PHOTOS: Fans reflect on High Sierra Music Festival experience

Daniel Donato’s Cosmic Country performs on Sunday at High Sierra Music Festival in Quincy, Calif.

Daniel Donato’s Cosmic Country performs on Sunday at High Sierra Music Festival in Quincy, Calif.
Photo by Kyler Klix.

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High Sierra Music Festival took place June 29-July 3 in Quincy, California. It brought thousands of music fans from all over to enjoy more than 50 bands over the course of four days.

The Plumas Sierra Fairgrounds were filled with colorful people and decorated camps and almost around-the-clock music. There’s many stories to share and everyone has a different experience, but here’s just a glimpse into what people had to say about High Sierra Music Festival this year.


Kristin Stansby, from Davis, has been coming to the festival for years, she didn’t know off the top of her head but she said she’s come about 12-18 times. She used to have younger children and would have to skip some years, but now she said she now comes every year no matter what.

“It’s good music that you can just trust whatever bands are here,” she said. “You don’t have to have an agenda; you can just walk around and walk into magic everywhere.”

She said it’s the community that keeps her coming back, and she runs into friends that she only sees at the festival each year.

“There’s a lot of people you only see at High Sierra,” she said. “It’s just a great community. I love it.”

She said one of her favorite discoveries this year was catching Celisse’s set on the Vaudeville stage at sunset.

“It was amazing, and she was beautiful and I loved the show,” she said.

Stansby also mentioned how there’s many musicians who are staples to High Sierra and make the festival different than others. She said it’s often like a game of musical chairs for who is going to sit on stage with another band or musician, creating unique moments.

“It’s when everybody sits in and something really truly unique and magical happens,” she said.


Shira Elias has been very busy with several projects going on, and her festival stayed busy with collaboration sets with Lebo and Friends and her solo sets. The singer, now based out of Los Angeles, has been touring with new band Cool Cool Cool and Jerry Harrison and Adrian Belew’s Remain In Light. She is familiar with High Sierra after previously coming four times with former band Turkuaz, and she said was excited to get the chance to come back.

“It’s one of my favorite festivals in the whole country,” she said. “And it’s the first time to be back with my own project.”

She said since the collaboration stuff has been the wheelhouse of her career, she was excited to get the chance to share her solo stuff at High Sierra and do something different.

“Getting to do my own stuff that a lot of people haven’t seen before and a lot of people don’t know what I do on my own. It’s special,” she said. “I always wanted to be at High Sierra with my stuff.”

To describe her music, she said she took the term from musician Hiatus Kaiyote, and she considers it “future soul.” It’s a blend of classic soul, melodies, coupled with very modern production style and production-wise it’s a more modern progressive sound, coupled with soul and R&B, she said.

She also wants to represent women through her music.

“In the scene it’s super male-heavy dominated, people like younger women aren’t being super targeted to, or catered to,” she said.

She said High Sierra did a good job representing more women in the lineup.

When asked about one of Elias’ favorite things of the weekend, she mentioned the free massages and the hospitality the festival provides.

“High Sierra is one of the best ones. They treat artists super well and they care about the artist experience and all the amenities and stuff they offer here is pretty awesome,” she said.


A long drive is nothing for some people, and Matthew Punzo said it’s all part of the journey. Punzo said he first came to High Sierra in 2017, and he hasn’t missed one since. He said the 10.5-hour drive from San Diego doesn’t bother him one bit and it’s a beautiful trip up 395.

Punzo said he enjoys the music the festival has to offer, but he said the biggest draw for coming back each year is the people he meets along the way.

“I describe it as, the bands are like the parmesan cheese on the big bowl of pasta that is High Sierra,” he said. “And I think that the bowl of pasta is really all the people I meet.”

He said one of his music highlights of the weekend was getting on the rail at the Vaudeville tent for Daniel Donato and making lots of new friends.


Jeff Watson drove about 8 hours from his home in Oregon. It was his first time coming to High Sierra and he said he was impressed with all that it had to offer.

“For me, it’s the diversity of all kinds of music and then the amenities here,” he said. “There’s an air-conditioned room, there’s a pool, there’s showers. Even for the amount of people here, there’s so much music that it spreads the crowd out.”

He’s already planning on coming back next year, and he said he’s already talking friends into coming for their first time too. He said they had some fears with the festival having a large crowd, being too dusty and hot. But after Watson described his experience to them, he said he dispelled their worries. Now he said they’re sold on it and already planning it for next year.

Watson mentioned how beautiful the scenery is in Quincy. He said he grew up nearby and always visited it as a child. He took the time to explore beyond the festival grounds on his mountain bike. He said he started his festival Thursday with a shuttle up one of the nearby hills. He rode down through the trees and saw some views and he found a spot on the river that looked like a familiar watering hole from pictures he’s seen.


Pantaleon Cardenas, from Sparks, was in his work uniform at High Sierra, but he had some time to hang out with the family. He was employed as a mechanic for the light towers and generators and power for the festival, so as long as nothing went wrong, he was able to hang out at the festival. He brought his wife and three daughters, and they were all enjoying time at the Kids Zone on Saturday morning.

It was his first time coming to the festival.

“I like it; it’s pretty cool,” he said. “It’s pretty awesome and interesting coming up here and seeing a group of people get together and having a good time together.”

He said it’s a good environment for both kids and adults, and he enjoyed getting to do arts and crafts with his daughters.

“I hope nothing breaks so I can spend the rest of the time with the family,” he said.


Many families have made High Sierra a tradition and see their experiences change while they bring their kids.

Krista Enns, from San Francisco, said her first High Sierra was 2006 and she’s been coming every year since, except she had to work last year.

Once she got pregnant, it didn’t stop her from bringing her son, Landon Hlopak at 3 months old. Now he is 11 years old, and this was his 10th High Sierra.

She said over the years, High Sierra has expanded the Family zone and expanded the kids programing. While Landon’s interests have changed with age, there’s still stuff for him to enjoy, but he’s also interested in the music happening at the stages.

Landon shared his thoughts on coming to High Sierra over the years.

“There’s something new every year, but I feel like it stays the same as long as the Peace Pops are here,” Landon said. “That’s generally why I come, and for the music.”

He said he’s into any type of music that’s playing around him and he’s down for whatever. One of his favorite things of the weekend was having a camp near the Vaudeville tent. He said it was nice listening to the music while hanging out at camp. One of the bands he was most looking forward to was Dumpstaphunk.


Patxi Uriz, from Truckee, came with his wife and two children ages 8 and 10. This was their second time at the festival, after coming about four to five years ago, he said.

“I love live music and now the kids are going to see just as much,” he said. “I think this is the type of environment that is easy to see so much.”

He came with a group of friends who also have kids, so they all hang out. He said they enjoy as much of the music with the kids that they can, then the adults take turns watching the kids so some of the others can get out late, although not too late because they still have kids, he said. He mentioned that the swimming pool is key for keeping the kids cool.


Stephen Whiting, from the Bay Area, was volunteering at the Kids Zone. He has experience as a teacher, so he felt like it was a good fit to help there.

“It’s a blast; it’s so great, especially since we’re all volunteering. We’re all friends, so we all are here together camping,” he said.

He said he and friends have a good camping spot being right in the middle. They get to hang out with the kids for a few hours and then go enjoy the music. They had arts and crafts for the kids including painting rocks, making tie-dyes and decorating parasols. The kids would also get to show off their parasols when they go marching in the big parade on Sunday.

There was also an air-conditioned building with shows for the kids including Mermaid Storytelling and puppet shows. The Quincy Circus was also volunteering their time with entertainment for the kids, and they were painting faces.


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