Thursday, July 18, 2013

Shredding High Sierra

The Parade that is High Sierra!
The 23rd annual High Sierra Music Festival took place over the July 4th weekend in scenic Quincy, California. It surpassed my expectations. Having a gang of your best friends in attendance never hurts either. With a slew of great artists who tap into the many genres of today's diverse musical landscape, I was thrilled to be returning to this annual right of passage. Readying ourselves for anything, my younger cousin and I set out for Plumas County. High Sierra is the secret gem within the crowded summer circuit. Here's a rundown of what I took in...

Thursday, July 4th

Reaching the camp site at 5:00pm I had missed a few opportunities, yet still managed to check out three great performances. White Denim hit the Grandstand stage around 7:15. My initial take is that they need to open up the lead guitarist. He may not sing but his tone is great. When they get fuzzy and psychedelic they're stellar, meandering toward a sound that resembles the Black Angels. I enjoyed their set and they rocked it pretty hard.

Robert Plant & the Sensational Space Shifters unleashed some nasty good renditions of the Led Zeppelin tracks we were all fawning for. It was especially awesome to hear his voice sing the words. "Goin' to California with an achin' in my heart." The Shifters were impeccably tight and came across as true professionals. I personally liked the almost world beat-esque Namibian jams performed with a special guest. Mr. Plant still knows how to work an audience. He bantered throughout the night as if his wish came true, to perform for Yankees on the 4th of July. Often times he referenced Independence Day. An off the cuff comment regarding past Comanches of America sparked the crowd. Friends said that it was one of the best HSMF shows they'd experienced. Another pondered if it was a top 5. Whatever the F it was, I'm sure as hell glad I was there. The amazingly vibrant and enormous tapestry behind the band was mind blowing. Special shout out to the light tech and to whomever created that beast. The Grandstand had been set ablaze.

The North Mississippi Allstars threw down some dirty rock n roll. The Type that can only be spawned deep in the South. Music like theirs is real. Those white boys get down and dirty. Cheers to them for dropping bombs on the Vaudeville tent post Plant. 

Late night brought me into the High Sierra Music Hall for a killer set from Leftover Salmon. Much of the night was fire. With a start time of 1:45am anything is possible. That anything mutated into an early highlight. Near the end of their mega set they let loose a, Tangled Up In Blue, that would ultimately turn into a fierce cover from Exile on Main... As the morning continued to creep they let go of an unseasonal, however totally appreciated, Jack London. "Every time it snows I feel like Jack London, all I want to do is take a hike."

Friday, July 5th

A revolving door of musicians doesn't hinder the Pimps of Joytime from starting a party. Sure it was hot, sure it was too early for some, but it was still a chill upbeat vibe. They persevered despite the tough time slot on the Grandstand stage. On a side note, have I mentioned my love for the Big Meadow Stage? I love it's intimacy and central location. During day time hours the stage set up allows for additional shade, which is in short supply. Plus you're incredibly close to a cocktail station (more on that later) and a Lagunitas beer tent. Clutch.

Next up on my schedule was Houndmouth, who were more than stoked to see a large crowd getting down to their sound. It was a really warm set full of candidness. The front-woman can flat out sell it. She has the ability to tremble during, I Shall Be Released, agonizingly spewing"any day now, any day now... I shall be released." Songs like that deserve apprehension and uncertainty. The entire band makes sense of the poetry within a performance. Back to the front-woman. On a dime she's able to transform that same voice and cause it to ring. She has pipes.

While nearing the end of the set it became apparent, due to some honest on-stage dialogue, that they had more time than they knew what to do with. As the milling about and unneeded tuning persisted the other front-person asked the riled up crowd if we liked John Prine. Is that a trick question? His songs tend to be amazing. Their sound is what I want to hear spilling out of more garages in my neighborhood.

