There aren't many festivals quite as unique as the High Sierra Music Festival in Quincy, CA. It's much more than a music festival; it's a community of people, a digital detox, and a home away from home for 4 days. But the variety and quality of music certainly does make a lasting impression.
My experience at High Sierra began with Lord Huron on Thursday. Just the right amount of rock mixed with a western vibe makes them the perfect act for this festival. With the backdrop of a vibrant orange setting sun, it was a tranquil way to ease into the weekend.
The evening picked up quite a bit later on with Sound Tribe Sector 9 as the headliner. This was the third time I've seen STS9 perform, but the first with their new bassist Alana Rocklin. The characteristic instrumental, electronic, psychedelic sounds of the band were all still well intact and I had a great time dancing like crazy, though probably not quite as crazy as some of the glow stick clad "wookies" surrounding me.
The majority of the afternoon on Friday was spent alternating between barefoot hula hooping and watching some very talented acroyoga in the grass. This is one of my favorite aspects of High Sierra. You don't feel pressure to run around from stage to stage trying to see the next big act. You see the bands you want to see, check out a few new artists, and in between find time to relax on the never over-crowded lawn space to take part in numerous quirky activities. Just make sure to let your inhibitions go a little bit since many of these activities are of the aforementioned hippie variety.
The headliner on Friday evening was Ms. Lauryn Hill. Yes the same Lauryn Hill that performed with the Fugees in the '90s. Naturally the 12 year-old still in me was jumping for joy. You might be curious how a hip-hop artist fit in at this jam-band hippie festival, but she and her funk band actually slipped in quite seamlessly. The horn section and harmonies from 3 back-up singers complimented Ms. Hill's vocals and rap stylings quite nicely. And yes she did do "Ready Or Not" and "Killing Me Softly." The only drawback was that she started almost an hour late so inevitably her mic was cut during the last song since she was way over her set time. A very anti-climactic ending to an otherwise exciting performance.
The act that I was most surprised and impressed by over the weekend was on Saturday afternoon. Bombino, a Tuareg guitarist from Agadez, Niger, was one of the most talent musicians I saw at the festival. He and his 4 bandmates were all dressed in colorful middle eastern garb, and it was quite obvious they were having an absolute blast on stage. Beyond the group's raw talent, the fact that their energy was so high and you could tell how appreciative they were to be performing for the audience, made the show that much more enjoyable.
To the untrained eye, High Sierra might seem like just another crazy hippie fest, but it has so much more to offer. Besides the unique and talented lineup of artists and the beautiful landscape of the surrounding Sierra Mountains, this festival has a very inviting, community-oriented atmosphere. It's a great way to escape the intensity of city living for the 4th of July weekend.