FEST FLASHBACK: High Sierra Music Festival 2006 feat. My Morning Jacket, Brakes, and Apollo Sunshine
There's a palpable sense of remove from the normal life in High Sierra.
FEST FLASHBACK: High Sierra Music Festival 2006 feat. My Morning Jacket, Brakes, and Apollo SunshineCity: Quincy, California
Venue: Plumas Fairgrounds
Can’t decide whether or not to get gone? In anticipation of the big, bad body bake that is the Summer Festival season (buy your SPF60 now, people!), PopMatters spends this week revisiting the highs and lows of last year’s most scintillating soirees. There's a palpable sense of remove from the normal life in High Sierra. Climbing the serpentine rural highway through dark green pines and high rising rock walls, one feels the ordinary begin to drop away. You might well be on the road to Rivendell, Shangri-La, or maybe even Grandma's House. The feeling only intensifies as you pass through the fairground gates, where post-modern gypsy encampments wink and flutter in the summer breeze. Every Fourth of July weekend for 16 years, a few thousand folks have climbed above the city bustle to enjoy a temporary reprieve from the 24-hour-a-day rush below. This year's headliners included My Morning Jacket, Bela Fleck, Nickel Creek, Keller Williams and the Disco Biscuits, but with close to seventy acts to choose from, the range of genres and moods was astonishing. The organizers of the festival have an ear for primo regional bands from around the country. This makes for a lot of unfamiliar territory, which lends itself to the discovery of new favorites. Last year, I came home in love with SF's harrowing folk howlers Two Gallants, avant-jazz maniacs the Dead Kenny Gs, and heroically gifted mandolin duo Chris Thile and Mike Marshall. All were first-time listens. This year there were veen more new names, confirming the festival's enormous desire to present fresh, often strikingly non-commercial, sounds. In most cases, each group plays twice during the festival's four days. This helps eliminate scheduling conflicts and affords listeners a second opportunity to enjoy someone who knocked them over on the first go-round. Many of the bands camp onsite and mingle with the masses. There's an informality and camaraderie that's unlike any other music festival I've attended. You frequently find yourself sharing beers with the artists who floored you earlier in the day. The musicians seem to enjoy the atmosphere as much as the attendees, and it inspires relaxed, spontaneous performances. Case in point, My Morning Jacket's late-night Friday set. While the days are spent outdoors, once the moon is high, things move inside to elaborately decorated spaces. Jim James and his Olympian rockers performed in a room he came to call the "Arctic Tent" -- a place of snowflakes, spliff-smoking polar bears, and glowing rollergirls. Like a curvaceous, undulating dream, MMJ slowly built a massive wall of sound that permeated every corner of the hall. It felt like the most exquisite high school dance one could imagine, and the urge to sway gently with a stranger during beautifully bruised jewels like "Hopefully" was strong. Besides extended, exploratory runs through cuts from Z -- especially the skippingly bombastic "It Beats For You" and a twistingly exploratory "Off The Record" -- they dipped way back in their catalog, revealing the classic pop genius that's always been present but is only now being fully revealed. All was unrushed, and James' eyes glimmered with a playful twinkle, and his between-song patter further lured us into the collective spell. It was completely different from the widescreen rock of their main stage performance the next night -- one which more closely resembled their head-of-steam onslaught at Bonnaroo a few weeks earlier. MMJ's late night sojourn had a completeness of character and luxuriant emotional depth. There are no halfway measures with this band. They reach into the very dark and light of you. Maybe not all are ready to have their essence stimulated but creeping past the 3 a.m. hour, a roomful of us exhaled a collective sigh, drunk on the Louisville moonshine, warmed from the inside, carried away by terrestrially bound angels. However, not everything works such profound magic. Given the high volume of families and aging Woodstockians, High Sierra has a weakness for muddy mélanges -- folk-jazz, tribal-bluegrass, new age rock -- that create non-threatening background that can a times seem a little boring. Bands like Blue Turtle Seduction, Sneakin' Out and Chris Berry & Panjea meant well but came across like Putumayo Records samplers brought to life. Diversity can be swell but when applied with a lightness of touch and Alan Alda sensitivity it rubs me the wrong way. Perhaps a youth spent at Black Flag shows has forever sanded away any taste for such lite fare. I do not begrudge those who choose to sway to these uber-gentle sounds, but a number of the entertainers did make me quicken my steps away. After all, you can only stick around for so long when Irish fiddles join African drums and some white dude starts chanting about world peace. * * *
Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey