High Sierra Music Festival 2022: Recap & Photos

Check out Nate Todd's recap and Susan Weiand's photos from the event's 30-year celebration.

By Nate Todd Jul 6, 2022 1:51 pm PDT

High Sierra Music Festival celebrated 30 years this past 4th of July weekend. The long-running and beloved event has existed on my radar since seeing the impressive lineups High Sierra has curated year in and year out. HSMF 2022, however, was my first sojourn to the Plumas County Fairgrounds in Quincy, California.

Naturally, the first thing one notices about the area is its beauty. The drive from Reno, Nevada starts in desert terrain. But striking west the more verdant rolling foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains appear and the trees begin to loom larger; the festival grounds themselves are peppered with towering pines.

The sylvan atmosphere enhances the intimacy of the event, like throwing a party in the woods. Adding to that vibe was Camp JamBase teaming back up with the renowned Bitchin’ Kitchen who not only offer delicious eats but also provide a stage that saw artists like Ron Artis II, Adam MacDougall, Reed Mathis, Ezra Lipp, The California Honeydrops and more gracing the campground stage. According to perennial festivalgoers, we also lucked out with the weather. While it was warm during the day, the temperatures were relatively cooler than previous years. When it did reach into the mid-80s, finding a shady spot beneath one of the pines or back at camp to check out music at Bitchin’ Kitchen provided a nice respite and recharge.

Thursday, June 30

But there wasn’t too much time to rest as HSMF got right into its stellar lineup on Thursday, June 30. Arriving on Thursday afternoon, I immediately high-tailed it over to the Vaudeville Tent to catch Ghost-Note. Founded by Snarky Puppy members drummer Robert “Sput” Searight and percussionist Nate Werth, the band also includes renowned bassist MonoNeon and more. The group brought their brand of high-energy funk and hip hop, propelling the festival into its first evening.

Switching gears, I headed over to the main stage where bluegrass legend Peter Rowan and jamgrass stalwarts Railroad Earth played songs from Rowan’s famed mid-’70s bluegrass supergroup, Old & In The Way. The collaborators delivered the band’s titular 1975 live album in its entirety which featured Rowan playing a gorgeous sunburst Fender Stratocaster. Highlights included Peter’s classics “Midnight Moonlight” and “Panama Red” as well as The Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” and a fantastic set closing “Land Of The Navajo,” which boasted a vibey jam that saw Peter showing off his amazing voice with some wordless, soaring vocal stylings.

Rowan and collaborator on his new album Calling You From My Mountain vocalist Lindsay Lou came back out for the last two songs of RRE’s second set. A special moment came when Lindsay and Railroad wished Peter a happy birthday as the singer-songwriter’s 80th birthday is July 4 and closed down the set with RRE’s own “The Cuckoo” as well as Peter’s “Fetch Wood, Carry Water.”

A band that has been making waves in the past few years and certainly in the past few weeks, Goose, followed RRE on the Grandstand stage. Another special moment came when JamBase co-founder Andy Gadiel introduced the band’s premiere HSMF play with an inspiring speech. The Connecticut jam quintet kicked things off with “Flodown,” (or a “Flopener”) from their 2021 album Shenangigans Nite Club. Other highlights included an expansive “Hungersite” from their new album Dripfield as well a choice “Rockdale” > “A Western Sun” > “Rockdale” sequence before closing out with the funky favorite “Hot Tea.” Goose returned to encore with an exploratory “The Empress Of Organos” to cap their High Sierra debut.

Friday, July 1

Friday’s music itinerary got going with some more Ghost-Note who offered a “70s Funk Exploration” in the High Sierra Music Hall as part of the festival’s “Playshop” series. Next, a return to the Grandstand Stage for Ron Artis II who presided over an incendiary and soulful power trio set complete with some of his fretboard fireworks on guitar.

The Bay Area’s California Honeydrops enjoyed some home state hospitality during the first of a few memorable sets at the festival. The roots band led by ​​Lech Wierzynski has fostered a tight-knit community and their fans were out in force for the Honeydrops’ first set of the weekend.

The Disco Biscuits closed out the Grandstand Stage with an adventurous set that saw the quartet offering mostly new material. tDB has their first studio album in over a decade in the works and after opening with the classic “I-Man,” the band filled their set at HSMF with new material including “Who’s In Charge?,” “Tourists (Rocket Ship),” “Space Train,” “Another Plan of Attack” and “Twisted in the Road,” all songs debuted in 2022. The Aron Magner-penned “Evolve,” unveiled in 2021, counted as the penultimate song of the set before the band closed out one of the longest sets in its history with bassist Marc Brownstein’s vintage “Caterpillar.”

