High Sierra Music Festival 2018: 12 Acts Not To Miss

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There’s less than a week to go until the 28th High Sierra Music Festival begins at the Plumas-Sierra Fairgrounds in Quincy, California. High Sierra ’18 spans Thursday, July 5 – Sunday, July 8 and features dozens of acts from a variety of genres spread across its many stages.

JamBase CEO David Onigman and Editorial Director Scott Bernstein are among the members of Team JamBase heading to High Sierra next weekend. DaveO and Scotty each picked three acts they’ve seen before that they’re excited to see again and three they can’t wait to see for the first time.

DaveO’s Picks

Three Acts DaveO Has Seen Before

Billy Strings

Recently on The JamBase Podcast we were asked which bands do we see playing bigger rooms next year. Luckily I got to answer first, and one of the people I selected was Billy Strings. Impressing audiences while opening for Greensky Bluegrass and hitting the festival circuit hard, the universe is seeing the talents of this young man, and it’s been a couple of years since I’ve last seen him play. Can’t wait.

[Turmoil & Tinfoil | Shared by Music City Roots]

Ernest Ranglin

The year was 2002 or 2003 and I remember when an old friend burned me (sorry) a copy of Ernest Ranglin’s Below The Bassline album and I instantly fell in love with it. The only other time I’ve seen him play was at High Sierra where he both threw down an incredible main set, but also participated in a playshop that saw him pair with fellow guitar legend Bill Frisell that was quite special. Below The Bassline continues to be a go-to album of mine, particularly when we have bands in the office recording videos, when they breakdown I always immediately thrown on an album over the PA as they are packing up, and I’d say about 30 percent of the time, it’s that record.

[NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert]

Antibalas

I recall seeing Antibalas back around the turn of the century at a number of festivals, Berkfest comes to mind, and I recall the era when they contributed to Medeski Martin & Wood’s Uninvisible album. For whatever reason, I just keep missing this band, haven’t seen them in probably at least a decade, and after their last time through San Francisco just a few months ago, I got hit up with numerous messages about how impressive a night of music it was.

[Hook & Crook | Live On KEXP]

Three Acts Dave Is Excited To See For The First Time

Margo Price

In my house, the past couple of years we’ve been listening to a lot of Jason Isbell. And from listening to lots of Isbell came lots of Sturgill Simpson (see below) and Chris Stapleton. After that came Margo Price. We listen to a lot of the new really good country. I recall my neighbor Robert swinging by a few years ago, he’s an old rock critic in Berkeley and he asked me if I had ever heard of Margo Price and I said I had not. Fast forward a few months and I awoke one Sunday morning to see my Twitter feed lit up with people raving about Price’s performance on Saturday Night Live. I love both of her records and JamBase Associate Editor Andy Kahn recently caught her headlining show in Minneapolis, braving a blizzard to get there, and said he’d risk it all again.

[A Little Pain]

Sturgill Simpson

When High Sierra announced the initial lineup this year, this was the name that jumped off the page on me. I hoped Sturgill Simpson would be a headliner on the main stage (he is) – as I could immediately picture him up there closing a night, and I have a feeling he’s going to impress a big crowd of folks that are already familiar, and a few thousand new fans he’s likely to make next Saturday.

[Call To Arms]

Ghost Light

Holly Bowling is resident in the San Francisco Bay Area, as is JamBase’s headquarters, and Holly’s an old friend of the company. JamBase was the first ones to talk Holly into doing a full jam transcription for a Grateful Dead song for our Songs Of Their Own series after previously only doing it for heady Phish jams. Our email chain back and forth where we talk her into it is one I treasure. Ghost Light’s one of the newer bands on the scene and I can’t wait to see them next weekend and am elated to see Holly has an outlet in a full-time band to shine beyond solo performances.

[Diamond Eyes | Captured by LiquidSilverStream]

ScottyB’s Picks

Three Acts ScottyB Has Seen Before

New Orleans Suspects

Last year I finally crossed High Sierra off my musical bucket list and this year I made the trip to New Orleans for Jazz Fest. There were many highlights of the 10 late night performances I caught in the Crescent City but a particular show that stood out was Leafopotomus featuring the New Orleans Suspects joined by a bevy of special guests. While the guests were nice, I was sold immediately on the swamp rock thrown down by the New Orleans Suspects. The quintet sure know how to throw a musical party and had me dancing throughout their whole performance. Guitarist Jake Eckert is a shredder of the highest caliber who I have no doubt will win himself and the band a number of new fans at High Sierra ‘18.

[Cocaine Jane]

Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds

A few years ago on Jam Cruise, torrential storms led to the outdoor Pool Deck’s closure which threw the schedule for the final few days totally off-kilter. Organizers made the most of the situation and one of the changes they made was to bring New York City-based soul and funk outfit Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds indoors for a set in the ship’s atrium. We’re talking about a small area for a large band, but not only did frontwoman Arleigh Kincheloe & Co. make the best of the situation but they thrived. Every inch of space around the ensemble was filled with revelers, many of which were hanging on each note the Dirty Birds played. Arleigh and the gang have been working up new material and I’m excited to see what they have in store for the High Sierra crowd. If you like horn-driven funk sung by a vocalist with powerful pipes, Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds will be for you.

[Sugar]

Pigeons Playing Ping Pong

This Baltimore-based quartet plays a high-energy brand of funk filled with catchy hooks. Guitarist Greg Ormont is a whirl of motion on-stage, while lead guitarist Jeremy Schon brings an unparalleled intensity to the band’s music. The rhythm section of bassist Ben Carrey and drummer Alex Petropulos provides a strong anchor. Pigeons will keep festival-goers on their toes with medleys combining their own songs and an incredible batch of classic rock covers, as they seamlessly weave from one tune to the next.

[Avalanche]

Three Acts Scotty Is Excited To See For The First Time

Spafford

The timing for me to catch Arizona-based jam quartet Spafford just never has worked out. For instance, I had a family wedding the last time they headlined in New York City. Ever since the High Sierra lineup was announced I’ve been champing at the bit to finally see Spafford live. I’ve been enjoying videos and audio recordings of their dynamic live sets over the past few years and watched them rise from local favorites in Arizona to a nationally-touring act who have scored slots at big festivals across the country. What really blew me away was a 53 minute improv jam they laid down at Asheville’s Echo Mountain Recording back in October, as my jaw was on the floor throughout nearly the entire performance. I can’t wait to see if they live up to the high bar I’ve set for them.

[53 Minute Improv Jam | Captured by Iam AVL]

Jon Stickley Trio

In 2017, Americana trio the Jon Stickley Trio released a sensational 12-track album entitled Maybe Believe. I’ve listened to the LP dozens of times and with each play I come to appreciate something different from the music. Stickley has killer flatpicking chops, while fiddler Lyndsay Pruett brings a sensibility to the band’s music that separates them from the pack. If I enjoy their set even half as much as I’ve enjoyed Maybe Believe I’m sure in for a treat.

[Almost With You]

Birds Of Chicago

Over the past few months I’ve received numerous recommendations to catch Birds Of Chicago at High Sierra. The group is fronted by the husband and wife duo of JT Nero and Allison Russell and recently released Love In Wartime, an album produced by Nero and Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi Allstars. Birds Of Chicago’s signature brand of “secular gospel” should be just what festival-goers need early in the afternoon on the final day of High Sierra.

[Barley | Captured by Music City Roots]

Tickets for High Sierra are on sale now here.