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High Sierra Music Festival 2013: Top Sets

Photos by Sam Heller // Written by Kevin Quandt, Mike Frash & Pete Mauch

Lennon-McCartney said it best when they stated, “Got to admit it’s getting better, getting better all the time.” High Sierra Music Festival, held every Fourth of July weekend for the past 23 years in lovely Quincy, California somehow keeps getting better each year. The success of this event isn’t anything too surprising, as the producers truly know how to run a seamless event while drawing in such a rich diversity of musical talent from across the globe, year after year. The Plumas County Fairgrounds are amazingly transformed into a wonderland for both adults and kids, alike, becoming a community environment that allows people to lose themselves in the festivities.

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Young and old are ever-present at HSMF — while the little ones enjoy family yoga and children’s sets by the one Vince Herman from Leftover Salmon, the older attendee may likely enjoy wine tasting by sponsors or fresh sushi in the morning or fresh oysters in the afternoon. From the wide variety of cuisine available from Gerard’s Paella to crab smothered artichoke to the array of music playshops to explore the deeper, inner workings of music. It’s qualities such as these that lend to one overall thrilling experience, which keeps so many returning every year, and most newcomers pledging the same.

High Sierra caters to everyone, and if you are unable to have an amazing time, you may want to check your pulse. But let’s be honest, the masses primarily flock to the Sierra Mountains to enjoy the varied selection of musical acts. Here are Showbams’ top sets from the long weekend.

Allen-Stone

Allen Stone
Thursday • Big Meadow • 7:15pm

Young soul powerhouse Allen Stone and his electrifying band held down a two hour (!) set at the Big Meadow Thursday — not bad for a performer who self-released his two full length albums and toured hard and strong enough to catch fire over the past year. He stretched his set out for the last 20 minutes by announcing a dance off and asking the crowd to create an aisle down the middle toward the soundboard. Either it was too early in the fest on a hot day, the two hour set was too long, or people were too high, because no one obliged. Stone had to collect himself before trying again, and after some chastising by the neo-soulster a the dance off ignited. -MIKE FRASH


White Denim
Thursday • Grandstand • 7:15pm + Friday • Big Meadow • 7:15pm

Fast rising indie-psych rockers White Denim delivered a couple excellent sunset shows on Thursday and Friday. The foursome is tightly synced, precisely nailing oft-changing time-signatures in a set that rarely paused. The songs segued seamlessly, blending with the help of swirling electric guitar layering and looping. The Thursday show on the Grandstand came as a relief as the ridiculously hot sun dipped behind the trees, and many were sitting down waiting for the legendary Thursday headliner. The Friday show at the Big Meadow ended spectacularly — a tighter crowd gave way to more heady psychedelic fare, including a sneakily-effective light show once full darkness arrived for the set-ending song “Drugs”. -MF


Robert-Plant

Robert Plant presents The Sensational Space Shifters
Thursday • Grandstand • 9:30pm

Robert Plant’s a legend, we all know this, so to have this mammoth performer be featured as the first major headliner of the event led to seriously large crowds, especially on Thursday. His banner set did not disappoint with his mix of rockin’ Zeppelin classics, blues-laden solo material and a rich representation of various world music styles. Plant’s band was a very impressive conglomeration of modern musicians featuring players from Massive Attack and other highly regarded acts, which lent well to the characteristic howl of the Zeppelin legend on a clear, cool first evenin. Highlights were a show opening “Baby I’m Gonna Leave You”, Zep classic “Black Dog” and a version of Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful”. The response was unanimous that Robert Plant and his latest touring act were a rousing success as one would expect from this caliber performer. -KEVIN QUANDT


Tumbleweed-Wanderers

Tumbleweed Wanderers
Friday • Vaudeville • 1:15pm

Oakland’s Tumbleweed Wanderers benefited from being placed in the shady Vaudeville tent Friday afternoon, and the folky, soulful group took full advantage of the dense crowd seeking solar protection. Frontman Zak Mandel-Romann fearlessly ripped into tracks from their 2012 debut LP So Long as he would jump off the stage to engage with the audience. The crowd reciprocated, and upon the end of the set the rousing applause was so widespread and forceful that the band members tried to hide their unbridled joy, an indication they were experiencing the best response of their careers. It was a goose bump-inducing moment, and after the continuous applause interrupted the stage emcee, the Tumbleweed Wanderers were called back for a rare encore. -MF


Nataly Dawn
Friday • Big Meadow • 3:45pm

Nataly Dawn was yet another newcomer to the festival, and she represented the singer-songwriter sect in splendid form. Her songbook may not be extensive, but is incredibly strong with playful elements of both comedy and heartfelt songs of real life and love. Dawn’s delivery was flawless as she was simply accompanied by an electric guitar player, augmenting her vocals ever so slightly. Some may know this Sacramento rising star as one half of the act Pomplamoose, but with a recent release How I Knew Her making waves, she is sure to be a name to look out for. High Sierra is generous with the amount of time a performer gets onstage, and in Dawn’s case, too much time for her limited song selection. However, with the crowd gaining size, she went through a few selections twice, including “Caroline”. Hey, exposure is exposure. -KQ