White Denim kept the non-Grandstand trend rolling. I wanted more from the Denim, getting just enough at times. This set had a cleaner feel, it was tidy. They repeated a few tracks but ultimately prevailed with their keen skills. If nothing else, White Denim is a band of musicians. But they're probably more. 

The guys from Lord Huron were on point and incredibly timely. Sounding clear and portraying themselves as a band that had obviously been touring, their youth is professional. Four of the first five songs were totally engaging. Track selections were predominantly from the Lonesome Dreams album. They brought a harnessed wrecking ball with them and smashed through the performance, while still maintaining a studio like quality. Songs from this LA outfit meld lyrics and melody, allowing the art to become accepted. I'm stoked to have caught them at High Sierra.

Saturday, July 6th

This was the day that just kept ascending, literally. Holy hot guano batman.

Tom Tom Club meets a young Bjork and the year is 2013. That's what came to mind after digging on Rubblebucket. The collection of young talent on stage was fresh like the hyphy neon ribbons that hung form the mic stands. Fun is the easiest way to describe their eclectic buzz. By no means is that all they are. Some say choices make all the difference. If that's the case, Rubblebucket made the right ones. Their style, all blended up and working hard, makes you notice how to enjoy the choices worth making. This journey lasted a little more than an hour and half. It was my first time catching them live. It probably won't be the last.

Hanging around at the Grandstand paid off, it was time for an uber jam with John Scofield's new project band. The Uberjam Band was laying down grooves. They're way too cool. The quartet knew exactly what to do with their gobs of intellect. The festival setting may have been the perfect outlet for what they needed to do. Often times the element of surprise becomes the vehicle for an entire experience. The trio that accompanies Scofield is ridiculous (Avi Bortnick on guitar/samples, bassist Andy Hess & Luis Cato on the drums). I preferred it when they were allowed to explore on their own. The three of them had more of an ability to go static and produce tones that are more modern, more in the moment. Don't get me wrong, there were obviously good grooves carving out space in the late day sun, no matter who was showcasing their skills. My hankering for the trio's mojo led me to feel their emotional exploration on a personal level. The newness of their layers were subject to different interpretations compared to the jazzy resonance familiar to Scofield. It was an afternoon shred party. Among friends is the best way to get after it. I was feeling tipsy after the hyper brilliance. These guys are top shelf musicians. Big ups to the band. Mad love to my friends who shared in the experience. 

Houndmouth had me rope-a-doped for a second round over in the Tent. They played the same set and yet I didn't mind. Once again they felt honest and raw. Their appreciation of the festival crowd was also well received. At one point a voice on stage blurted, "I try not to sing this one when my mom's around." Which segued into Halfway to Hardinsburg, off of the debut album, Houndmouth.

Bouncing to the Big Meadow stage I was eager to travel with the imagination of the Barr Brothers.  I wanted to see the skillful merger between their guitar and drums, with that of extraordinary harp player, Sarah Page. It was quite the presentation. I hadn't really felt anything like what they were emitting. It had an ethereal presence with the strength of rock and roll tethered to it. They're able to mine something from their songs that other bands are unaware of. Their set was impeccably tight, yet organic, allowing them to integrate the likes of Mike Dillon, the horn section from Rubblebucket and a howling harmonica into their very personal sound. Later on, a slide guitar was opened up, ripping through the blue lights of the night. Simply put, the Barr Brothers delivered. There was no note taking from here on out, I was simply awash in the energy and magic of live music.

With new life injected into me, a Barr Brothers serum, it was time for the dance party. Of course that translates into Thievery Corporation obliterating people their unique sound. A blend that has catapulted them into the mainstream consciousness. Whether they were pumping out their own jams or rocking covers of David Byrne and Chuck Brown, the Corp was demolishing shit. I'd like to thank them, for being themselves. This DC based outfit is a world blaster. They created an atmosphere that was intoxicating. Their unabashed galactic buzz resulted in a frenzied dance off. This was the best set I'd ever seen from them. Hot damn.

