Guitarfish Music Festival Continues To Grow

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Guitarfish :: 7.30.15 – 8.2.15 :: Cisco Grove, CA

Growing bigger and better in 2015 though still retaining boutique-festival status, the fifth annual Guitarfish Festival’s fusion of music, mountains, a rolling river, robust campsites and colorful characters – on and off the stages – was a joyous celebration to behold. Expanded this year to a four-day, Thursday through Sunday affair, Guitarfish is a giant campout carnival and jamboree.

The main attractions – music, artisans, food and drink vendors, large structure art and people-gathering-and-grooving – are nestled in the so-called “Fish Bowl” at the center of the giant, forested campground at Cisco Grove, more than a mile-high in the Sierra Nevadas. Surrounding that were several sections of lavish and gnarly campsites which lined the weaving paths. Acting as home bases for the weekend, camps provided perfect perches for cool-night slumber, meal-sharing, midday naps and other domestic activities while music softly floated in the distance. The mighty Yuba River, zealously used for swimming and frolicking, had its cool, flowing arms around the festival, rolling along the edge of the campground – and rather robustly given the time of year and the extensive statewide drought.

Oh, and then there’s the music! Dominated by post-modern contemporary funk ’n’ soul ‘n’ jam bands, performances are presented on either side of the center of the “Fish Bowl” which is temporarily carpeted for the weekend to prevent dust. Music is presented alternately on the Orca Stage and the Dolphin Stage. Each band got time to stretch out during their performance, with sets averaging 90 minutes.

Headliners included Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, The Monophonics, Con Brio, Dumpstaphunk, Kinky, Afrolicious, Lebo and Friends and Dead Winter Carpenters, with many a kick-ass band, as well as the always-exciting Guitarmageddon, in between. (The accompanying photos come from Saturday’s and Sunday’s festivities.)

Things remained fairly close to schedule, though Dumpstaphunk, a band with two Nevilles were uber-awesome once they finally finished tuning and fussing with equipment, began their scheduled 8:10 p.m. set on Saturday night at about 9:50. Thus, those who made it till the end of closer Con Brio’s set, were up until 4 a.m.

In addition, Andrea Brook returned with her Sonic Butterfly, a monstrously large harp with projection wings that was erected into a tree-surrounded clearing, which offered several aurally and visually ethereal musical performances. New this year and adding lots of color and stimulation was the presence of bodypaint artists and models, courtesy of the San Francisco-based Human Art Collective.

The fest’s Guitarfish name comes from an “epic eco-music fish tale” by Jimmy Leslie, a writer and musical gunslinger himself who, with his band, The Flow, is a festival mainstay. The story, “Guitarfish Adventures – Blue is the New Green” is a musical marine epic about a guitarfish – a real fish, by the way – and his awesome band of sea creatures trying to tour without getting hooked by humans. In the book’s forward, Bootsy Collins, he of James Brown and Parliament-Funkadelic fame, conveys a message that is lived out every year at the festival. “I dig ‘Guitarfish Adventures,’” Collins wrote, “because it has two messages that are very important to me. First, that funky music is an expression of one’s true self, without the fake up or make up. … It crosses all boundaries and embraces the haves and have-nots to create a fun environment with the understanding that being different is cool.”