Houndmouth
Friday • Big Meadow • 5:45pm

Indiana based Houndmouth showcased their Americana folklore to the High Sierra masses on Friday afternoon, and they did so with amazing harmonies, precise musicianship and all around great whiskey-drenched songwriting. Their songs speak of troubled travelers, coked-up drug dealers and any vigilante vagabond looking to make amends with oneself. The set focused on their debut album From the Hills Below the City, with “Come On, Illinois”, “Houston Train” and “Penitentiary” rounding out the show highlights. One aspect that makes High Sierra so wonderful is the intimacy of the Festival — after Houndmouth’s set, I let them know their set was excellent. They were extremely grateful and thanked me as I walked away to my next adventure. -PETE MAUCH


Primus

Primus
Friday • Grandstand • 9:30pm

Primus is weird in all the right ways. Legendary bassist Les Claypool’s primary vehicle headlined Friday night, proving to be an über-suitable headliner that fits High Sierra’s full embrace of individuality. An intense, trippy “Southbound Pachyderm” gave way to more energetic favorites like “Jerry Was A Race Car Driver” and “Jilly’s on Smack”. Skerik appeared to add yet another twisted layer of sax to “Groundhog’s Day”. Two consistent factors relate to Claypool — his bass is the driving force and his uniquely weird songwriting and vocal delivery make it work every time. Claypool hid in the shadows all night, letting his jazz-paced diction and offbeat baseline and leadership boggle the minds of the packed main stage. -MF


The John Scofield Uberjam Band
Friday • Vaudeville • 11:30pm

The return of John Scofield’s electric band was a bit of a surprise to longtime fans of this freaked-out, electric jazz-fusion act. Jazz legend Scofield brought old friends and new to blaze through some selections from his past catalogue (Up All Night, Uberjam) and most recent (Uberjam Deux) to a healthily packed free, late night show. His mix of funky-fusion, hip-hop and electronic drum beats generally adds up to sonic grooves that are easy to dance to, but complex in their melody and solos arranged onstage. Some highlights were “Polo Towers”, “I Brake for Monster Booty”, and “Everynight is Ladies Night.” Try to catch this act on tour, as it could be the last time Scofield brings this band on the road for awhile before he likely returns to more straight-ahead jazz projects. -KQ


Skerik’s Lab
Saturday • Music Hall • 3:30pm

High Sierra vagabond and artist at large Skerik once again showcased his teaching abilities, along with his oddly-interesting poetic musings. The best woodwind and brass musicians, some in official acts and others just at High Sierra to camp and have fun, line up on stage at the Music Hall. With Mike Dillon supporting on drums, each player on stage gets a turn to take the lead, and everyone else joins in until a ferocious jam builds to a peak. Skerik then introduces the next performer, and often will ask the audience for the next musical key. Once again Carley Meyers from Mike Dillon Band stole the show. -MF


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The Barr Brothers
Saturday • Big Meadow • 7:55pm

Brad and Andrew Barr are two longtime performers who have graced the many stages at High Sierra for well over a decade. Generally, they represent their early project the Slip, sometimes with their Marco Benevento and Nathan Moore collaborative project, Surprise Me Mr. Davis. This year, they towed along a giant harp for the Barr Brothers, a rising indie-leaning project garnering impressive underground success. Songs like “Give The Devil Back His Heart” demonstrate Andrew’s complex rhythmic arrangements and Brad’s ability to write dynamic songs under any moniker. This set saw the band joined by Mike Dillon on vibraphone and the Rubblebucket horns for a bombastic set closer. -KQ


Thievery Corporation
Saturday • Grandstand • 9:30pm

Thievery Corporation brought a much needed dance party to the main stage Saturday, also delivering on the promise of being an ideal headliner for HSMF. With rotating live singers seriously augmenting the beats laid down by Rob Garza and Eric Hilton, the upbeat set never got too stuck in downtempo territory. After getting “Lebanese Blonde” out of the way early, hip hop and dance influences took center stage. So much more than a DJ show, the DC based duo have curated a revolving door spectacle supported by Rob Myers, Frank ‘Booty Lock’ Mitchell, Jeff Franca and Ashish Vyas and live instrumentation. Put it all together and it was an awe-inspiring production that hit the High Sierra sweet-spot. -MF


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Lee Fields and the Expressions
Sunday • Vaudeville • 12:15am

