This is what we mean when we talk about the crowd/band dynamic - each one serving the other and making something far greater than words can express. When speaking with Al the next day near the noodle shack, he showed me blisters from the tambourine and told me it was the best show they've ever had. Al Howard and the K23 Orchestra are on the rise. Be sure to tap in.
Benevento & Al Howard :: HSMF 2005 by Grace Dunn