The 7th annual Lost Sierra Hoedowners have all packed up and gone home. They’ll tell stories, keep in touch, plan for next year, and try to make the planet a better place in the meantime. The origins of the Hoedown, however, are steeped in the history of the Johnsville ski hill and the memory of Hoedown founder Z Reynolds.
Reynolds grew up on the ski hill at Johnsville, he said. He and his mom lived in one of the small cabins behind Gumbas in Blairsden, and she worked at the ski hill on the lift, on ski patrol, and cooking food. “She was always really involved with the ski hill,” said Reynolds.
“When I was 3, she brought me up there and pushed me around on her skis. I still remember that.”
Throughout his early childhood, he would come to the hill with his mom. He loved the lodge, he said. “It was like a second home. She’d drop me off on days she’d work. I’d ski and check in with her. It was a comfortable, homey place for me as a child.”
When he was 11, they moved to Truckee, but they still came back to the hill and stayed involved in the community.
Later, his mom moved back to Plumas County — in Quincy this time, where she got a job with the forest service.
“We’d go up there hiking and exploring,” Reynolds remembers. A few more years passed, and he went up to the hill by himself. “It looked abandoned and alone. It made me sad,” he said.
By this time, Reynolds was working in the music industry and he’d been putting on concerts. Sitting there, at the abandoned ski hill, he saw it’s potential as a music venue. It had the nice, sloping bowl where concert goers could gather. The lodge had a great stage area in front. And, the quiet, away-from-the-world natural setting seemed perfect to Reynolds.
He said he talked to the people at the state park and went away discouraged at what they said it would cost. That was the end of the idea as far as he was concerned.
Then, in 2013, SkiLogic hired Reynolds to manage their sponsored professional ski team out of Lake Tahoe. There, he met skier Drew Fisher, who was also a student at Sierra Nevada College.
Reynolds organized a ski trip up to Johnsville with Fisher and a couple other sponsored skiers. “I wanted to show how cool it was,” said Reynolds. “You could go for a quick ski even if it wasn’t open.”
He explained his personal ties to the place after they’d spent the day skiing Eureka Peak. “I told the group the idea I had to do a concert,” he said. Reynolds added that he wasn’t trying to revive the idea, he was just recounting it as they looked down the bowl at the lodge. “Wouldn’t it be cool,” he said.
About two months later, he got a call from Fisher who was about to graduate from college. He and his fellow graduates had to do a volunteer project for a nonprofit to complete their degrees. The concert idea had been percolating in his mind. And, he knew that Reynolds had previously donated a pair of SkiLogic skis to the Plumas Ski Club.
According to Reynolds, Fisher asked, “What about that nonprofit? Maybe we could do a concert and make it a benefit for the ski hill and donate to the nonprofit.”
At the time, Reynolds said, he was done with concert promotion, and he hesitated. But, Reynolds saw Fisher and his fellow students and they reminded him of “being young myself and the people who helped me out.”
So, he agreed. He talked with Dan Gallagher at Nakoma, the Plumas Ski Club, and Don Fregulia Jr. and Sr. at the forest service. He came up with a date for the concert with Dan. Once he had a date, Reynolds said, he told Fisher and his friends, “I think we can do this.”
This time, he had the backing of the state park. He knew the people at Sierra Nevada Brewery from his time at Chico State, and they agreed to offer a 100 percent sponsorship. “So Plumas Ski Club takes that and puts it right back into the ski hill,” Reynolds said.
For his part, Fisher started getting operational jobs at different events once he graduated from college. From those connections, he was able to put together a professional operations team that organized everything from parking, to gate, to shuttle, and camping. It’s an amazing staff, said Reynolds, “all people who really care and want it to be great.”
Reynolds said Plumas Ski Club has been great to work with, as well. “We have an awesome partnership with a local entity with positive intentions.”
Good intentions seems to be behind everything the Hoedown stands for. From the beginning, said Reynolds, they wanted the music to be of great quality, but also to have a certain feel to it, one that would draw on the magic of the location and speak to the “nature loving, community loving type of person.”
The first year, the attendees were mostly friends of Reynolds and Fisher, and that set a tone. “That first year created an expectation and a flow. Others wanted to be a part of it, that community, and they all settled right into that behavioral pattern. Everyone feels that gratitude and expresses it towards each other.”
Of the lodge, he said, “When you listen to the music, the sound resonates, it makes magic. [You feel] the spirits that reside in that room.”
At the end of his story, Reynolds brings it back to the beginning. His mother, Angela Parker, was his inspiration to do the Hoedown in the first place. She died suddenly in 2017.
Her death, said Reynolds, “changed me forever.” But, the Hoedown is a way he can stay close to her. “She’s a big part of the magic … because she loved the place so much. I feel her spirit there deeply.”
Reynolds said he still instinctively looks up at the rainbow poma lift shack where she would always be when he was young and spent so much time on that hill. “It was comforting to know she was there,” he said. “So to this day I keep looking up there, searching for her.”