Each year since 1991, the peaceful Northern California town of Quincy has been home to the High Sierra Music Festival (HSMF). Like the mountain town that hosts it, the festival is family-friendly, down-to-earth, and filled with heart. The HSMF is the brainchild of High Sierra Music, an independent Berkeley-based production company. Each year since its inception, the festival has retained its counterculture ambiance of peace, love, and back-to-basics fun for the 10,000 music fans who attend.
Getting to the Festival
A summer festival in both timing and spirit, the HSMF is held each year for four days inclusive of the July 4 weekend on the Plumas-Sierra County Fairgrounds. Festival attendees can enjoy outdoor activities like camping, hiking, swimming, biking, and fishing in addition to reveling in great music. The natural beauty and freshness of the region enhances the festival experience with gorgeous green forests and meadows, clear lakes, and starry skies. To get to Quincy, you have several modes of travel from which you can choose. Once you reach the fairgrounds, you can travel to and from the festival as needed.
- Airplane - Quincy, California is a fairly remote town, and the closest airports are located in Reno, Sacramento, Oakland, and San Francisco. If you want to attend the festival but live quite a distance away, air travel would be a good option, but you'll need to get a ride from the airport to Quincy. The Plumas Transit provides shuttle service for this purpose on a limited basis.
- Car - The Plumas-Sierra County Fairgrounds are located in Quincy, California off Highway 70, which winds through the Feather River Canyon and constitutes a lovely drive. The road is curvy, though, and hills and grades can be steep. Get plenty of sleep beforehand and be extra careful on the drive. On-site vehicle passes are available, but you'll need to act quickly, since availability is limited.
- Train or bus - You could travel to Reno or Chico via Greyhound or Amtrak, then take the Plumas Transit the rest of the way to Quincy.
- Shuttle service - The Plumas Transit is Quincy's shuttle service. The shuttle makes regular stops at the Plumas-Sierra County Fairgrounds, and it departs every thirty minutes during the service's regular hours. It costs only one dollar to ride the shuttle.
Detailed information about tickets is available on the HSMF website in the spring preceding the festival season for the year. Whether you want a one-day pass or a full VIP package, you can buy tickets to the festival online. All ticket sales are handled through Eventbrite when the tickets become available. You'll present your ticket at the box office to receive a wristband, which is required for festival admission.
General Admission Tickets
Not only do you get access to fabulous festival music with general admission tickets, but you also have access to tent camping on the fairgrounds with the multi-day passes. If you want to camp, though, buy your tickets early, since space is limited and on-site camping access is first-come, first-serve. Off-site camping is also available. Ticket prices are approximate since they change each year.
- Single-day pass - $80
- Two-day passes - $160
- Three-day passes - $210
- Four-day passes - $225
- Teen four-day passes (ages thirteen through sixteen): $111.00 when accompanied by a guardian with a ticket
- Kids four-day passes (ages five through twelve): $55
- Children four years old and under get in free.
Late Night Tickets
If you buy a multi-day pass, you will also have access to tickets to late-night shows. These cost extra and must be bought separately from your general admission ticket unless you opt for one of the FestivALL VIP Packages. Late-night show tickets run in the neighborhood of $28.
If you want a VIP experience at the festival, you'll definitely be interested in the FestivALL packages. They cost around $800 and include a veritable bounty of VIP perks. You can also purchase a FestivALL with Vehicle package, which costs around $950 and lets you park one vehicle for all four days of the festival, along with the VIP perks.
- Four days at the festival complete with access to late-night shows
- A spacious tent in the Shady Grove Campground
- Early, private check-in to the festival
- Access to the FestivALL Lounge, which includes better views of the shows, spa treatments, and private portable toilets
- Main stage pit access
- Festival merch, including a poster and a t-shirt
Parking, Camping, and RV Passes
While multi-day general admission tickets include on-site camping if you purchase tickets while space is available, parking isn't included in the cost of your ticket. If you want to camp off-site, that will also cost extra. Once you've purchased general admission tickets, you might want to buy additional passes that will allow parking access, whether for regular vehicles or for RVs. These passes are all offered on a first-come, first-serve basis.
