Concert Sutra Camping Out At High Sierra

by terri sapp

Photographs by Leah Yetter

© Concert Sutra, All Rights Reserved

Al Howard

click photos for photo gallery

            From the time I got on the plane in Atlanta, Georgia (even through the extended overnight Vegas layover…thanks America West for the hotel, cab, hot bath, bed, and breakfast), to the time I saw my girls in the family filled Reno Airport, my stomach was in knots with anticipation (and motion sickness) for the good times about to ensue.  As we made our way to the campsite, we could automatically feel the tension melting off of our stress filled shoulders.

            High Sierra Music Festival in Quincy, California (this year on July 1-4, 2004) at the Plumas-Sierra County Fairgrounds is the most laidback camping/music festival I had ever attended.  The Northeast California mountain air must really work as an opiate to all that enter.  First thing Thursday evening upon arrival, the first order of business was to catch Tea Leaf Green.  However, much to our dismay, our time limits kept us creating our campsite, since our delays at the airport.  Sorry Plateface…The beauty of High Sierra Music Festival is that we were camping right in front of the Grandstand Stage on the artists row, so we could hear everything from the Grandstand.  So, we got to hear a good deal of Tea Leaf Green, anyway.

            After our late night Thursday night with Chris Robinson and New Earth Mud (that you can read about and see the photo gallery here: we wondered how the festival was going to get any better.  Friday, we woke up early for Snake Oil Medicine Show at the Americana stage.  As always, they came with tha flava, opening with “Square Fish.”  Unfortunately, George’s voice wasn’t working, so we didn’t get the dynamic duo that is the brothers Pond very much.  I almost cried.  All of the red, green, and gold mixed with the reggae (works every time) made up for it.  One of the many things about Snake Oil Medicine Show that I love so much is that they don’t have a guitar, and you really don’t miss it!  The banjo played by Andy Pond, fiddle played by Caroline Pond, bass played by the fabulous George Pond, Snake Oil Medicine Showand THE vegetarian (edible looking) drummer, Billy Seawell, make the most special blend of reggae and bluegrass one could ever imagine.  I find it to be quite refreshing, actually.  Leah and I were being lazy with the Grandstand shows, since we could hear them so well, so we (again) listened to the Donna the Buffalo show from the site, and danced the Buffalo jig the whole time! 

            I almost fell when I saw Al Howard, who was around jammin’ with folk, and performing with K23 Orchestra.  Little did I know, this was the first, but not the last time I would run into him.  Even though we were listening to the Grandstand Stage shows, we made a B-line to make the scheduled Mud show, because no matter how lazy we were, I will NEVER pass up an opportunity to actually being in the presence of Chris Robinson and New Earth Mud (I believe Leah and I were still mesmerized from the night before, almost like a crack head)!  As we approached, they were playing an old favorite, “I Know You Rider,” then covered Waylon Jennings.  Daddy would have loved it!  They were having a good time…onstage and off.  Nice moves. 

            On our way to the Big Meadow for Garaj Mahal, we caught some of the Sound Tribe Sector Nine show at the Grandstand, upon suggestion from a kid we knew…if he liked it, it must be cool!  It was definitely the night for it.  We were in full swing, and livin it up!  The STS9 show felt similar to being at a dancehall with lots of glowing twirly things and people.  By the time we made it to Garaj Mahal, the crowd at the Big Meadow was jumpin,’ literally.  This bass player (along with George Pond of Snake Oil, and Reiff from New Earth Mud) made it officially bass player weekend (before they were in tight competition with the event staff for event staff weekend). 

            Early the next morning, we had one more opportunity to experience the life of the party, Snake Oil Medicine Show at the Big Meadow.  Up and at em!  Snake Oil had a flute-playing elf with them, and also shared the stage with Al Howard, that beautiful dready boy that raps!  Passing by, one would not have known it was first thing in the morning, because this set had the energy of a grand finale.  Andy Pond (banjo) and Caroline Pond (fiddle) added a delightful air to a few of the other bands playing the festival.  The Big Whooly, saxophone player, and Delta Nove playing all kinds of drums (the same they used to help create the heartbeat of the parades each day) also lent their talents to some of the Donna The Buffaloother acts.  Many artists would play on each others’ sets, adding excitement to the event, and giving the fans more than they could have imagined.

            In addition to the list of outstanding bassery, the bass player from the Hairy Apes BMX had me immediately SOLD!  I was able to make it by the Vaudeville Tent for the Apes, and thought they had a uniquely gorgeous style of music!  The lead vocals/rhymer was clever and smooth with his words (and foxy) and the bass player’s glance could melt a glacier.  Of course, the music was great or the rest wouldn’t matter.  I will be finding more about these guys for sure.  While I was checking the Hairy Apes BMX, Leah was getting her fix from her bass pick of the night, George Porter, Jr. (Meters), who played with Anders Osborne, and Johnny Vidacovich.  Having played with Tori Amos, Ms. Yetter just HAD to see what all the fuss was about.  Hardcore. 

            Apparently, everyone was extremely tired by this time Saturday night, and seemed to be making the way through quicksand before falling down on the ground (or air mattress if you’re a pimpstrix) from exhaustion.  I was amazed at how little I had to do to talk myself over to the Big Meadow for Donna the Buffalo.  I just closed my eyes, thought of the fun it would be to send me into sweet dreams, and almost started running.  I was so glad to be there when they opened with “Move On,” and then immediately after played my song, “There’s no place, no place like the right time…”  Donna the Buffalo always get me dancing, specifically when playing such crowd favorites as “40 days and 40 nights,” “If you don’t like my peach, don’t shake my tree…,” and “love, love, love, everybody gets high on love…”  Stilt WalkersWe all almost cried when they shot out a burning “Ring of Fire” to Johnny Cash.  The Buffalo are the perfect band to cover that song.  Good times.

            Sunday was very low key with everyone preparing to pack it up and move it on.  Bittersweet.  We had a fab time, and now we have to go.  Before we leave, though, “MUST SEE AL HOWARD,” said my brain.  I did not know him from Adam Howard when I showed up to High Sierra, and now I am a fan.  Sunday morning during one of Chris Chandler’s many appearances at the festival, we found the perfect time to investigate everything about the Music Meadow.  Chris Chandler is a performer/activist/poet who I remember from the days in the early 90’s hitting the coffee shop in Macon where I was employed.  He always made me laugh, so I wanted to see if he was up to the same shenanigans.  I found that he has only evolved and teamed up with an ex-lawyer, Anne Freeney.  The two are a pair fit for the stage!  Over at the Vaudeville Tent, Howard and the K23 Orchestra (another cute bass player, and guitar) kep it live, bustin flows and pimpin hos. 

            High Sierra is one of my new favorite memories of 2004.  Please be sure to visit and enjoy the photo album from Ms. Yetter at: