Strawberry Music Festival – Camp Mather (Yosemite, CA)
Held just outside of Yosemite National Park, the twice-annual Strawberry Music Festival offers great music amidst warm, sunny days and cool, clear evenings in a pastoral green field surrounded by tall pines. The festival is usually held every Memorial Day and Labor Day weekend, but this year’s fall event was postponed by two major wildfires raged within a mile of the camp. The Music Meadow served as a landing pad for emergency helicopters. After some extensive fire fighting and major juggling of musicians’ tour itineraries, the rescheduled Strawberry was ready to roll in early October.
Besides four full days of music, Strawberry offers a potpourri of activities. Everyone camps: some in cabins and some in Winnebagos, though most “rough it” in tents. At the dining hall, campers can sing for their breakfast. Workshops for fiddle, storytelling, singing, slide guitar, and cowboy poetry draw folks from all walks of life. Kids can learn arts & crafts, take nature hikes, fish for polliwogs and swim in the lake. The truly devoted can continue the party at the late-night cantina. Some folks opt to skip some of the music and explore the grandeur of the park. Others hang out at their campsites drinking beer, listening to it all on Strawberry’s own Hog Ranch Radio station. Life doesn’t get much better.
Most performers refer to the Strawberry crowd as the best audience they’ve ever played for. There’s a strong bluegrass contingent (it used to be called the Strawberry Bluegrass Festival), but fans are fairly diverse. The Yuppie-By-Day, Hippie-By-Night crowd eats up clever songs of groups like The Edlos (a cappella comedy with numerous costume changes) and the politically charged folk stories of Bryan Bowers. This year, a number of folks were turned on to the nontraditional bluegrass of the Bad Livers, the high-energy Western swing/Louis Jordanesque R&B sounds of Ray Condo & the Ricochets, and Philo/Rounder artist David Olney, whose music was reminiscent of John Hiatt and Townes Van Zandt. Jimmie Dale Gilmore rocked the house with his two-lead-guitar onslaught. David Lindley and Hani Naser brought spiritual relief. Sam Bush, David Grisman, Laurel Canyon Ramblers, Mollie O’Brien and the legendary Ralph Stanley provided an exquisite bluegrass fix.
Even to the most devout music fan, the performances become secondary to the whole of the experience. To some, a 4 a.m. jam around the campsite is the ultimate high. To others, perfection is seeing unbridled horses gallop by under a crisp, starry sky. The beauty of Strawberry is making it your own.