The first Sugar Pine Music Festival took place Oct. 19-22 at the Nevada County Fairgrounds in Grass Valley, California. The festival, formerly known as Hangtown Music Festival, drew music fans from all over to experience a variety of bands from Thursday, Oct. 19 to Sunday, Oct. 22.
The festival kept the same format it had been using although it was without previous host band Railroad Earth. Railroad Earth was missed by many, and several bands even paid homage with tributes. That included Dead Winter Carpenters playing “The Mighty River,” Broken Compass Bluegrass played “Bird in a House” (check out video by Sean Fagan on YouTube: www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6G7NbO4WDE), Boot Juice played “Hard Livin’” and Caltucky played the classic “Hangtown Ball.”
The sun was out Thursday through Saturday and rain clouds came in Sunday morning leaving things a bit soggy, but it didn’t stop everyone from enjoying the music all day. The festival grounds held up in the rain although in front of the stage did turn into a mud pit, with some people sliding around in it and even making mud angels.
2023 Sugar Pine Music Festival
The Sugar Pine Music Festival took place Oct. 19-22, 2023 at the Nevada County Fairgrounds in Grass Valley, California. All photos by Kyler Klix of the Nevada Appeal.
The campgrounds were filled with tents and the festival-goers brought Halloween decorations and more to bring in the holiday spirit. There was plenty of space to camp and in the venue there was plenty of space to dance and relax and feel comfortable. Several vendors came to sell their arts and clothing and plenty of food vendors were there to keep bellies full. Here’s what several attendees had to say about the festival:
Stuart Slack from Los Gatos, California, said he had a great time at the festival.
“I absolutely loved it,” he said. “I think the best thing about it is the people and the music. The music was unexpectedly good.”
He said he’s seen Lettuce perform before but on Saturday night headlining the main stage was something different and a fantastic set of music.
“It thrilled us to death,” he said.
The late-night shows were also a highlight for Slack. He said he doesn’t really get to see those shows because they are so late, but this year they made it.
“Both of them were so good,” he said. “We’re so glad we went.”
Beyond the music, Slack enjoys hanging out in the campground and getting to see old friends and make new ones. He said he met about 25 new people.
“We have people we’ll be hanging out with next time we’re here,” he said.
While it rained all day Sunday, he said things held up great. He said when he heard there was rain in the forecast, he thought about Hangtown 2021 when the atmospheric river dumped four inches on everyone. He said the grounds at the Nevada County Fairgrounds held up very well and the rain wasn’t a problem.
“Last night (Sunday) it started raining again and it was totally perfect,” he said. “We absolutely enjoyed it and thank God we brought our mud boots.”
Slack said he’s been to this Festival three times and the sister festival, High Sierra Music Festival, five times, and he’ll keep coming back for more.
He noted the festival seemed to not have the same attendance as last year’s, with more space in the campground and knowing people who didn’t make it back this year.
“I hope more people attend it,” he said. “I don’t think it drew a whole lot of big crowds, but they’ll continue to work on it.”
Danielle Derocksteady traveled from North Lake Tahoe and she said she had a great time.
“It was super awesome, it was super great,” she said. “I don’t even love bluegrass but the vibe at this festival is so sweet, and these people are so fun to party with.”
One of her favorite artists of the weekend was Jennifer Hartswick Band, who had two sets on Saturday and her band headlined on Sunday night, closing the festival.
“I love Jennifer Hartswick and I forgot how much I love her,” Derocksteady said. “So that was one of my favorite things ever and to see her doing so well and the crowd loving it was great.”
Derocksteady said she came to the festival last year and she would like to come back again.
“It’s a great festival, she said. “It’s really sweet and I love how it’s smaller, very clean and safe.”
Jen and Erik Shultz were enjoying the festival with their children ages 9 and 7. They were participating in the pumpkin carving on Saturday with many other festival-goers at the Kids Zone, which was close enough to still hear the music from the stages.
“These activities that they have for the kids are so important to us parents because it gives them something to look forward to and something they can do with other kids while we’re listening to great music,” Jen said. “You can’t beat that.”
Erik said they’ve been to the previous Hangtown Music Festival and other High Sierras, and he said the organizers do a good job at creating a kid-friendly atmosphere. The family lives just about five minutes away from the festival and said they will be back next year.
“It’s amazing. Ever since the one in Placerville — all the pumpkin carving and all that, it’s great for the kids,” he said. “And it’s not super crowded, it’s a beautiful day and we’ve got trees and shade. It’s a great place to bring kids.”
Melissa Schofield was also carving pumpkins on Saturday with her 6-year-old daughter. The Grass Valley resident said she camped out the whole time and brought along her two other kids, ages 14 and 17. She said she’d been to the previous Hangtown Festival last year and before when it was in Placerville, but she didn’t start bringing her kids until the move to Grass Valley.
“It’s our new favorite festival because it’s right in town,” she said. “I like to dance, and I have kids and they like to dance too.”
She said the atmosphere was great for children.
“It’s super kid friendly,” she said. “We’ve been to the Kids Zone every day and did all their arts and crafts.”
She said her older children enjoy the music and enjoy dressing up in outfits and she said one of them bought some cool stuff from a vendor the day before. One of Schofield’s musical highlights was seeing Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe and Stick Figure perform a tribute to the Beastie Boys on Friday night.
“I went to late night last night too and that was excellent,” she said. “I danced all night. If I can dance all night, then it’s a good festival.”
It was Evan Rowland’s first time at the festival, and he said he really enjoyed the size and the connections to people. He said he didn’t know much of the music before he came.
“I came here not expecting anything, so everything is a highlight,” he said.
The Roseville, California, resident said there were many pleasant surprises with the music. He said the musicians were all fantastic and he heard some amazing cover songs that made him feel like he was seeing the original bands perform. He said he heard “Hush” by Deep Purple, and a Rod Stewart song and some Jimi Hendrix.
“I was able to sort of close my eyes and re-live it,” he said.
Rowland said he was happy with the size of the festival and how much space there was to move around. He said when the crowds are too hectic it takes away his freedom and his ability to just be himself. He compared it to another bigger festival he went to where he said people were rude and disrespectful and fighting.
“Everyone comes here (Sugar Pine), and everybody is just having a good time. No one is fighting each other; it’s really easy going,” he said. “I’d rather be around that energy instead of the hectic energy.”
He said he really enjoyed being at the Nevada County Fairgrounds, as he had come there before for California Worldfest.
“There’s a different magic to it,” he said. “I love camping here.”
TIE DYE BUSINESS
Vendor Kim Casner also came for her first time. She heard about Hangtown Music Festival and wanted to check out the new Sugar Pine.
“I heard it was a ton of fun, so I was excited to hop on board,” she said. “The lineup was eclectic enough which has been cool.”
She travels all over the United States with her business, Fun Fine Artist, which she has had for four years and is based out of Jamestown, Calif. Her colorful booth was filled with tie dye for sale and there was also a station for festival-goers to create their own tie dye in her booth. She also brought several hula hoops and other flow toys for everyone to play with, which there was no shortage of kids to play with the toys.
She said hopes to come back next year.
“It’s a good time and there’s some quality people here,” she said. “It has been a very authentic experience this weekend with really intimate connections with people, and I hope it (the festival) grows.”