From the worldly haze of Thievery to the pure soul of Lee Fields, I was a garnish in the cocktail of High Sierra's Saturday night. Thank god for The Expressions and their preacher who was giving the good word to the vaudevillian congregation. Mr. Field's powerful voice and charisma enable him to channel the nostalgia of James Brown. When firing on all cylinders this clergyman produces a service's worth of soulful rhythm and blues. It was a hot show filled with a mixture of dancing and the sometimes frozen stares of those who fell victim to his faithful sermon. Saturday night was a match made in High Sierra heaven. 

Sunday, July 7th

The final countdown included an odyssey for the treasure that is a morning bloody Mary. A good friend and I went out into the early light in need of the alcoholic salad of champions. Our attempt to partake in the bloody Mary ball was thwarted by the out-of-control line that continued to grow. Bo and I were informed that, they might still be mixing at the Big Meadow cocktail stand. We trekked over and found ourselves with the last two bloody's anyone could muster. I guess it's better to be lucky than good. 

Mike Dillon & Carly Meyers

True luck made us stand pat as we were treated to the abrasive talents of Mike Dillon. His new configuration of musicians has the ability to punch an audience from the opening bell. They certainly are an electronic vibraphone go-go punk funk band, embracing the snare and snarl of rock. Anyone in attendance was doused in punk inspired energy. Special shout out to Carly on trombone. She was a whirling dervish of excitement and skill. I'm pretty sure those on stage were having just as much fun as those of us kicking up dust. Dillon and his cohorts  have more than enough in their tank to fuel a good time. Most of the songs played were from the album Urn. Dillon would later pop up all over as a special guest for many of the other artists.

Lee Fields and the Expressions had done enough the night before to Bogart me for their Grandstand set. No matter how many times you hear him or which tale he is telling, he remains faithful to his soulful story. History is in him.

Guitar-maggedon is an annual play shop with an array of guitarists from multiple bands. This year's theme was arena rock. The ax wielding music makers covered scores of songs that are familiar to classic rock fans. When the faux Mick Jagger showed up we were thrust into the restless ease of the Rolling Stones. The men on stage powered through standards from Neil, Frampton and Zeppelin.

Anders Osborne has been one of my favorite under-the-radar slayers since the late 90's. Early on his set had built momentum. He tackled two tracks from Living Room, an early record in his catalog. One of which was Greasy Money, personally I relished that selection. Moving into the special guest portion of the show he welcomed out Lukas Nelson for a take on Neil Young. Later he would bring out Mike Dillon as they marched through the song Jealous Love. Adding a saxophonist, the members of his band and Dillon would bring out some spirit with, Franklin's Tower. Needing to re-up on beverages and other amenities we left his set with the sound of rock and roll carrying in the baked air. So much to do, so little time to do it.

To the Grandstand for our reggae fix. Steel Pulse has been a pillar of the roots-rock-reggae scene for over 35 years. I'm not well enough versed to determine whether or not they're the best live reggae band, but I for one was swaying to their up-beat messages. Highlights of the set included the banger, Steppin' Out and Put Your Hoodies On (for Treyvon Martin). With an overarching message of love and justice, they do reggae right. 

Moe closed down the Grandstand with their jam inspired prog-rock. Saint Augustine flew out to get things started. They followed with Y.O.Y. and Skrunk before bringing out Carly Meyers and Mike Dillon to spice up Time Ed. Next the dueling percussionists set fire to the vibes. Pushing on they dropped, Wind It Up and Waiting for the Punchline. Then came Lukas Nelson to the stage for a take on Opium. They shut the proverbial door with Happy Hour Hero and Buster

It takes a lot to persevere through 4+ days of High Sierra. My friends and beloved lobsters took it to the max. Cheers to High Sierra and to all of the musicians who turned it up a notch. Of course props go out to everyone who attended. We need the music and the music needs us. Enjoy.


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