Sugar Pine Music Festival returns to the Nevada County Fairgrounds Oct. 19-22 in Grass Valley, Calif. The festival has a newly-branded name, as it a continuation of the former Hangtown Music Festival. They changed the location last year to Grass Valley and this is the first year with the new name.
“It’s our second year in Grass Valley and we absolutely love, love, love our new venue, or new home. It’s so beautiful,” said Rebecca Sparks, spokesperson for the festival. “The actual venue is so pretty and scenic we think it’s a great place for a festival and we’re super excited to be back.”
Music is the main attraction to the festival with a variety of bands. The lineup includes many who have played for the festival before and there are some newcomers. There’s a mix of funk, rock, jam and bluegrass. The Halloween theme is strong at the festival with many patrons dressing up in costumes (there are themes to go with each day). Many will also help decorate the campground in spooky fashion.
Sparks said while the name has changed, fans can expect what the festival has become known for. The format will continue with two stages, familiar food and craft vendors that have been part of the festival for years, she said. The stages are near each other and only one band is playing at a time, making it possible to see every band on the lineup all weekend. The community will be full of many of the same people from over the years too, she said.
“We have a really faithful community of fans who are supportive,” she said. “A lot of familiar faces will be there even though we have a new name.”
The festival includes a total of 20 bands with a different headliner for each night. There is music at the outdoor stages for almost 12 hours each day (except on Thursday there is only music in the evening). There’s also late-night shows inside the Music Hall for an additional cost.
The lineup includes Lettuce, Mike Campbell & The Dirty Knobs, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe Beastie Boys Tribute feat. members of Slightly Stoopid, ALO, Garcia Grisman Tribute (feat. Stu Allen, Joe Craven, Jim Kerwin & Andrew Collins), Sunsquabi, Moontricks, Ron Artis II & The Truth, Jennifer Hartswick Band, Diggin Dirt, Eddie Roberts & The Lucky Strokes, Carolyn Wonderland, Dead Winter Carpenters, Honey Island Swamp Band, Boot Juice, Broken Compass Bluegrass, Armchair Boogie, Grateful Bluegrass Boys, Salty Sally, Caltucky and Joe Craven MC.
Sparks said one act the festival is excited to have is Mike Campbell and the Dirty Knobs. Campbell worked with Tom Petty for many years and was one of the main guitar players and songwriters.
“He’s been touring nationally and getting great reviews,” Sparks said. “Anyone who likes Tom Petty will certainly love Tom Campbell.”
Jennifer Hartswick Band headlines on Sunday. She is a trumpet player and vocalist extraordinaire who tours regularly with Trey Anastasio Band.
“She will literally knock your socks off,” Sparks said. “She has a fun band.”
Sparks said she’s excited to bring back incredible guitar player Carolyn Wonderland and for newcomers Broken Compass Bluegrass, who is a young, up-and-coming bluegrass band from Grass Valley. The Honey Island Swamp Band will be bringing in a New Orleans flair with funk and rock. And ALO will be there, who Sparks says is “everybody’s favorite Bay Area band.”
KARL DENSON’S TINY UNIVERSE
Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe has played the festival several times over the years and Denson said the organizers are good friends of his. He said it’s always fun to play this festival and see many friends.
“I get to see the High Sierra gang and I get to see all my friends in Northern California, and then I get to play music for a living,” he said. “I feel blessed that this is what I get to do and travel and see everybody.”
At last year’s festival, KDTU put on a stunning tribute to David Bowie. This year, the band returns to do a tribute to the Beastie Boys. To do this, Denson added Stick Figure’s bandmembers Scott Woodruff, Tommy Suliman and KBong, who will be playing the roles of the three Beastie Boys.
“They are the Beastie Boys,” he said. “People who know the Beastie Boys will be pleasantly surprised and happy to be able to experience this. And it’s always fun working with the Slightly Stoopid guys. They’re some really good friends.”
KDTU and Stick Figure pulled this off before several years ago, so Denson said it wasn’t too much work to put it back together and they just had to dig into some old files to make it work.
“It’s pretty solid,” he said. “I’m pretty excited to put it back out there.”
Denson said after the festival the band will be busy with new releases. He said fans should keep an eye out for new music they’ll be putting out including a jazz record and an afro beat record.
“The next six months is going to be really productive for the band,” he said.
Kyle Kunert has been coming to the festival for several years mainly as volunteer and worker. This year will be different when he and his band Caltucky will be performing.
“It’s like a dream come true,” the banjo player said. “I’ve been volunteering and working the Hangtown Festival since 2015, so to actually play on stage is pretty legendary for me.”
Caltucky is from Grass Valley so it will be a hometown show for Kunert and his bandmates. They will have many friends at the festival and the band is looking forward to some jam sessions in the campground for anyone who brings an instrument. He said Caltucky will have some new songs to share, and they are looking forward to the opportunity to play for the Sugar Pine crowd.
Since he lives in Grass Valley, Kunert has gone to several other festivals held at the Nevada County Fairgrounds, and he said it’s a great place for music.
“It’s a very special fairground,” he said. “It’s definitely one of the best venues for a festival that I’ve been to,” he said. “There’s camping under the beautiful ponderosa pines. I think all around, it’s going to be a good time. Hopefully everyone who knows how fun Hangtown was will know that Sugar Pine is going to be just as good.”
Sugar Pine Music Festival creates a family atmosphere and that includes having a spot for the kids to play. There will be a Kids Zone with arts and crafts and other activities. Sparks said the festival relocated the zone to be closer to the main stage this year.
One tradition the festival will continue is pumpkin carving. During 2 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, kids and adults pick out pumpkins and carve them. Then all the pumpkins get to be displayed on the main stage for the headliner. Everyone gets to take their pumpkin home afterward.
“It’s mostly for kids but anybody’s welcome,” Sparks said.
Kunert has a young daughter and he said it’s been a great festival to take her to over the years.
“In general, it’s always kid-friendly and family-friendly,” he said. “My daughter is growing up going to all the festivals at the fairgrounds and we feel very comfortable with it.”
Multi-day festival passes include on-site camping. The Nevada County Fairgrounds are spacious with room for RVs and tent camping is plentiful, Sparks said. Parking is not included with the pass and must be purchased separately and RV camping is an additional cost. The fairgrounds have permanent restrooms and showers and there are also portable toilets provided.
“You don’t have to worry about jockeying for position,” she said. “You can get there any time and there will be room to set up your camp.”
If camping isn’t your thing, Sparks said Grass Valley has no shortage of lodging with many Airbnbs, hotels and motels. Nevada County residents can get discounted tickets at the box office.
Sparks said if you’re a newcomer looking to find what Sugar Pine Music Festival is all about, she said it’s very easy to deal with a smaller festival like this.
“If you’re looking for just a really relaxing, chill environment with some really friendly people and some really great music, then this is a great introductionary festival,” she said.
She said the festival is easygoing and everything flows very well with no long lines, and you can choose to be close to the action on the main stage or spread out and have some space and still have a good view. It’s also one of the last big festival events before winter settles in.
Tickets and information are available at www.sugarpinemusicfest.com.