How High Sierra Music Festival Stays Relevant

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We’ve officially entered the season of the summer festival, and with no shortage of them, concertgoers can be picky about where they spend their dollars. And they are. With so many festivals, especially during a down-turned economy, local promoters are struggling to stay on fans’ radars.

“There’s a lot more festivals right now than there used to be,” said Rebecca Sparks, co-owner of the Berkeley-based High Sierra Music Festival. “There’s a lot of competition. As far as longevity goes, you have to create a niche and offer something that other festivals don’t have.”

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High Sierra seems to be doing it right. The mid-size festival — now in its twentieth year — is a four-day, family-friendly camping/music festival held at the Plumas Sierra Fairgrounds in Quincy. Not beholden to one genre, the festival has put its on money on drawing bands from various genres, though most appeal to the jam-band crowd. This year’s event, which takes place July 1-4, features the biggest lineup yet, with The Black Crowes, Widespread Panic, The Avett Brothers, Ozomatli, Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros, Femi Kuti and Positive Force, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Lotus, The Mother Hips, and Carolina Chocolate Drops, among many others.

Sparks says the festival’s longevity can be attributed to the fact that the organizers place a high importance on building community and welcoming kids. “Our audience has grown with us,” she said. “We’ve got people who used to come in the Nineties in their twenties now with their kids.” Because of the length of the festival, bands often play two sets and camp on-site. Sit-ins and jam sessions are encouraged and happen spontaneously, as do daily parades with giant puppets. There are also are music, dance, yoga, and Pilates workshops, and storytelling and puppet shows for kids. “We really try to offer a really unique experience that no other festival around has so that we can stand out among the pack,” said Sparks.

A four-day pass, including camping, costs $195 for adults and $50 for kids. Single-day tickets start as low as $50. The capacity is about 8,000, and Sparks says they usually get between 7,000 and 8,000 attendees — many from the Bay Area, but also Tahoe, Chico, and Sacramento.

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