ASJ’s guide to the best music festivals in California

Photo: Kadri Kurgun. Courtesy of Wanderlust

With summer comes sun, music and festivals of all kinds. So grab your friends, your favorite coozie, don’t forget the sunscreen, and check out some of the highlights below:

The Most Memorable
Kate Wolf Music Festival, June 29 – July1

Laytonville •
Three hours north of San Francisco, tucked in the trees of Black Oak Ranch is the Kate Wolf Memorial Music Festival. It began as a small tribute concert in 1996 for friends, family and supporters. Now, 17 years later, the festival has become a full-fledged three-day, three-night camping jamboree with a tremendous lineup. Enjoy the rambling creek, the swaying oaks, and the folksy tunes on the wind, and send Kate a big ol’ smile “across the great divide.” Artist highlights: Lucinda Williams, Richard Thompson, Poor Man’s Whiskey, Ruthie Foster, Leftover Salmon, The Brothers Comatose,
k.d. lang and the Siss Boom Bang.

The Biggest
High Sierra Music Festival, July 5-8

Quincy •
Located amid the sunshine and big pines of the Plumas-Sierra County Fairgrounds in Quincy, High Sierra is the 22-year-old king of California music festivals. Like a cross between the family friendly Strawberry Music Festival and Burning Man, High Sierra is a four-day parade of self-expression and great bands. Bring plenty of tarps and pop-ups to stay cool in Big Meadow Tent Town as the sunshine beams and the days are long. High Sierra has more than 50 performers per day on four stages and late-night venues, featuring jam bands, bluegrass, newgrass, jazz, funk, electronica, and world beats. Don’t worry: You can’t possibly hear it all. Beyond music, there are workshops, activities, crafts and food vendors. And if you need to get away from the music for a bit, this sweet mountain town has access to swimming holes, and trails to bike and hike. Artist highlights: Ben Harper, STS9, Railroad Earth, Galactic, Toots and the Maytals, The Devil Makes Three, March Fourth Marching Band.

Most Likely to Feed Your Adventure Bug
Mammoth Blue Sky Fest, TBA

Mammoth •
Set in the spectacular Eastern Sierra, the fourth-annual Blue Sky Fest is a three-day mountain, music, and adventure festival, highlighting outdoor activities, tasty food, beer and wine, and of course great tunes. All the adventure activities are free, including guided mountain bike rides, road bike rides, rock climbing clinics, kayaking and paddleboarding demos, fly fishing clinics, and outdoor yoga sessions. They also offer healthy cooking demonstrations and wine seminars with your festival ticket. On Friday night, you’ll enjoy the Beer Makers Ball — a barbeque, bonfire and bluegrass blowout. Saturday night’s event, the Blue Sky Benefit, features a cooking competition paired with wine tasting from 15 wineries, and a raffle and auction to support two local non-profits.

The Most Jammin’
Reggae on the River, July 21-22

Humboldt •
Get ready for a weekend of the best reggae and world music the globe has to offer, with almost 30 artists on two stages, more than 80 vendors, and a lively kids’ zone at the 28th annual Reggae on the River festival at Benbow Lake Recreation Area in Humboldt County. Located on the banks of the beautiful Eel River and surrounded by old-growth coast redwoods, you’ll be feeling “One Love.” Don’t forget your swimsuit and floaties. Artist highlights: Toots and the Maytals, Pato Banton & The Now Generation, Tosh Meets Marley, Midnite, Lady Saw, Calypso Rose, Romain Virgo, The Lions.

The Most Flexible
Wanderlust, July 26-29 • Squaw Valley
Set in the granite grandeur of Squaw Valley, Wanderlust brings together an inspirational mix of music, yoga, meditation, healing, art, theater, and outdoor activities. With a core purpose to create community and wellbeing there’s enough here to stimulate your mind, body and soul. Artist highlights (music): Ziggy Marley, Shpongle Presents the Masquerade, Beats Antique, Krishna Das; (yoga and talks) Seane Corn, Shiva Rea, Baron Baptiste, Wayne Dyer.