The final Vaudeville late night featured soulful R&B brought by the charismatic Lee Fields and his young, competent band, the Expressions. A possible new name to many in attendance, few could deny the soul-drenched revue delivered in true professional form by a 40+ year veteran. Hands in the air in rejoice were plentiful while the dapper dressed frontman channeled the obvious comparison, James Brown. Come Sunday, the High Sierra faithful were murmuring about their new favorite act, for the time being, and how friends had to catch Fields’ set on the big stage for their final Sunday performance in Quincy. -KQ


moe.
Sunday •Music Hall Late Night Show • 1:30am

Sunday night jam headliners moe. played a sold out late-night show early Sunday morning, and as usual it raged. Rob, Al, Chuck and and the rest of the gang were pretty subdued as a physical presence on stage, but they sounded as good as always. Classic opening one-two punch “Not Coming Down –> Wormwood” kicked things off nicely, and “McBain”, “Moth” and “Timmy Tucker” were set highlights. “Seat of My Pants” ended the epic third day on a high note. -MF


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Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real
Sunday • GrandStand • 12:45pm

Lukas Nelson & POTR made their High Sierra debut this year and put on quite an impressive set that caught the eye of many a festival goer, including that night’s headliner moe.(Nelson guested on “Opium” in Moe’s set). Nelson started things off with his single “Forever is a Four Letter Word”, which was well received by the growing crowd. Nelson is the son of the legendary Willie Nelson, and he truly shines on his own, clearly not leaning on his namesake to achieve success (I’m looking at you Jakob Dylan). Nelson delivers high energy sets full of excellent originals, many of which are about “Weed”, so the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. The band also ran through great cover songs including an amazing take on The Grateful Dead’s “Althea”, Pink Floyd’s “Money” and set closer “Sympathy for the Devil” by The Stones. Lukas Nelson should just be getting started –plan on seeing him grow exponentially from here. -PM


Guitarmaggeddon
Sunday • Music Hall • 4:00pm

The 10th annual Guitarmaggeddon face-melt was a special treat. Each year, Tea Leaf Green’s Josh Clark leads a group of electric guitar thrashers on a set of covers that revolve around a theme, and the songs always give way to epic guitar wailing and thrashing. It seemed like last year’s Talking Head’s set would be tough to beat, but the “Stadium Rock!” theme was plenty epic. From the steady opening of “Slow Ride” to “Satisfaction” (with a younger Mic Jagger in tow) to “Layla”, the show just killed it as expected. Lukas Nelson and Al Schnier from moe. guested for multiple songs, and fest-goers who still had a couple ounces of energy left benefited from a jamtastic, raging two hours of fun. -MF


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Steel Pulse
Sunday • Grandstand • 7:15PM

Roots reggae legends Steel Pulse would also make their debut appearance at the event this year, and they filled the Sunday “worldly afternoon” slot in proper form. The legendary Birmingham, England act are some of the most proficient performers in the business, likely do to nearly 40 years of pumping out revolutionary songs and touring the globe. “Roller Skates” and “Chant a Psalm” were just a few of the hits played to a nicely sized late-festival crowd as the sun dropped behind the Main Stage one final time this year. A new, tribute song to Trayvon Martin called “Put Your Hoodies On [4 Trayvon]“ may have been too borderline serious for the crowd, but the masses embraced the message of equality for all. -KQ


Rubblebucket
Sunday • Big Meadow • 10pm

Representing Brooklyn, Rubblebucket has really come into their own as an entrancing mix of pop, rock and world music that thrives on crowd energy and is helmed by one helluva front-woman, Kalmia Traver. This would be there first evening set after gracing the fairgrounds for a few years now, and they brought their already stellar show to the next level on the final evening. Highlights from the set included “Overstaurated”, “Rescue Ranger” and “L’Homme”. Kalmia invited attendees up on stage to join in the revelry, and the throngs rewarded this act by crowd-surfing her across the stage during “Came Out a Lady”. -KQ

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Comments

  1. Anders was just incredible

  2. requiredname says:

    Ummm….. ANDERS!?
    Stringdusters, Honeydrops, and CarolynW. should be at the top of the list as well…

  3. John Scofields late night show was horrible.. seriously, we were looking really forward to that and were just completely disappointed. On another note, ROBERT PLANT! holy crap, what an incredible show!.

    • Sam Heller says:

      Hey Seth-
      Just curious as to why you thought his set was so bad? Technically I was blown away, as I always am seeing him perform.

  4. The California Honeydrops Sunday @ Vaudville should have made this list too!

    • That set was a blast, as I arrived at the second half of the show, but I really try to write about sets I saw entirely. Ya know?
      Same goes for Anders…

  5. Needs more Anders.

    • Tanner – you’re right. I unfortunately missed both sets, chalk it up to timing. I saw Thievery with the hopes of catching Anders on Sunday, but the 2 hour Guitarmagedden set sent me back to camp to recoup. Bottom line – he should be in this article.

      • The Stringdusters late night was on fire as was Andy Falco’s( Dusters) sit in with moe. on McBain during their latenight! Newcomers Lord Huron were great as well. My favorite new band this year was Houndmouth handsdown! Both sets rocked as did both White Denim sets!!

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