Magical. It's the best way to describe the High Sierra Music Festival. Beaconed by music and art, thousands of people joined in the mountains over the Independence Day holiday and became a big quasi-family, united by joy and peace.
In a jaw-dropping set that closed out the Music Meadow Sunday night, Ozomatli had the audience holding peace signs in the air during one heartfelt song and then dancing wildly with the next number.
Then there were the fried pickles. With a specially seasoned beer batter and delicious dips, they tasted more like jalapeo poppers, and even better if you like vinegar. A handful of new vendors added a freshness to the festival, and it was fun to discover different things.
Art was everywhere. Bicycles and clothing and whole campsites were beautifully decorated. Colors and designs, merged by inspiration, created focal points of wonder. The paintings just south of the Vaudeville Tent stopped people in their tracks.
The bands were talented beyond description, and they worked their tails off each song and every set. With their creativity and courage, the musicians became instruments of Gods, and the magic of music flowed through them.
The crowds responded with much gratitude and praise. HSMF has keen fans who are observant and appreciative. They eagerly jumped up and down, and they were often moved to raise their hands worshipfully into the air.
When saxophone great Karl Denson stepped in with Widespread Panic on the Grandstand Friday night and laid down a gut-wrenching solo, it reminded regulars of Denson's epic Sunday night closing performance in 2005.
When the Black Crowes headlined Saturday, favorite old songs stirred memories of the early 1990s and then morphed into brilliant jams that brought everyone back into the moment. Chris Robinson's amazing voice and undeniable stage presence commanded everyone's attention for two solid hours.
The Avett Brothers' lyrics should be carved in stone. Carolyn Wonderland wields great power. Nathan Moore and Dan Bern are genius songwriters. Trampled by Turtles is going places. The Carolina Chocolate Drops are deliciously fun. The Slip earned an induction into the HSMF hall of fame.
Once p.m. yielded to a.m., the magic intensified. Sensual fire dancers seemed to appear from dreams, the muses descended upon the Vaudeville Tent, and parties came to life in various camps. Glowing fairies and wise elves wandered freely, and the late night shows revealed the next dimension.
The days were also magical. Big hugs were exchanged as old friends reunited. Kind people with spray bottles and water guns kept the crowds cool. Children were taught sing-alongs in the kids' area. Strangers opened to each other.
HSMF provided a special atmosphere where judgment was suspended and insecurities were released. There was more eye contact, more friendliness, more trust, more acceptance, more laughter and more love.
As music and art inspired the masses, a collective creativity manifested itself throughout the festival. Performances were everywhere. Hula-hoops, poi balls, devil sticks, Frisbees, stilts, bubble guns and beautiful costumes all competed for attention.
With a new beer and wine tasting venue in the Tulsa Scott Pavilion, the Artist Playshops were moved into the roomier High Sierra Music Hall. Here, an average of five sets Friday through Sunday essentially brought back the fourth intimate stage, where people could get in out of the sun.
The locals again brought their small-town friendliness to the festival, as hundreds of Quincyites and other Plumas County brethren integrated their special community spirit within the greater High Sierra collective.
As an organization, HSMF is impressive. Beneath the magic was an orchestrated performance of stage managers, sound crews and artist liaisons, all working in sync, producing as many as nine shows on each of the three stages, all four days.
In addition to the massive coordination to produce all the music, the whole infrastructure of the festival was an amazing logistical feat that kept 10,000 people healthy and happy. The security teams, trash crews, box office workers, food services and many others worked around the clock in collaborative harmony, providing the backbone for a blissful festival experience.
One could not help but ponder brains of the operation, those few special people who were in charge of the whole thing. What sort of evolved beings can dream up such an event and then pull it off with so much style? The music industry is especially tricky to navigate, and it must take special powers to assemble so many talented groups, attract thousands of people, and administer the entire creation so it purrs like a well-oiled machine.
Of course, HSMF has been a 20-year project that has taken unimaginable amounts of effort and dedication. There have been many challenges to solve, but the festival has grown and evolved into its own entity, greater than any of its individual creators.
And that was the lesson of this festival. The fourth and final day of the event fell on the Fourth of July, and the American flag was reflected in various forms, from face paint to bikini tops. As thousands of festival-goers celebrated the freedoms brought by Independence Day, the group consciousness became aware of something much more valuable: interdependence.
Musicians need other musicians to form great bands. Bands need festivals to gather the fans. Festivals need fans to support the bands, and fans need bands to bring them to the festival. Everything is dependant on everything else, and it takes many parts to create the whole. When individuals realize the power of connectivity and interdependence, anything is possible.
And then the sky lit up. Fireworks! A spectacular grand finale of multicolored pyrotechnics illuminated the western sky late Sunday night, surprising us all. It was the perfect ending, and it evoked a vision of HSMF up there on stage, sweaty and smiling, taking a bow.