Vignettes of locals’ experience to High Sierra Music Festival

Lisa Yesitis and her friend Debi Portelance play a game of foosball while dressed in their mushroom outfits last year.

Lisa Yesitis and her friend Debi Portelance play a game of foosball while dressed in their mushroom outfits last year.

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Everyone has different reasons to visit High Sierra Music festival, and everyone has different experiences. With so much to do, it’s impossible to do everything in one year. While many are enjoying themselves, there’s many behind the scenes working hard. Others have goals to see as many bands as possible, and some just wing it and go with the flow.

Here are a few stories from “High Sierra Lifers” about what keeps them coming back year after year:

‘You can be yourself’

Carson City resident Lisa Yesitis has been going to High Sierra for about 15 to 16 years. She learned about it when a friend told her to check out the festival because one of her favorite bands was on the lineup — Blue Turtle Seduction. That band played there a few years, but they ended up breaking up.

“By that time I was hooked,” Yesitis said.

She volunteers with the shuttle crew — transporting attendees and workers around the festival grounds from camp to their cars. She drives the late-night shuttles until 3 a.m. She said she loves how friendly everybody is and how she enjoys hearing their stories and where they’re coming from.

To her, the High Sierra is a place of freedom and a way to escape from the real world.

“It is my getaway to absolutely get away and forget the world exists,” she said. “Music and love and kindness and friendship and families coming back together again.”

She said it’s a place where she learned how to be brave. She said the place taught her it is OK to be weird.

“You can be yourself and people still love you,” Yesitis said. “It’s the place to experience many different and new things without judgment.”

Yesitis adds her spice to the festival in multiple ways. She loves participating in the costume themes each day. Last year, she and a friend went above and beyond putting costumes together. Using umbrellas, they put together mushroom costumes one night and used the same idea to make jellyfish. They also were fairies one night. She said the costumes got a great reception among the guests. She and her friend made sure to get creative for their costumes this year as well.

Another thing Yesitis does to bring quirkiness to the festival is performing “commitment of love” ceremonies. She said the ambience of the art installation outside the Funk N Jam House inspired her to do these ceremonies.

“People get really excited about that,” she said.

In her 15 years, she said she still hasn’t experienced all that High Sierra has to offer. She has yet to visit the quirky camps of Shady Grove, and also wants to make it to sunrise kickball. Her goal is to try something new every year.

BrinGing the family

Rick Winfield lived in Incline Village from 2004 to 2015 and now lives in Reno. He’s been going to High Sierra since 2008 except for missing 2015 and 2016. The festival is special for Winfield because the friends he made in 2008 changed his life. Those friends invited him to a ski trip the next year. A woman from their group needed to go back to the bottom of the mountain because she forgot her jacket, and he accompanied her on the way down.

“Now I’m married to that friend,” Winfield said.

High Sierra means so much to the two of them, they named their first child Quincy, after the town it’s held in.

Now Winfield and his wife, Corine, have made High Sierra a tradition — and now they bring their children Quincy, 4, and Louis, 2. The kids have already gone twice, and although it changed how the Winfields enjoy the festival, it doesn’t take any of the excitement out of it for them.

“It’s a fantastic festival for all the kids,” he said. “My kids love seeing live music. It’s something they look forward to now.”

Winfield said he and his wife are now more focused on their children, so the nights have ended earlier, and they made things easier by purchasing an RV. They have taken advantage of the Rockin’ Nannies program the festival offers as well.

Winfield said meeting up with his friends is the best part of the event.

“It’s the time of year I see all of them, everyone together at the same time,” he said. “That’s what I look forward to most. In a great place like Quincy, California, with the great music going on — it’s a great setting.”

Winfield said he and his wife are eager to get back.

“For us it’s Christmas,” he said. “It’s the weekend we look forward to most over the years.”


Reno resident Corinne Carlstrom has been to High Sierra since 2001 under different roles. In the beginning, she attended as a patron. Her husband managed bands, so she moved on to help as a volunteer. It changed her perspective on how much work goes into making the festival what it is, and she said volunteering helped her contribute to the ambiance of the festival’s vibe.

“When you’re a paying patron, you don’t see what goes on behind the scenes,” Carlstrom said. “Before I volunteered, I had no idea about the hours that go into it. You go from enjoying it to helping others to enjoy it.”

She also said it’s nice working with other volunteers because “they become your best friends and they come back every year.”

Carsltrom’s hard work paid off, as she was helping run the VIP tent, when she was told that she would get a paycheck. Since then she’s been a part of the staff.

“It was nice to feel valued,” she said.

She has many things she likes about High Sierra, and it all begins with the people.

“The people are amazing,” she said. “Every year I go, I make new best friends.”

Carlstrom gets to see friends she might see only once a year. They have a full family camp set up with all their friends, which becomes a collective experience, she said. And it helps having friends since they all have children and can help each other out.

She always enjoys the music. She said you’ll go to see a few bands, and then find out about 10 more that get added to your playlist after the festival.

She recommends wandering into Shady Grove to check out all the fun camps that go with crazy themes.

“You might come across a full western saloon out there.”

She said there are other camps with themes always planning parties such as Margarita Camp and Camp Harry. She said Camp Dusty is having a 10th anniversary party. People who set up the camps and quirky events like morning kickball add to Carlstrom’s experience.

“I hope more people keep coming up and enjoying it and becoming lifers like us.”


Reno resident Steve Holzer said he’s been going since 2001. He missed 2011-2014, but he’s been every year since then. He said he is most excited to see many of the bands in the middle of the lineup, and he plans to attend a majority of the Artists Playshops.

Besides the music, Holzer said it’s always a big family friendly gathering and there’s a sense of community.

“Mostly everybody who goes knows 100 people,” he said. “I know probably 150 people who go every year, maybe more. I know pretty much everybody. Anybody I don’t know, chances are I’ll meet them soon.”

Holzer said he tries to be up front for most the shows and catch as many as he can.

“I don’t miss just about anything,” he said. “I’m pretty much like the Energizer bunny.”

An avid fan of live music, Holzer said he had seen most bands on the lineup. There are only five bands playing he hasn’t seen, but he plans to catch them live: Suitcase Junket, Cris Jacobs, St. Paul and the Broken Bones and The Marcus King Band. Other bands he is looking forward to seeing are Royal Jelly, Stanton Moore, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Leftover Salmon, The Lil Smokies, the Traveling McCourys and Tauk.


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