- Vehicle Parking Pass (On-Site) - For around $140, you'll be assigned a parking space on the festival grounds.
- RV Parking Pass (On-Site) - If your vehicle is longer than eighteen feet and you want a parking space on the festival grounds, you'll need an RV parking pass, which costs around $450. Since space is limited, electric and water hookups aren't guaranteed.
- RV Annex Parking Pass (Off-Site) - If you have an oversized vehicle and want to park within easy walking distance to the fairgrounds, you might want to purchase an RV Annex Parking Pass. These cost around $160.
- Off-Site Camping - For around $40, you can park one regularly sized vehicle and camp at Camp Panorama in Quincy. The cost includes shuttle service to the festival grounds.
- Hotels - Camping is emphasized as part of the festival experience, but what if you don't want to camp? Perhaps you've bought a single-day pass that doesn't include camping. Perhaps you bought general admission tickets too late to gain access to on-site camping. If you're interested in staying in a hotel, you can search for lodgings and book them online.
At the festival, four stages feature fifty different performers, including late-night acts. Throughout the years, the stages have been lit up by luminaries like The Black Crowes, Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, Bruce Hornsby, Ani DiFranco, and My Morning Jacket. The Slip, an indie rock band with jazz and avant garde influences, holds records for the most performances at the festival, and the highest number of consecutive years as performers. The artists at the HSMF represent a tremendous range of progressive and funky music genres, including bluegrass, newgrass, jazz, jam band, roots rock, and afrobeat.
Highlights of 2016
Glide Magazine reports established performers and up-and-coming acts gave standout performances at the 2016 HSMF, which took place from June 30 to July 3. The Accidentals, a newer band, revved up the crowd with their blend of indie rock and progressive bluegrass. Fans soaked up a smooth Americana sound with the Jamestown Revival only to kick up their feet later to the music of JJ Grey & Mofro, which was filled with soul and funk. Grateful Dead fans found much to like in the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, and the Rhythm Council offered festival goers gritty, captivating music with a voodoo vibe. The festival closed with the Animal Liberation Orchestra (ALO), a jam band that shook tents with their heart-thumping sound.
Highlights of 2015
Fest300 describes the 2015 HSMF, held from July 2 to July 5, as having a "carnival vibe." The four days of the festival started out with gentle-spirited music in the morning, moved to improvisation and jamming in the afternoon, and wound up with funky music and plenty of bass in the evening to get people's feet moving. The Marchfourth! Marching Band, a horn ensemble with a serious beat, ramped up the carnival spirit of the festival with their unique brand of big brass funk. Another highlight was the John Butler Trio, whose frontman, John Butler, is described as a "guitar virtuoso." The Trio graced the crowd with an epic, twelve-minute guitar instrumental that got people on their feet despite the day's considerable warmth.
Highlights of 2014
Jambands refers to fans of the HSMF as "lifers," since they keep coming back year after year, not just for the great music but for the transcendent, cathartic experience that reminds them in their hearts who they truly are. At the 2014 festival, which took place from July 3 to July 6, fans danced until 3:45 in the morning to the hard-driving, alternative rock of the Mother Hips. STS9, a psychedelic instrumentalist band, made their debut in Northern California, and their new female bass player injected the band with extra energy. Lauryn Hill, a member of the Fugees, performed on one side of the fairgrounds while Greensky Bluegrass played covers of her band's songs on the other side.
People who attend the festival love the music, but they also revel in other aspects of the experience. The HSMF is celebrated by fans for its laid-back atmosphere and endless supply of enjoyable activities.
Good Food and Drink
When it comes to food and drink, the HSMF has got you covered. Whether you're a non-vegetarian, a vegetarian, or a vegan, you'll find plenty of tasty food to keep you fueled for fun. The festival also offers an excellent selection of refreshing drinks to quench your thirst and enliven your spirits.
- Food Choices - All kinds of food is available at the Food Court, and much of it is organic. You can choose from a variety of options to suit your mood. The vendor line-ups change each year, but in 2016, festival fans could chow down on granola from Asana Foods, munch on fried pickles from the Fabulous Frickle Brothers, and get their fill of oysters from Bill the Oysterman, to name only a few.
