This Fourth of July weekend was the 23rd Annual High Sierra Music Festival high up in the small mountain town of Quincy, California. As music festivals go, this one is a real gem. Many friends told me that High Sierra is something special, and the experience did not disappoint. It's much smaller than most of the major festivals around the country and there's a true sense of community here. Everyone is extremely generous and friendly, and you easily feel like your camp site under the magnificent pine trees is home for the weekend.
Most names on the line up at High Sierra are lesser-known acts, which makes discovering new music one of the best parts of the experience. On Thursday I saw The Revivalists from New Orleans who put on a super funky show complete with a pedal steel guitar, a full horn section, and featured a very impressive trumpet player who did a jazz solo that had the whole crowd on their feet.
And the crowd at High Sierra is really something to appreciate. Naturally you have your typical flower crowned, hula-hooping hippies, but there's also children of all ages everywhere you look, as well as countless snowy-haired festival goers who were probably well into retirement when they began attending the festival 23 years ago. Everyone dances, drinks, eats, and rocks out together in a uniquely harmonious way.
Thursday evening Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters headlined. I overheard chatter in the audience about what to expect from the show. Would Plant do any Zeppelin songs or only his new music? To the general delight of the crowd he did a perfect mix of both. He played a few of the classics like "Going to California," that sounded almost as good as if the entire band had been revived, complete with Plant's signature high-pitched Zeppelin scream. The band also did a few songs with Gambian musician Juldeh Camara that can only be described as African dance rock fusion. The entire crowd went crazy.
The rest of the weekend was just as impressive. Los Angeles based indie folk band Lord Huron put on an amazing show on Friday evening. Their music transitioned between traditional folk and funky dance riffs. Saturday night brought some of the best shows of the weekend. Thievery Corporation put on a full two-hour set as the headliner of the evening. Even eighteen years after they first started performing they still brought the house down with an incredible, dance worthy, hand clapping, fist-pumping performance.
My favorite show of the weekend was one of the late night shows on Saturday. With a voice and stature similar to James Brown, Lee Fields manages to combine his years of performing with a fresh, contemporary approach. He truly knows how to bring the funk of the 60's and 70's to a new generation. His band, The Expressions, really brought his sound to life. It's obvious they're very well versed in the genre even though most of them couldn't be a day over thirty. I think its artists like Fields that will very soon make soul and funk a mainstream type of music once again. I enjoyed his performance so much that I saw him again on Sunday afternoon for yet another funk-a-licious performance.
I wish there were more festivals like High Sierra within driving distance of the Bay Area. The different styles of music in such a beautiful and intimate setting, combined with the sense of community among festival goers is something not easily found at other music events. If you are a music lover and you live in Northern California you need to attend this festival. I will definitely be heading back next year. Check out the slide show below to see pictures of the epic weekend.