No PG&E required: Hangtown Music Festival is electric

Tahoe Onstage

The crowd gets into an evening show at the 2019 Hangtown Music Festival in Placerville.
Larry Sabo / Tahoe Onstage photos

The music is always amazing at Hangtown, but it’s the people who make this festival special each year. Four days of warm sunshine, laughter and kindness — even without power from Pacific Gas & Electric. The power would come on, but mostly it was turned off. Generators sufficed.

It seemed not to bother anyone,  as organizer Ryan Kronenberg and the rest of the Hangtown Music Fest staff had planned for contingencies.

Railroad Earth has hosted the festival for the last nine  years, and delights everyone with their version of progressive bluegrass, rock, folk, country and jazzy dance music. It’s hard not to dance to their tunes. This band likes to carry on the traditions of improvisational music that started with the Grateful Dead. They did not disappoint.

Two companies produced lighting effects, a show in itself. Together they were mesmerizing. The visuals were old school technology, with new school innovation.

Lance Gordon with Mad Alchemy Projection was the artist working with analog lights, producing images on the side panels that most people have never seen. He used glass plates with oil and color to produce lava lamp effects on the screens.

Johnathan Singer was the master with the LED lights. He has worked with the Grateful Dead and is still doing the images for Dead and Company. His innovative ideas for images dancing on the screens behind musicians are known and respected within the industry.

Master of Ceremonies Joe Craven and The Sometimes rocked the crowd with a bluesy violin and his mandolin. His five-piece band kept the audience smiling and dancing, while his daughter Hattie sang vocals and added a special flavor to the music.

Dark Star Orchestra never disappoints. The music for Hangtown was recreated from an Oct. 9, 1972 Grateful Dead concert at Winterland Ballroom, San Francisco. Songs included “Brokedown Palace,” “Truckin’,” “Sugar Magnolia” and “Casey Jones.” They played for 3 1/2 hours with an electrifying light show and everyone dancing.

Anders Osborne and his band were a Southern treat, especially when the Motet’s lead singer Lyle Divinsky and guitarist Ryan Jalbert were sitting in with the band. Together, they sang “Spanish Moon” as a tribute to their friend Paul Barrere of Little Feat, who passed away last week.

Another tribute for Barrere came from The Wood Brothers –Oliver and Chris Wood and Jano Rix — joined by singer Steve Poltz. They delivered  an amazing a capella version of “Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls.” The audience chimed in.

The Lil Smokies had everyone’s attention as they generated electric energy with their beautiful harmonies and Andy Dunnigan’s quick fingers on banjo and other instruments. They opened their set with “Connect With The Sky,” “Call To Arms,” “The City” and “Gone At Last,” inspiring the crowd.

Smokies fan Seth Goldsmith said he has seen the band more than 20 times and never gets tired of hearing their high-energy bluegrass.

Steve Poltz’s fun stories and song selections put a smile on everyone’s face. His humor is something that fans will never forget. He loves to energize the audience by going out into the middle of the crowd and singing and laughing with them and enjoying their vibes. Poltz honored Grateful Dead songwriter Robert Hunter, who passed this year, by performing “Box Of Rain.”

Another musician enjoying the vibes was John Lovero, guitarist for The Higgs. The rock and jam band debuted this year at Hangtown. The Higgs enjoyed playing their mostly original tunes with a little Pink Floyd thrown in for good measure.

Don’t forget the children, and there were so many at the festival. They had plenty to do, from pumpkin carvings to a costume parade. The fun included soap-bubble sessions and music and hula hoop lessons from Dean and Lisa Levonian, “The Hoop People.” It’s magic to watch the youngsters interact, they said.

“You can’t be sad when you’re hooping!” Lisa noted.

Hangtown Music Fest 2019 — what an amazing party it was. The sights and the sounds created so many memories for all who were there.  See you next year, Hangtown.

— Marcia Schultz

Click this link to see all of Larry Sabo’s photos from Hangtown 2019.

About Marcia Schultz

Marcia Schultz is a longtime local to the Lake Tahoe area and is a music aficionado. She has been to countless musical events from Tahoe to Nashville.

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