For Love, Music, and Kickball: High Sierra Festival
In 2006, I was in the first year of my road-dogging, still fresh-faced, energetic, and full of my signature hopeful positivity.
I had made a record with my dear friend Jim Brunberg, the owner of Mississippi Studios in Portland, who’s also a member of the band Box Set. It just so happened that Box Set’s managers were the same people that produced the High Sierra Music Festival. Jim and I had done a little tour of the central California coast (in a convertible, I might add) when Rebecca from High Sierra came to see us, and later in the year I got an email asking if I wanted to play the fest. YES, I did. High Sierra would be the final stop on my January-to-June first solo tour of the lower 48.
I dropped off some friends at the Rainbow Gathering in Colorado, spent four nights at the only free campground in Lake Tahoe – whereupon, through divine intervention, I met my bestie John Elliott – and now I was rolling up the highway to Quincy, CA.
Quincy is a very small eastern California gold rush town on the Feather River in Plumas County. High Sierra moved to the location in Quincy from Bear Valley in the year 2000. The good High Sierra vibes take over the town for the weekend and musicians walk amongst the fans. Each year I have camped around the Horsehoe, the musicians’ campground around the outside of the Granstand in the festival grounds. It’s a great opportunity for everyone to build friendships and jam, and jamming is what the festival is all about. The producers arrange all sorts of workshops and in-the-round bills so that musicians can stretch their legs and play together.
There are three major stages to catch the heady vibes. The Vaudeville tent, the Big Meadow Stage, and the Grandstand, along with the smaller Music Hall, Funk’n Jamhouse, and the Gem & Mineral Room. There is music all day and night at High Sierra, including a bespoke radio station that simulcasts the stages and provides music in between acts. Late night stages like my favorite, the Troubadour Sessions, go until the wee hours and then there’s always kickball at sunrise. High Sierra also hires a “Musician at Large,” whose sole job is to walk around from stage to stage, hop up, and jam. The collaborative energy leads to a unique and exciting air that seems to be lacking at most festivals. Everyone involved is having a great time.
There are a lot of reasons this festival is special to me, but the biggest reason is that I met my husband Andrew Pressman because of it. In 2009, I was booked to play but I needed to bring a band with me. As a touring folksinger, I was broke. My old friend Trevor Smith (Wood & Wire, Green Mountain Grass) was coming to play banjo but I needed somebody else. Trevor had been playing with a new bass player (Andrew) in town and casually mentioned to him that he was going to California to play a jam fest with “this girl.” Andrew had been going to High Sierra for years because of its proximity to his alma mater, CSU Chico, and his love of many of the bands involved. Before he heard me play a note, he had offered to buy his own airplane ticket to the fest. Before I had heard him play a note, I hired him. We met, jammed, and fell in love. Thanks, High Sierra.