High Sierra Music Festival returns; Lebo, Poltz, RRE, Fish share stories

It’s been three years since High Sierra Music Festival took place, in 2019, and once again thousands of music fans will descend to the Plumas County Fairgrounds in Quincy, Calif., for four nights of tunes, camping and more from June 30-July 3. The festival is celebrating its 30th anniversary.
Producer Rebecca Sparks said it’s going to be a joyous reunion for people.
“It’s become so much more than a festival,” she said. “It’s a community; it’s a reunion; it’s family; it’s a connection. It’s all these things we’ve been missing over these past three years.”
High Sierra brings in a variety of music with more than 50 acts in the lineup.
“The music is always at a highest caliber. It’s beyond everyone’s palette,” Sparks said.
There are multiple stages jam-packed with music from the morning to well after the sun goes down. Some acts will play more than once throughout the fest.
The headliners are Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Greensky Bluegrass, The Disco Biscuits and Goose. Some bands have become regulars at the festival, including The Slip, who will have the most festival appearances with 15. The festival brings in plenty of newcomers with fresh faces into the mix.
Sparks is excited to have Femi Kuti (Fela Kuti’s son) perform this year.
“This incredible world-class act, coming all the way from Nigeria, to play at the festival is very special,” she said.
Sparks also highlighted Sammy Rae & The Friends as an up-and-coming band.
“She’s just exploding, mostly on the east coast,” Sparks said.
The Nth Power will put on a tribute set for Steely Dan. Sparks said that is highly anticipated.
Between three different stages and music playshops, there is plenty going on. Find the full lineup here with bios of every band/musician: https://highsierramusic.com/artist-info/
Many of the festival-goers camp at the fairgrounds with a few different options. Sparks said it’s nice for people to ditch their cars for a few days and relax without having to worry about checking phones and emails.
“It gives people a really nice break from all that and connect with humans,” she said.
There’s a food court with several venders providing a variety of options.
The festival is known for its family-friendly atmosphere, so there is a Family Zone with activities for kids and a stage for performances. It includes several acts geared toward kids. There are also daily parades full of colorful costumes and entertainers and kids can join in on the fun on Sunday.
“We have a fantastic family area with lots of offerings for the kiddos,” Sparks said. “We’ll have our yoga, of course, and we’ll have some fire shows at night.”
Find all more detailed event info, tickets and attractions here: https://highsierramusic.com
Quincy was devasted by fires last year and the community is still recovering. Sparks said the festival wants to come in and support the locals as much as possible. She said the festival can help do that.
“Spiritually, it’s a healing thing – coming together and bringing back a sense of normalcy,” she said.
She said the locals are looking forward to having the festival and they’ll be able to showcase their town.
Dan “Lebo” Lebowitz makes High Sierra a tradition and brings the whole family. This will be his 20th High Sierra. His band ALO has played 12 of them, and in the other years he plays as an artist at large or puts together a band. He’s often seen sitting in with many other bands throughout the weekend.
“For me that’s been a touchstone,” he said. “Every year I’ve seen so many musician friends and non-musician friends.”
He said High Sierra does a good job of bringing back their regulars, but they also bring in more famous well-known acts and do a good job of bringing in up-and-coming bands.
“I have no doubt that I’ll get turned onto something new this year,” he said. “It always happens.”
He’ll be leading a music playshop “50-ish Years In The Rearview” and he’ll be playing in a couple others.
“Those are huge,” he said. “Sometimes I feel like that’s where the heartbeat of the festival happens.”
The band he put together for this festival includes ALO members Ezra Lipp and Steve Adams. He added Adam MacDougall on keys and Wally Ingram on percussion. Anna Moss from Handmade Moments also joins them.
He said he loves putting these bands together because they are some of his favorite musicians he has gotten to know.
“For me, it is fun because I get to build my dream band each time,” he said.
Lebo said the thing he is most excited for is that he always leaves High Sierra feeling very inspired.
“I’m psyched to get back; I really missed it on so many levels,” he said. “The music and the music camaraderie, I am psyched to get in there.”
