Many gathered to dance and have fun in Grass Valley last weekend for what would be the final Hangtown Music Festival. The four-day festival hosted by Railroad Earth entertained many with non-stop music from morning until after midnight. Although the festival concludes this chapter under the name of Hangtown, the organizers plan to keep the same energy flowing into the next music festival project.
“It was bittersweet for many people for the last Hangtown festival, and with that comes a lot of mixed feelings and sadness for something they love so much to end,” producer Rebecca Sparks said. “But I think there’s lots of optimism and excitement for what might happen in the future there.”
The big news for this year was the change to the Nevada County Fairgrounds in Grass Valley. The consensus from the crowd is that the fairgrounds are an improvement all around.
“Overall, I think it was a huge success on so many levels,” Sparks said. “Overall, the fans really had a great time and really appreciated the new venue.”
The Nevada County Fairgrounds boasts almost 90 acres (El Dorado County Fairgrounds are about 48 acres). That left the camping areas very spacious with plenty of room. Most of the grounds were flat and there was only slight elevation to some campsites. Clean water-fill stations, bathrooms and showers were easily accessible. There was plenty of space for parking and your car could be nearby.
The music venue was laid out nicely and let the natural beauty shine through the many trees. The vendors lined the outsides and the soundboard was not too far from the stage, giving lots of dance room but also letting those who want to stay seated have a nice comfortable spot.
Sparks said the fairgrounds were happy to host the festival too.
“One of the administrators said to me ‘You know, when you have the elders along with the young families, you really can’t go wrong,’” Sparks said.
She said the crowd was very family-friendly with many elders and young children and everyone in between.
“It was really just a good crowd,” she said.
Local band Boot Juice performed two explosive sets at the festival including a high energy show to close out the late-night music on the last day. Jessica Stoll and Connor Herdt were enjoying some music Sunday after waking up after their late-night set.
They both were stoked to be playing for the first time at a festival that they had attended many times as fans.
“For me, I showed up to my first Hangtown when I was 19 with a sleeping bag and guitar and slept in the dirt for four days,” Herdt said. “It was like a dream to play here so it was really a dream come true and really awesome.”
Stoll said she loves the old fairgrounds, but the new ones are a great spot for the fall and they’ll be back every chance they get.
“The amount of shade and trees is really beautiful,” she said. “It’s really nice.”
Original Elephant played the festival for their first time. The husband/wife combo of Paul Damore and Crystal Hariu-Damore came from south Louisiana.
“It’s been wonderful; they take care of you; it’s a good feeling,” Hariu-Damore said. “We would love to come back; we’ve met a lot of wonderful people.”
She really enjoyed the size of the festival.
“It’s not too big and it feels like a little community,” she said. “Some festivals are just too big, and you can’t take it all in”
Jeffrey Syme and his wife Sara of Super Rad Cape Co. have traveled to every Hangtown since the first one except for 2021. They were one of the original vendors at the first Hangtown, and he said continue coming to the festivals here in the future.
“It’s definitely a magical event,” he said.
It was just the two of them in the beginning, but now they have a four-year-old that comes along.
“It’s just a family thing,” he said. “These festivals are like our second home. It’s where we get to see our friends and friends we consider family, so it’s like a reunion every time.”
He said he enjoys the new venue.
“I love these grounds much better,” he said. “I love the camping situation; I love how it’s nice and flat. I just feel like it’s a much more comfortable situation than the Placerville grounds.”
He said his music highlights of the weekend was the Karl Denson David Bowie tribute set, The Floozies and Railroad Earth.
“I thought Karl Denson … really like brought it home,” Syme said. “He really engulfed what David Bowie was about, and David Bowie would have been proud of that.”
“Railroad Earth is one of my favorites,” he said. “We originally began coming to this because of Railroad Earth. They definitely are a special band to us.”
Aaron Reeves was helping run his father’s shop, Bad Hatter Dude. Coming from Placerville, Reeves said he didn’t mind the short drive to the new fairgrounds.
“To be honest, I’ve been coming to events at these fairgrounds for years for other events and it’s always been better laid out for things like camping,” he said. “I think it’s personally way better festival grounds for people who want to stay out all weekend.”
Two things Reeves said he enjoyed about the music is the variety and the quality. He enjoys different types of music in front of him like Beats Antique compared to some of the more folky groups.
"The contrast between the two groups, is so good and different yet both have such quality performances, that they are like nighttime and daytime with different feels,” he said.
The kids had a couple of areas to do activities at the festival. Near the main stage there was an arts and crafts section and games to play. Then there was another area not too far from the main stage where the kids had their own stage and there were more toys and games. They were just as much as part of the festival as the music. There was plenty of pumpkins to carve too and kids got to have their art displayed on the main stage.
Kristen Watkins came from Reno with four children, two of her own and she had her sister-in-law’s kids. One of her children was on stage doing a dance routine for the talent show.
“We’ve been hanging out in the Kid’s Zone and there’s lots of events and stuff for them to do,” she said. “It’s super kid-friendly.”
She said it was their first time attending Hangtown Music Festival, which had the same vibe to High Sierra Music Festival but smaller. She said she’ll be back for more and she’ll be sure to bring the kids.
Paul Quigley said this might have been his fifth Hangtown and he liked the new grounds being more spacious and cleaner although he liked the compactness of the old grounds. He made an 8-hour trek from Oceanside, Calif.
“It’s a long drive, but it’s well worth it,” he said.
One of his favorite bands is Railroad Earth, and he really enjoyed seeing Yonder Mountain String Band with their sit-ins. He said he’s looking forward to next year, but he’ll be waiting to see what the festival does first.
MaryBeth McLaughlin dressed festively in costumes throughout the weekend, and she said the festival has been a tradition.
“I come here every year and expand my ‘Framily,’ who are my friends I’ve chosen to be my family by choice,” she said. “This is the last Hangtown. It’s special. It’s like a period at the end of a sentence.
Next year’s event is yet to be named, but Sparks said they will be unveiling something before too long. There is a contest for fan submissions here: bit.ly/3DFzTIP.
They’re still ironing out many details but she said the event will take place around the same time and they will keep it to four days. They’ll continue the fall and Halloween themes with costumes because people love that, she said. The music will continue to be a mix of American and roots music, which she said the communities of Grass Valley and Nevada City respond to very well.
“I don’t see any compelling reason to change the format hugely,” she said.
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