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How a big music festival affects a small town

Every fourth of July weekend, the High Sierra Music Festival rolls into town, first with a few trucks and trailers from the crew, then with a myriad of vehicles that compact themselves into shiny lines all throughout the American Valley.

Sometimes quoted at 10,000, and sometimes 15,000, it is hard to know for sure what the average number of people coming to town for the festival is, but either way the influx of people is usually felt by the town in one way or another.

The signs the festival is coming to town appear well before the first vehicle rolls in. Quincy grocery stores are well stocked with water bottles, ice and whatever other beverage would ensure the good time of festival guests.

“We prepare way in advance,” said Safeway store manager Sheldon Salye, saying he focuses on making sure the store is well staffed and well stocked during the festival. “It is just crazy busy … the store is just packed with people.”

Other businesses have to prepare as well for the onslaught of people. While most festival guests stay within the boundaries of the fairgrounds during the festival, the Wednesday night before the festival brings an unprecedented wave of hungry travelers to the doorsteps of Quincy’s restaurants.

Moon’s Restaurant is staffed with twice the normal amount of wait staff on that Wednesday night. Each server takes on triple the amount of tables of a typically busy night and the restaurant stays open well past its closing time.

Festival guests arrive at the Railway field where they can stay the night to ensure a good camping spot inside the fairgrounds Thursday morning. In the meantime, they are hungry and looking to small town Quincy to provide them with food.

CHP helps out

The Thursday morning check-in is also one of the busiest times for the California Highway Patrol. According to Commander Sarah Richards, the CHP plans a year in advance for the appropriate overtime for the Fourth of July weekend. While the concurring events in Graeagle, the Almanor Basin and Quincy usually spread CHP resources thin, this year’s festival put less strain on resources because of the Fourth of July falling on a Wednesday.

The CHP helps with traffic control and ensures compliance with the law while people leave their overnight camping spot at the Railway field on Thursday. Richards said that the main issues they see are too many people to one car, and excessive speeding over Cemetery Hill in a rush to the best camping spot in the fairgrounds.

Richards said she works in tandem with the general manager of the High Sierra Music Festival, and the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office to make sure there are no dangerous incidents and everyone is compliant with the law.

“We want them to feel like they can come to our community and have a good time but we also want them to follow the law and respect our community,” she said.

While the traffic control was helpful to the festival guests, it may not have helped all the businesses in the community. Amy Carey, owner of Quincy Provisions, expected a line of coffee drinkers on Thursday morning as per usual during the first day of the festival, but her well-staffed coffee house was unexpectedly quiet that morning.

“Normally we are slammed,” said Carey. She suggested the redirecting of traffic or the possibility that attendance was down as the reasons for the slow morning.

Other effects

When the festival guests enter the fairgrounds to stay for the weekend, the bustle about town quiets. Except for the occasional store run, the festival is able to provide for the needs of the attendees. However, one entity that sees a significant rise in business during the festival is the Central Plumas Recreation District’s Pioneer Park and Pool, which sits adjacent to the fairgrounds.

CPRD General Manager James Shipp says the festival weekend normally brings in about one third of Pioneer Pool’s annual budget. The pool is at maximum capacity all afternoon and staff is doubled. The pool also sells shower tickets.

This year, with an unexpected Friday of cool weather, the pool was not as popular, but normally the district expects to gross anywhere from $15,000 to $20,000 on the use of the rented camping area and pool.

When the festival wraps up as the last guitar is packed away, there may be a few stragglers who want to explore about town, but most attendees pack up and cruise out of town not to be seen again until next Fourth of July weekend. Quincy then returns to its quiet style, and the sounds of singing and bands stop echoing in the valley just long enough for the next music festival to come into town.

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