Jam On in the Sierra Nevadas at High Sierra

Written by Brendan Foster
Photos approved by Maria Ivey of IVPR

On the first weekend in July of 2019, High Sierra Music Festival brings jam bands, funk groups, folk and soul and blues crews alike, and even some tasteful electronic acts deep into the Sierra Nevada mountains in Northern California for families and festival circuit followers to enjoy in the warm California summer.  Quincy, California is a picturesque mountain town, providing a perfect environment for festival goers to take pleasure in various outdoor activities and relish the sound provided by many amazingly talented musicians.

This year’s music lineup is comprised of 59 artists, new and returning, that are sure to tickle your fancy no matter your music interests.

Umphrey’s McGee:

Umphrey’s McGee is much more than your average jam band.  All six members fluidly communicate through their instruments while driving the sonic experience forward with hectic guitar solos, bouncy funk grooves, exotic percussive beats, and heady piano riffs.  One vibe quickly gives way to the next as the audience is subject to sudden transitions from heavy rock influences to light bluesy bits and back again.

The band’s lighting designer, Jefferson Waful, deserves an honorable mention, as this will be his last ever west coast stop on tour with Umphrey’s McGee.  Waful is no ordinary LD. Music fans stare in awe at real time “paintings in the sky” as intricate color washes give way to swirling beams and ultimately a climactic blinding white blaze as the band reaches the pinnacle of its jams for the night.

Pnuma (Live):

Pnuma is an electronic fusion group from Memphis finding inspiration in jazz, funk, hip-hop, and electronic music.  Their show is energetic, fun, and intensely danceable. Experimental drum & bass driven beats set way for relaxed guitar melodies and a psychedelic synth ambiance. Although they fell silent as a band in 2008 and hadn’t been heard from since then, they recently made a tour announcement and over a decade later have returned to bring their magic back to crowds across America.  Their sets are a must see at High Sierra, as this will be their first performance on the West Coast in more than 10 years and they are sure to be special.

Pigeons Playing Ping Pong:

If you are looking for a couple hours of pure jollification for you and your crew, look no further than Pigeons Playing Ping Pong.  This band’s energetic stage presence is unlike many others, and the energy is felt throughout the audience as it becomes hard for people to hold back their dance moves.  Entertaining and relatable lyrics engage the audience while improvisational jams explode out of well known tracks. Get ready for a pajama dance party fueled with mind-bending funk beats and exuberant jams.

Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe:

Karl Denson is a legendary, long-time funk and jazz saxophonist and vocalist as well as the frontman of jam band, KD’s Tiny Universe.  KDTU shows are unbelievably alive, empowering, and practically symphonic with their take on American funk. Hitting major stops on the jam circuit year after year, Karl and the band continue to mesmerize audiences with big horn licks, intellectual guitar solos, and bass grooves that keep you moving.  We were unsure if Karl would be playing High Sierra since he was asked to tour with the Rolling Stones, but he pulled some strings and thanks to an otherwise inflexible schedule Karl will be playing multiple sets for us in Quincy that weekend.

Although music is definitely the main draw to High Sierra Music Festival, attendees can also take part in a multitude of other activities including good eats and drinks, costume parades, non-profit involvement, meditation and wellness workshops, a food drive, and fire performances to name a few.  Make sure to check out the art and craft vending booths and support the local artists. Lastly, more than twenty different food venders ensure you will not go hungry, as there is something for everyone no matter your dietary habits.

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