With summer festival season in full swing and tens of thousands of people flocking to major California festivals such as High Sierra, Outside Lands, Lightning in a Bottle and Kaboo, the sixth -annual Guitarfish Festival in the tiny Sierra hamlet of Cisco Grove was the best bet for people looking to create an intimate musical experience that highlights some of the best bands and artists from California and beyond.
Nestled among the pines just off I-80 between Truckee and Auburn at the Cisco Grove campground, Guitarfish looks to celebrate life where music, family, community, nature and art intersect. The campground provides a perfect space to gather and dance while admiring the natural beauty of the mountains’ color in the day and the clear starlit skies at night. Shared with a close-knit gathering of friends, families, festival veterans and rookies, the whole affair feels more like the biggest backyard party of your life rather than a festival.
Headliners ALO and Greyboy Allstars are Bear Republic treasures who have grown more cherished with each ensuing year in both of their impressive careers. Born along the sea-swept hills of Santa Barbara, ALO has come to define a sound that combines the easy living of the coast with the rustic aesthetic of the mountains — hippie-dance music with an emotional core.
The Greyboy Allstars have been laying down acid-jazz boogaloo music since 1994 and continue to push people to their dancing zenith more than 20 years later. All of its members have gone on to impressive careers outside of the group, including troubadour keyboardist Robert Walter and saxophonist Karl Denson, who formed Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe and recently toured with the Rolling Stones.
Funk and dance music were common themes with no shortage of bands that are going to get filthy up on stage. Sister Sparrow and The Dirty Birds is a tantalizing concoction of blues, sound and sweat led by the powerhouse vocals of Arleigh Kincheloe. The band first took flight from New York’s Catskill mountain range and certainly will feel at home dancing the night away in the Sierra Nevada. Festival favorites Orgone, infectious danceaholics Afrolicious and up-and-comer Gene Evaro Jr. & The Family got the crowd moving and grooving to the beat of the collective drum.
Branching out from funk, there was still plenty of eclectic bands to choose from this year at Guitarfish. Northern California outlaw music runs through the veins of Poor Man’s Whiskey and its pine-smooth Americana. Berkely hip-hop phenom Lyrics Born will have plenty to rhyme about at Cisco Grove with the release of his greatest hits in August and will provide a definite bounce to the campground. Infusing elements of Moroccan, East African, Indian and American music into rhythmic and melodic synergy, Hamsa Lila has the potential for sweeping festivalgoers off of their feet and taking them into uncharted and enchanted territory.