Waking up on Friday morning is a rebirth of sort. After the hustle for camping space and getting tuned into the High Sierra wavelength, Friday is the first time you are able to enjoy a full day of music and playing. After restocking on fluids, camp food and taking some time to recharge the mental batter, wise fools head to the festival grounds full of smiles and hope for the day ahead. Friday at High Sierra was a day-long party that encapsulated the festival’s heady mountain-vibe goodness.
Samantha Fish had some unfinished business to take care of early on the Vaudeville Stage, bringing an explosive ending to the fire she started on Thursday at the Big Meadow Stage. The 11:30 a.m. call time was early but the people who made her previous set knew it was worth the extra cup of coffee in the morning to pep up for the Kansas City blues guitarist and she greeted them warmly a rapturous set. Fish has a such a fine tone in both her voice and guitar and showcased them both beautifully on“Blame It On the Moon,” her luscious pipes running wild with her rollicking guitar lines on the delta-inspired swoon. She has impressive command over the guitar and the crowd was drinking her Delta-blueshine out of her hand; it was drunk in love with the six-string maven. After a demolishing set, the people wouldn’t let the band go without one more shot and they obliged with a electrifying “War Pigs,” an impromptu encore that had the MC literally shooing them off the stage and throwing the “cut it” sign with his hand, though a sign revealed how much he was even loving the rules being broken. Fish’s rookie set will almost certainly earn her a call back to the festival and throughout the day lots of bands were making compelling cases for a return to the biggest party in the Sierra.
Industrial Revelation was a crystalline meld of jazz, funk and hip-hop that shined like the diamond in the rough. They were on festival’s undercard. If Madlib were to ever play a set with a live backing band, these would be his cats, the gooey beats textured with atmospheric melodies and inspired playing by trumpeter Ahamefule J. Oluo. The band capped off one of the best sets of the festival by bringing out guitarist Jimmy James for “Bottoms Up,” a tonal groove that brought all players together on the pointed funk attack.
Later, Horseshoes and Handgrenades opened the eyes of many with songs that just feel like the woods and just fits well blowing through the pines through the camps. The Wisconsin quintet is easy to love; their harmonies belong around a campfire, they keep the pedal to the metal on the songs throughout the set and they are legitimately stoked to be playing on stage for endearing fans. Harmonicas are certainly a part of old-time folk, country and bluegrass music but the way David Lynch plays it he turns the harmonica into a lead instrument in a string band and it adds a timelessness to the music that makes it sits so well in your soul. Handgrenades’ late night slot with Greensky Bluegrass on Saturday points to its upward trajectory and its set Friday added more fuel to the rocket boosters.
The hot weather and ever present sun didn’t keep people from soaking up the music in the fields in front of the Grandstand stage. The first day of July took place under a bluebird sky and perennial High Sierra stars The California Honeydrops were the umbrella plopped in the day’s Mai Tai, a cool refreshment of New Orleans-style jazz, blues and R&B for the heat. The band found the perfect party and chill vibe to keep the crowd moving and engaged and executed this beautifully when the bubbling horns in “Brokedown” morphed into calming river blues on “Lonely.” To keep things moving in the right direction they also busted out a heartfelt cover of R. Kelly’s “Bump N’ Grind” with some Bourbon Street flavor.
The high-energy midday set was contrasted nicely with the psychedelic cool-down set from Chris Robinson Brotherhood as the sun began to dip below the mountains and splash hues of peach and orange into the sky. The cosmic boogie of the Brotherhood found loving ears at High Sierra and couldn’t feel much more in line with the spirit and pedigree of icons The Grateful Dead than the California high-flyers. Robinson’s worn howl was the perfect leather for guitarist Neal Casal to stitch his fluorescent guitar though and the group’s warbly and weird jamming led for some shining contributions from keyboardist Adam MacDougall. The rich interplay between players and heady explorations took you from the coast to the mountains to the desert made Chris Robinson Brotherhood feel like the quintessential California rock band Friday night, with no better setting than under the stars at High Sierra.
Thievery Corporation closed out the Grandstand stage with its iridescent shine of dance music from across the world that felt more like a communal heartbeat than a concert. The D.C. collective is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and has grown from bossy-nova inspired club shows to international electronic music festivals and their cross-pollination of music from regions felt unifying as it flowed through the veins of the thousands dancing in front of them. Hip-hop, house, bossy-nova and other spices pulsed from the speakers and the field lit up under the stars as the strobes painted geometric lights over the crowd. It was a transcendent experience and everyone felt connected by one thing: love. Love for music, love for community, love for being yourself, love for High Sierra Music Festival.
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ABOUT Garrett Bethmann
Garrett Bethmann is a graduate of University of Mary Washington with a degree in English. An eight-year resident of Lake Tahoe, he now lives in Denver, Colorado.