By Spencer Rouse
Time to pack up your animal costumes, glitter and hula hoops and make the trek up to Quincy for the High Sierra Music Festival (HSMF). Not only will you get the opportunity to see nationally touring acts like Ben Harper, Galactic, Soulive and Toots and the Maytals in intimate settings, you also get to see your favorite new bands, the ones you haven’t even heard a single note from yet.
Synthesis got the opportunity to speak with some of the nearly 60 artists who will be playing HSMF, including Nicki Bluhm, Mocean Worker, Marco Benevento and Lynn Michael Palmer of The Nibblers.
One band that will catch your ear this year will be Mocean Worker. The drum and bass DJ Mowo has traded in the knobs and loops and combined his talents with other Berklee College alumni to create an outstanding band. Mowo (aka Adam Dorn) will give a rare live performance Sunday night to close out the Vaudeville tent. “It’s gonna be like a hot towel at the end of the meal,” says Dorn.
“I’m really known as an electronic artist, [but] there will be no samples, everybody’s playing…. Part of it is high wire and part of it’s real jazz and part of it’s like ‘here’s the road map, now its time to speak to each other.’ I figure this festival had that vibe written all over it.”
When asked further about the band, Dorn replied, “I put together this band of guys with all different strengths. I think it’s going to be amazing because there are so many different types of musicians in the band…they’re badass players that are groove freaks.”
“The keyboardist (Scott Kinsey) is the living example of Joe Zawinul…and the drummer (Chris Coleman) used to play for Prince…he’s a ridiculous gospel drummer, so the two completely unrelated sets of influences should be great. He’s (Coleman) one of those guys that can solo and sounds like five people, but he can also lay it down and out Questlove, Questlove.”
This will the first time Dorn has performed at HSMF. “The fact that the festival asked me to put a band together is incredibly humbling and I’m so excited, you have no idea. And it gives me a chance to say, ‘Hey, I’ve got three horn players, a whole rhythm section, no samples.’ There is no crutch, there is no safety net, you just get to play…I want people to come there and [say], ‘Holy shit, you guys just ripped these tunes apart.’”
HSMF is the birthplace for many new artistic concoctions, such as Brokedown in Bakersfield. Nicki Bluhm explains how it came to be. “It was really Dan Lebowitz (ALO). [He said], ‘I had this idea [and] I would love to do it at High Sierra.’ He started playing pedal steel…[and] he wanted to incorporate that into something live. He knew I loved old country music, [so we] formed with the intention of doing it once at High Sierra but the reaction was so positive, and we had so much fun doing it…it’s kind of been a pet project for all of us, we love the music and it’s really fun.”
When asked how the ALO connection came about, Bluhm responded, “They’re good friends of ours, they live in the city, so do we. We use a lot of the same people to help us make records…we have a lot of commonalities, we’re just friends first and foremost and we enjoy each other’s company, we all respect each other as musicians.”
Within the last few years HSMF has added a Sunday morning Gospel Session that incorporates many of the roots and acoustic musicians. When asked if she might be participating this year, Bluhm said, “If we are around I would love to check that out. I love it when festivals do those closing ceremony type things, that would be cool.”
This year the funk lives on with the Royal Family of funk Soulive and Lettuce making one of a few West Coast appearances together. Included in the funk this year is Sacramento’s The Nibblers with new singer Brian Rogers from Izabella.
When asked about the progress of Rogers, Palmer stated, “He had about eight days to get ready for the first [gig]. He had his work cut out for him (laughs)…he’s a really talented guy, a great player.”
The Nibblers may seem new but have been around. “We did renegade sets the last couple of years and had really tremendous positive feedback,” said Palmer. You can check out their funk when they open the Big Meadow stage on Saturday, among other places.
“We have a couple of official unofficial sets…one on top of [a] motor home on Friday and then we’ll do a set on Saturday for Camp Happiness (one of many themed camps),” said Palmer. “They throw down a great party every year at 4:20, they serve up crab cakes and drinks.” You can also catch them at the Bloody Mary Ball playshop on Sunday, as well as a just added Troubadour Session.
If you’ve been to HSMF before, the name Marco Benevento should be familiar to you. Benevento is the organ master of the festival. “The first year I played was in 2002 and it was with the Duo, it was Joe and [I’s] first trip across the country.”
When asked what he finds particularly appealing about HSMF, he stated, “I’ve always wanted to do the workshops, those are pretty fun…this year I’m doing a workshop and it’s going to be an evening with James Booker, which I’m psyched about because he’s one of my most favorite pianists.”
Benevento continued, “I’m looking forward to Rubblebucket and Kal (Kalmia Traver) singing with us. She doesn’t know it but I’m gonna get her to sing with us. I’m really looking forward to playing ‘This Is How It Goes’ with her live in front of a bunch of people at a music festival…I really like her style, she has a unique taste.”
And she’s not the only one.
The 22nd Annual High Sierra Music Festival takes place at the fairgrounds in Quincy, CA from July 5th through July 8th. Visit highsierramusic.com for tickets and more info.