July 4th weekend means grilling, fireworks, and drinking. That’s if you don’t go to High Sierra Music Festival in Quincy, CA. If you do, then July 4th weekend means hyperbolic, superlative-laden band descriptions, over 100 hours of music and musicianship that actually earns such praise, camping adventures, the best festival food around, and some of the most beautiful California scenery there is.
I’m talking about High Sierra Music Festival, and this is my seventh time attending. This is not the kind of festival that you wait for the lineup to sign up for:
“Are you going to High Sierra?”
“But who’s playing?”
“I dunno–it doesn’t matter. We just go.”
This year was no exception, and the lineup was phenomenal. Notably, I’ve marked (at the link) which shows I went to and I’d highly recommend that you check out those (and other) bands.
Robert Plant has still got major pipes. The Revivalists have some serious gusto. The Hot 8 Brass Band knows how to party. Primus rocked the house. Mike Dillon Band made punk trombone make sense. Thievery Corporation can make anyone move to the beat. And Lee Fields & The Expressions know the magic of soul.
Not only is there music–there’s food. Amazing food. Ghanaian, Southern BBQ, Organic, Raw, Blended, Fried, Iced, Brewed–you name it. Everyone of them had a tasty dish to sustain us through the weekend. And then there are vendors. Sandals, clothes, wraps, skirts, henna, massages, you name it. And then were these sunglasses who made 20x what they asked for on Kickstarter.
But what are the major things to take away from this year’s High Sierra? This is the key list of “do’s” that will make for, in the future, a great HSMF 2014:
- Bring tarps. Ground cover isn’t important, but shade is. Camping in the right spot (Hillsides) will let you string them up for a shade complex above your communal area
- Bring rope. See above.
- Plan on eating some festival food. It’s just too good to pass up. In other words, if you’re going to bring prepared food, or campsite food, it’s just not realistic that you’ll eat every meal from your personal stores. Having said that, I really could eat the bean salad we brought like every day of the week.
- Bring a shovel. If you’re planning to camp at Hillsides (which you should) you’re going to want to do some terraforming. Life at 15-20% grade is doable–45% is not. But also: leave no trace! You can figure out how to balance those things out for yourself.
- Camp at Hillsides. Did I mention this already? Shady Grove used to have a stage, and the Meadow fills up on Wednesday afternoon with the early arrivals. Hillsides is appropriately private, but with enough neighbors to ground you and a legitimate view of the Main Stage experience, right from your home away from home.
- Drink water. It gets hot up in the valley, there. Water is free from spigots all over the fairgrounds so bring at least _one_ water bottle and just don’t forget to keep filling it up.
- Bring clothes / sleeping gear to keep you (very) warm. It gets cold up there at night: much colder than you would expect given the highs that can be achieved during the day.
- Walkie Talkie’s are a plus. Cell service is poor up there and I doubt you can keep the battery charged for four days without awkwardly stealing power from the side of the Funk’n Jam House or sitting in your hot car for an hour.
- Bring a Solar USB Charger. Do this for genius status.
- Keep your cell phone off. Do this to unplug for four days. Takes some serious commitment, but it’s totally worth it if you trust in the world outside the festival handling their junk without you for a weekend. Totally acceptable to either (a) stay connected to help friends and family (b) indulge in the delusion that you’re the center of everyone’s universe. Totally unacceptable to stay connected to read your personalized Big Lots! email ads or Facebook updates from people not at the festival. Go see some music!
- Set up your tent at home to check for gotchas. I broke this sacred rule of camping this year and forgot that my tent poles were packed separately. MAJOR CHOKE!
- Get a quick-drying, super-light towel and/or yoga-mat from REI. These are way smaller than a cotton towel and will help you out for the 6 hours of daily yoga.
- Bring a table. Coolers have a top–yes–but they are meant to be opened. I plan do finally do ourselves a favor next year by bringing a folding table. Then again, i also said this last time…
- Make a plane and keep your promises. We’re procrastinators, me and my friends. We totally kick ass at packing 3 days or less before a week long camping trip in the woods and dirt and being wildly successful. If you’re not like us, make sure to take the time, make a spreadsheet, and figure out what you’re going to bring in time to find out if you have it.
- Pace yourself. There’s a lot of excitement at High Sierra. Make sure you’re not forcing yourself to be on high-alert energy-level for four days without a break. There are _lots_ of places to take a peaceful break at the festival–that’s kind of a thing it does better than any other, partly to do with it’s small size and partly to do with everyone’s great attitude. Which leads me to the last, but most important thing to remember:
- Don’t be un-festival. It’s as simple as it sounds. Don’t be the guy hurrying people on with their showers. Don’t be the guy who tells that guy to chill out in the wrong tone. Don’t be the one to yell at a little kid for spraying water on you without asking (but do remind them to ask next time after you say thank you). Don’t be smug. Don’t judge. Don’t laugh at someone without laughing at yourself at the same time. And definitely don’t be the one calling everybody on their un-festival crap. Be compassionate–Don’t be un-festival. Be good to the festival, and the festival will be good to you.