Festie lovin' up in the High Sierra

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All photos by Allen David 

Keyboard and organ player Dave Faulkner didn't have to think too hard about the most golden moments of this year's High Sierra music festival (although he did say that the Black Crowes “nailed it” at their Saturday evening main stage performance). “I love it when you're just walking around, and you see a random jam that's totally rocking. I think High Sierra attracts a lot of musicians - it's like a sample platter of bands.”

But not like one of those intestinal spiderwebs of fried appetizer nuggets you get at T.G.I. Friday's. Were I to liken the 4th of July weekend's four day Tahoe-area campout to a culinary adventure, it'd probably take on the form of a potluck dinner amongst good, if disparate friends. Everybody -- from Fela's Afro-disco son Femi Kuti, to the late night burlesque acrobatics of March Fourth Marching BandTrombone Shorty's New Orleans-inflected prodigy, and the awe-inspiring spoken word consumerism take downs of Al Lesser -- brought it (most on multiple consecutive days), and the result was fly. And unexpected. Even though South Carolina native Zach Deputy played a taxing total of three scheduled shows throughout the weekend, I still happened across the red-bearded friendly giant in Saturday's blazing sunshine getting crazy with the guitar for a throng that had assembled in the pathway to watch him play on top of an RV. The metal top bounced merrily along to his enthusiastic strums, clearly only a nerve-wracking sight to those who had not worked their way into the High Sierra mellow yet. 

In a only a slightly more whimsical mood was the Banana Slug String Band, the absolute be-all end-all for itty-bitty Northern Cali music fans. The group plays a kid's version of the Grateful Dead shows that they spent their own younger days following. Their songs touched on such epic themes as getting to know your watershed and the astonishing physical strength of certain insect communities, and I'll tell you what, on day four of partying balls there's nothing quite like jumping into a congo line of festival rugrats while you all pound the air shouting “ants!” to make you never want to leave the Kidzone stage. Not to mention the table where you could make egg carton eye goggles. Super score.

Faulkner was playing the keyboard for the Slugs at that show, marking his sixth year onstage at the festival, where he's also tickled the jam band ivories with his Dead cover band, Shady Groove (who plays Moe's Alley in Santa Cruz Aug. 13th if you're down for a coastal highway road trip). “One of my favorite parts of High Sierra is that a lot of the artists camp in the festival,” he tells me in our post-party phone rehash. “I think the fact that it's in such a remote location, the ticket price, the selection of bands -- it makes it a real niche festival. The support is amazing, people are just there to watch music and get down.”

He weren't foolin'. Faulkner had clearly prepped for a lot more than just straight concert watching with the 460 Ford V8-powered Winnebago that he mainly uses as festival finder -- he used it to transport five of his buddies up from their home in Santa Cruz to High Sierra, and has rocked the Burning Man playa in the same LED-lit, subwoofer-equipped vehicle for the past three years.

Like most everyone else in the High Sierra groove, Camp Millennium found the time in between concerts to roll a beach cruiser to one of the scheduled yoga classes at Shady Grove, buy organic produce from the dude at food court shakedown alley that was hawking on the cheap the last day of the festival, nap in a hammock, catch a Javanese puppet show, test out their festie stamina in preparation for August's week-long Burning Man, and of course, cover themselves in glitter and facepaint on top of the MF as the sun set, a lone guitarist kicked out fine tunes, and the 8,500 (an early estimate by festival staffers) souls who'd made the drive up into the piney flush of the Plumas County mountains took a breather before the chaos of late night concerts and carousing.

By 11 p.m. on Sunday, most everybody had seen the bands they'd come to see, and the camp (plus extended family) had made it back to the RV for a kind of ridiculously lovey dance fantastic amidst the empty whiskey bottles and tousled bins of the clothes they'd packed to wear. No one was exactly comparing notes on the bands they'd caught, how the sets they'd seen measured up to the last time they'd caught the same bands in San Jose, or Portland, or New York City -- which kinda makes you think this festival thing plays more tunes than the ones that rocket out of the bandshell mega-amps. "To love is to live," Zach Deputy said when he was asked to sum up the weekend in a single sentence. Man I'll tell ya, when it comes to how to spend your long summer weekends, those hippies might have been on to something after all. 

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