Last dance for Hangtown Music Festival

Festival takes place next weekend, will move forward with new name

Railroad Earth performs on stage at a previous Hangtown Music Festival.

Railroad Earth performs on stage at a previous Hangtown Music Festival.

The spirit of Halloween will be in full force this weekend in Grass Valley with Hangtown Music Festival. The festival, celebrating it’s 11th year, takes place on Oct. 20-23 at the Nevada County Fairgrounds. The grounds will be lively with music and colorful costumes.

The big news this year is the change of venue and that this will be the last festival branded as Hangtown Music Festival. El Dorado County Fairgrounds hosted the festival since its inception, and this year it moved to Grass Valley, where it will be going forward.


Hangtown has always been a camping festival and the organizers wanted to find a better site to accommodate that.

Festival Producer Rebecca Sparks said they’ll miss Placerville a lot, but the new venue is gorgeous with trees everywhere and immense camping space.

“It’s a really pretty venue,” she said. “We think that’s just going to work out better for the festival moving forward.”

The upside of the new space is how it’s located in a forest. There’s lots of trees adding to the beauty including trees in the music lawn. Sparks said it handles inclement weather better because of this.

The El Dorado fairgrounds did not handle rain too well, and while the festival historically has had great weather, 2021 showed how much the rain could be a problem when it flooded.

The Nevada County Fairgrounds hosts several other festivals a year, so Sparks said it’s become the place to go to for camping festivals in Northern California. There is a larger capacity there, but they’re going to keep the attendance the same as it has been.

“It’s still going to be intimate, and there is room to grow there, which we are excited about,” she said.


Patrons can expect much of the same out of the festival that they have come to know and love. Most of the attendees dress up for the Halloween spirit with the costume themes. The KidZone is there for families with activities and there will be pumpkin carving.

“There’s a lot of the same features that people have really come to enjoy at the festival,” Sparks said.

She said many of the same vendors and food trucks will make the trip to the new fairgrounds.

Kids have fun during a previous Hangtown Music Festival. (Susan J. Weiand photo) 


The main attraction for the event is the lineup. Railroad Earth hosts and they play three out of the four nights. Beats Antique headlines on Friday night. Sparks said Beats Antique will be fun for the Halloween vibe because they’ve got a lot of dancing and visuals on stage.

“They always have a lot of costumes and there’s a real mystique there,” Sparks said. “It’s a big show.”

Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, who has been to a couple Hangtowns, brings a special two-hour David Bowie Tribute set this year.

“It’s going to be really fun,” Denson said.

He said the bands did a couple of shows already and they’re getting warmed up.

“The first show was good, and the second show was great, so we’re going to be hitting on all cylinders this weekend,” he said.

Karl Denson and the Tiny Universe will be doing a late-night show Friday. Denson said there’s some new blood in the band, and they’re ready to have a good time.

“From an audience standpoint, it’ll be real fun for them and we’ll throw some curveballs and keep them up and dancing,” Denson said.

Sparks mentioned that there is a lot of bluegrass on the undercard this year with Brothers Comatose, Molly Tuttle & the Golden Highway, AJ Lee & Blue Summit as well as local artists Achilles Wheel and Broken Compass Bluegrass.

Tuttle, who is seeing much success right now, returns the fairgrounds where she grew up playing at the Father’s Day Bluegrass Festival. Tuttle was nominated this year for several major awards from the International Bluegrass Music Association and won Female Vocalist of the Year. Her fiddle player Browyn Keith-Hynes won Fiddle Player of the Year.

The festival stays consistent with their MC, Joe Craven. He’ll be chatting with the audience between sets and showing off his many costumes.

Railroad Earth’s violinist Timothy Carbone said he pretty much always makes it to the late-night shows.

“The music is always good and everyone is really having a good time,” he said.

Late-night shows move indoors and are available with an additional ticket purchase. The music continues Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights with two bands playing a set until 2:45 a.m.

Railroad Earth hosts Hangtown Music Festival and headlines three of the four nights on Oct. 20-23 at the Nevada County Fairgrounds in Grass Valley. 


With the Halloween theme, costumes are a big part of the fun of the festival fun from the patrons to the artists. This year’s costume themes are pirates on Thursday; wild west on Friday; monster ball on Saturday and flower power on Sunday.

Railroad Earth has fun with costumes and always dresses for the part. Carbone said this festival is different than any ordinary show because of that vibe, and the band often adds theatrics to one of their performances.

Carbone remembers one year a theme was zombies.

“I got to bite a big chunk of Allie Kral’s neck with fake blood,” he said. “It was pretty cool.”

The whole band dressed up as zombies, and they also planted people in the crowd to act it out. They cut all the lights and the band started playing the theme music to “The Walking Dead.”

“That’s one of the things that makes Hangtown so special is you get to do crazy (stuff) like that,” Carbone said. “It’s really cool; it’s really unique in that way.”

Carbone said he checks out as much music as he can when his band is not on stage. He hosts a meditation workshop one morning and makes sure to be well-rested for that, but otherwise he says he’ll be out in the audience talking with friends and listening to music.

“For the most part, I’m that guy who will stick around until the end and check out music and hang around and talk to people,” he said.

He’ll also be available for other bands if they ask him to sit in. He said he’s always prepared and there’s always one that asks him.

“As one of the hosts, it’s a gracious thing to do and it’s part of the vibe of the festival,” he said. “I’m all about helping when I can.

Ashleigh Flynn & The Riveters will be performing a few sets at Hangtown Music Festival. 


This will be the last festival as Hangtown Music Festival, Sparks said, and the same event will continue under a different name going forward.

“It’s a little sad, but it’s been under debate and scrutiny for a couple years. Now that we’re changing venues, we’ll move along and rebrand,” Sparks said.

Carbone said he’ll miss the old fairgrounds because it was small enough that it felt like a family gathering, but it was big enough to make them feel like they were doing something bigger than they normally do.

“I liked Placerville itself,” Carbone said. “It’s a cool little town with good shops and restaurants. We love that part of the country.



The festival starts on Thursday and ends Sunday, there are multi-day and single day passes available. Sparks said they realize people are busy and might not have time to come for the whole thing, but there are options for everyone.

“We encourage people to check out as much as they can in as little time,” Sparks said.

She said the trip is very easy coming from Carson City or Reno and the larger Grass Valley/Nevada City area has Airbnb’s and hotels if camping isn’t an option.


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