Earlier on Friday, Baltimore roots rocker Cris Jacobs presided over a tribute to the storied Muscle Shoals tradition. The singer-songwriter and guitarist wasn’t through and delivered an electrifying late-night set at the Vaudeville Tent on Friday night that included Cris breaking out the cigar box slide guitar for his classic “Bone Digger,” welcoming Lindsay Lou and more.

Saturday, July 2

I’ve long been a fan of Cris’ copious talent but seeing him live only solidified that. After watching Skerik & The True Loves deliver a fiery early Saturday afternoon set at the Vaudeville Tent, I headed back over to the main stage for Cris Jacobs’ afternoon performance. Naturally a little more laid back than late night, Jacobs still impressed with songs like “Mama Was A Redbone” (a tune about his late beloved dog) and the cigar box slide came back out for a cover of Levon Helm’s “Got Me A Woman.” Toward the end of the set, Cris noted that the next song he’d love to record with his upcoming guests. Frequent collaborators mandolinist Paul Hoffman and dobroist Anders Beck of Greensky Bluegrass emerged to help on Jacobs’ stellar song “Be My Stars.”

Keeping it at the Grandstand Stage, renowned Afrobeat artist Femi Kuti came next. The son of afro-beat pioneer Fela Kuti, Femi kept it in the family by bringing out his son Made Kuti. A journey over to the Big Meadow Stage brought me to the raucous tail end of a set from Buffalo, New York jam quartet Aqueous.

Pigeons Playing Ping Pong followed Femi on the Grandstand Stage where they welcomed guitarist Lebo (Dan Lebowitz) for a “Julia” > “Plastic Bubble” > “Julia” sequence. Up next came Greensky Bluegrass, who offered a guest-filled set that included Cris Jacobs returning the favor on “Bone Digger” along with sit-ins from Skerik, Molly Tuttle and Lindsay Lou. Lindsay helped close out the set with GSBG’s “Past My Prime” and a cover of Fleetwood’s Mac’s “The Chain.”

The Nth Power offered a Steely Dan tribute on the Big Meadow Stage which saw the band led by guitarist Nick Cassarino and held down by drummer Nikki Glaspie welcoming Lettuce keyboardist (and former member) Nigel Hall and others for the Dan set. The group performed classics like “Peg,” “Black Cow,” “Deacon Blues” “Kid Charlemagne,” “Reeling In The Years” and more. While the covers were spot on rendtions of notoriously tricky songs from Steely Dan’s catalog, the tribute also saw The Nth Power exploring the music in a way that likely doesn’t happen at a Dan concert. Saturday’s late-night at Vaudeville saw The California Honeydrops bringing New Orleans vibes to another house party-style performance.

Vermont-based jam quartet Twiddle kept late night going with a ticketed concert at the High Sierra Music Hall. Highlights from the exploratory set included an “Apples” > “Mamunes The Faun” > “Apples” segment along with classics like “Doinkinbonk!!!” and “Jamflowman.” Twiddle encored with their recent single “The Devil” set to land on their forthcoming album Every Last Leaf.

Sunday, July 3

Keyboardist Marco Benevento kicked off the festivities at the Grandstand Stage where his other project, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, would play later in the evening. Day Four also saw Sara Watkins and Sean Watkins of Watkins Family Hour delivering their second set of the festival on the Big Meadow Stage where they welcomed Molly Tuttle and others.

Joe Russo’s Almost Dead — drummer Joe Russo, guitarists Scott Metzger and Tom Hamilton, Benevento and bassist Jon Shaw in place of Dave Dreiwitz who played with Ween in Oregon that night — took the Grandstand Stage at 8:30 and delivered their unique and high-energy interpretations of Grateful Dead and Dead-related tunes jamming their way into “Black-Throated Wind” to start the first frame. Other first set highlights included “Reuben & Cerise,” “China Cat Sunflower” into the Bob Weir tune “Gonesville” as well as a “Shakedown Street” that flowed into a Sunday “One More Saturday Night” first set closer.

Set two got underway with “Foolish Heart” into “The Music Never Stopped.” The quintet then performed “Help On The Way” and its companion “Slipknot!” before swerving into “I Need A Miracle.” The second set came to a close with “Wharf Rat” > “Playing In The Band.” Bob Dylan’s “Quinn the Eskimo (Mighty Quinn)” closed out the festival’s final headlining set on a high note.

wrapped up the Vaudeville tent with a rowdy late night set which included a guest appearance from Skerik. Frasco also addressed the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade and how mad it made him ahead of a rousing rendition of Rage Against The Machine’s “Killing In The Name Of.”

As Frasco noted, the world is a maddening place right now. But with intimate events like High Sierra Music Festival still happening after three decades that have seen their share of troubling times in the world, it gives one great hope that we will navigate these darks waters as well. Whether it be through deep reflection from your favorite singer-songwriter or rocking out to a Rage song, help is always close at hand through the healing power of music.

Photos by Susan Weiand

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