- Quench Cafe - Whether you want water, soda, tea, or juice, you'll find it all at the Quench Cafe. You can get filtered water for free, and ice is for sale to help cool you down in the heat of the day.
- Alcoholic Beverages - Wine, beer, and cocktails are also available at the festival. You'll find high-quality brews, including High Sierra FestivALE, created by Sierra Nevada especially for the festival. Wine aficionados will be pleased with the whites and reds on offer. If you're ready for a cocktail, you can choose from a Bloody Mary, a rum punch, a margarita, or other delectable delights.
Known far and wide for its family friendliness, the HSMF offers a myriad of engaging activities for kids of all ages. Families and children have their own spaces in which to hang out, including the Family Stage where they can participate in stage acts, the Art House where kids can work on art projects, and the Sing-Along Hut where kids can make their own music. In the Village Green, kids can play games. There's also a quiet rest area for families and breastfeeding moms called the Shady Chill Zone.
- Rockin' Nannies - The HSMF has a staff of childcare professionals who look after children while their parents enjoy some adult time. Each night, the Nannies throw a Rockin' Slumber Party, which features plenty of snacks and fun.
- Family Camp - The eastern portion of the Shady Grove Campground is kept particularly family friendly. If you'd like to camp there, make sure to tell your shuttle driver or parking attendant. To stay in Family Camp for the festival, you will need to purchase an on-site vehicle parking pass.
Other Fun Activities
It's impossible to become bored at the HSMF. While experiencing its great sounds, you can also discover plenty of wonderful things to see and do.
- Movement Classes are held throughout three of the festival days, including yoga, pilates, spinning, and hoopdance.
- Parades take place each day, and participants are encouraged to wear creative costumes, paint their faces, and carry something goofy, like a puppet or a flag. Parades begin at the Parade Booth.
- Silent Disco happens each night of the festival. Participants wear headphones and dance to disco music on their choice of three channels. Headphones cost $10 to rent and $60 to buy. If you like, you can disco all night.
- Fire Shows are held each midnight of the festival. Fire dancers accompanied by live music create a mesmerizing performance.
- Sunrise Kickball Games are an honored tradition at the HSMF. The ball gets rolling at 5:00 a.m., just as the last night owl music acts are completing their sets.
Pros and Cons
You'll find plenty of opinions about the festival, and the vast majority of them are overwhelmingly positive. The reviews share in common the perspective that the HSMF is much more than just a music festival. Rather, it's a way for fellow music fans to get together, have a great time, and rise above the daily grind for four glorious days.
- Carpe Travel praises the festival for its emphasis on family fun, stating it is "one of the best family-friendly music festivals." The festival provides plenty of shade for children and families, plus a full schedule of daily activities for kids. As Carpe Travel puts it, the music shows, puppet shows, and storytelling aimed at the kids can be so compelling their parents might actually forget to participate in the rest of the festival.
- Showbams raves about the good-hearted community spirit of the HSMF, saying that it's a crowd where being nice, kind, and polite to one another is contagious, where people look out for one another, and where they leave behind cell phones, rushing around, and chronic busyness. Of course, it doesn't hurt that attendees can camp in the immediate vicinity of the wonderful music.
- The Grateful Web gushes about how the festival scratches the "bohemian itch" of its fans for soul-stirring, funky music as well as for the power of laughter and creating fun things together, like art projects and handmade wooden signs to carry in the parades. When a survey was taken of festival regulars asking what they love about the experience, they spoke of the HSMF as "family" and "home."
- Glide Magazine, in its glowing review above of the 2016 HSMF, had only a small complaint that when the festival opened, there was a considerable rush as people strove to stake out just the right portion of land on which to pitch their tent. Things got pretty competitive since people sought campsites that would mitigate the summer heat. Once everyone got settled and the music started, things became cozy and cordial again.
A Magical Experience
Two of the most cited words in reviews of the HSMf are "blissful" and "magic," which crop up again and again, and for good reason: in a world filled with more and more hype, soundbytes, and commercialization, the HSMF has remained true to its spirit. The festival's quirky atmosphere of intimacy, sharing, caring, and fun captivates the hearts of its fans and keeps them coming back for more, year after year.