Steve Poltz is playing his fifth High Sierra and his first one was 10 years ago in 2012.
“I’m looking forward to it. I love it – they are my family,” he said. “You’re always leaving sunburnt and sleepy, but you feel like your soul gets fed.”
Poltz has fond memories of High Sierra. It’s where he first met Oliver Wood from The Wood Brothers. In the campground there is always a big Cajun cookout and Poltz likes to play there.
“There’s just all this stuff that happens if you’re open to it,” he said.
Poltz said Wood came to watch him play, so Poltz asked him to sit in on a song or two.
“We became friends because of that,” Poltz said.
Afterward he said Oliver and Jono Rix helped produce his record and now they are all close friends.
Another favorite time for Poltz was enjoying some music at the Grandstand.
“I have good memories of when JRAD would play and staying at the very back and dancing like a fool,” he said. “Hearing their treatment on all of those songs is always fun.”
He made a connection that night with artist and vendor Ryan Kerrigan, who ended up making some posters for Poltz.
“I always look forward to new friends and seeing old friends,” he said.
There’s many opportunities to see Poltz at the Festival somewhere. He does several sets across a few of the stages. He said he’ll sit in with a few people. And he’ll be leading a workshop that is a tribute to John Prine. He said right after one of his sets, he’ll run right off stage to sit in with Lebo at a Ziggy Stardust playshop.
“I’ll be a sweaty mess and it will be super fun,” he said. “I love stuff like that. I was sort of born to do this, if that makes sense.”
When asked why people should come to his set he said: “Everybody who comes to see me gets to win the lottery. At least 34 percent. Even if they don’t win the lottery, good things happen to people who see me.”
High Sierra means a lot to Railroad Earth and it means a lot to be back for the 30th anniversary, said drummer Carey Harmon. The festival gave the band a chance in their first year together in 2002 and that helped them find a fan base on the west coast.
The band had only one scheduled set, but the rest of the time they were told to go around and play wherever they could.
He remembers the weekend as being hot, and they camped in tents besides their friends’ RVs. They decided to climb on top of the RV and set up a couple speakers and play in front of the campground.
“It was part of the early lore of the band,” he said. “It was definitely my finest and earliest memory of High Sierra.”
Railroad Earth returned the next four or five years, Harmon said. They were listed on bigger slots and got on the main stage.
“Some of the people that really became fundamental to our core fanbase, especially in California, came from High Sierra,” he said. “They’re good friends that we have now and former deadheads that latched right onto what we were doing.”
That includes crews like The Happy Brigade from Santa Cruz, he said.
This year will be the band’s 10th appearance. They play a long time slot on Thursday on the Grandstand Stage. They’ll play with bluegrass legend Peter Rowan and will perform the album “Old & In The Way.” Harmon said they’ll run down the album with Rowan, take a short break, then come and play some Railroad Earth music. He said the band is in a groove now that they’re touring and they released their most recent album, “All For The Song.”
“By the time we hit High Sierra, it will be really good, that’s when it gets really fun,” he said.
Samantha Fish came to High Sierra for her first time in 2016, and this will be her second time returning to Quincy for two sets, one on Saturday and one on Sunday.
She said she remembers the foam party, and she is looking forward to it, she joked. She said she remembers a dedicated crowd who came out charged up and in return left her band feeling energized.
“It’s kind of an eclectic event,” Fish said. “There’s something going on around every corner with lots of music. It’s a very artistic environment.”
She is happy coming back to play such a great festival with enthusiastic music fans.
“You’re a dedicated music fan if you’re going to camp in the California heat in the middle of July,” she said.
There have been a lot of changes in the last six years since she came to High Sierra, so she said to expect a different show than last time. Last time she came as a trio and this time they’ll be a four piece. She’s added four albums to her discography, giving her much more depth in what she plays. She said both sets will be different with no repeats.
“The show has changed pretty drastically,” she said. “We’re going to bring some fire and energy with us. I’m pretty stoked about it honestly.”
When she isn’t playing, she said she’ll be mingling with people and immersing herself in the environment.


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