The Bluesiest/Brewsiest
Bluesapalooza/Mammoth Festival of Beers, Aug. 3-5 • Mammoth Lakes
Soak up some high-altitude sunshine — as well as the country’s best craft brews and top blues performers — amid the high peak splendor of Mammoth. Bluesapalooza is a bubbly combination of blues and brews. Now in its 17th year, it’s Mammoth’s biggest party of the summer, highlighting some of the best microbreweries in the West and the top blues performers in the world. Artist highlights: Leon Russell, Johnny Winter Band, Bettye LaVette, Edgar Winter Group, Charlie Musselwhite, Joe Louis Walker, Robben Ford & The Ford Blues Band.

The Foodie-est
SF Outside Lands, August 10-12

Golden Gate Park, SF •
With a list of contributing Bay Area restaurants long enough to drool over, this is by far the best tasting music festival around. Your taste buds will be overwhelmed with choices from empanadas to Louisiana hot links, pulled pork sandwiches to Malaysian chicken rending, flatbread pizza to Korean tacos. Also, remember to check out Wine Lands for fine fermented grape juice from dozens of wineries. Oh wait, and the music is big-time impressive and just as diverse. Artist highlights: Metallica, Stevie Wonder, Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Jack White, Foo Fighters, Beck, Norah Jones.

The Funkiest
Brew, Jazz and Funk Fest, August 11-12

Squaw Valley •
Have a brew to benefit a pet and get your funk on … Who could say no? So get your dancin’ shoes on, grab a cold one and enjoy the stunning mountain setting at one of the best fests of the summer that also benefits the Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe. And to top off your funk fest, they also have a ropes course, a climbing wall, a disc golf course, and a kids zip line. Artist highlights: TBA

The Most Family Friendly
Strawberry Music Festival, Aug. 30 – Sept.3

Camp Mather, Yosemite •
Held in beautiful Camp Mather, bordering Yosemite National Park, with 350 acres of pines and meadows, festivarians can take advantage of all the delights this area offers: swimming, hiking, biking and the best camping of any music venue in the West. The festival has a wide range of musical acts on the main stage, performer workshops, food and art vendors, and an extensive children’s program at the Birch Lake stage. But wait, the best music often comes from the spontaneous camp jams that take place every night after the main stage acts finish. So get on Strawberry time, embrace the Strawberry way and take a Strawberry stroll. Artist highlights: John Hiatt & the Combo, k.d. lang and the Siss Boom Bang, O’Brien
Party of 7, Jimmy LaFave, Greensky Bluegrass, Marley’s Ghost.

The Most Swingin’
Monterey Jazz Festival, Sept. 21-23

Monterey Fair Grounds •
Over 500 artists on eight stages for three nights and two days. Now in its 55th year, this renowned festival is a star-studded jazz spectacular. Jazz, funk, rock and soul legends have graced this festival for decades, and this year will be no different. Artist highlights: Tony Bennette, Esperanza Spalding, Trombone Shorty, Pat Metheny. Dee Dee Bridgewater, Christian McBride, Bill Frisell, Eddie Palmieri, Tammy Brown, Gregory Porter.

The Cheapest
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, Oct. 5-7

Golden Gate Park, SF •
This free festival supplies the best bluegrass money cannot buy. With past performers the likes of Steve Earle, Old Crow Medicine Show, Emmylou Harris, Rosanne Cash, David Grisman, Joan Baez, Patty Griffin, Gillian Welch, and Robert Earl Keen, you get way more than you pay for. Thanks Warren Hellman! The festival, an enduring gift from Hellman, will go on despite his passing last year. HSBG offers six stages with over 80 musicians to choose from and is well worth maneuvering the swarming crowds. Artist highlights: Check the website for 2012 headliners TBA.


Other Upcoming Music Festivals

OC Music Festival Irvine Lake, Silverado, CA, July 14-15 — Three days and two nights of camping and sunshine at Orange County’s Lake Irvine.

Indie West Fest, Ventura Ventura County Fairgrounds, July 26-29 — Thirty bands, four stages. This event is a national showcase for Independent Artists with over 100 vendors.

California WorldFest Grass Valley, July 12-15 — Features eight stages of music and dance from around the world, camping, workshops, international food, fine crafts, and a renowned children’s program.

Sunset Strip Festival Los Angeles, Aug. 16-18 — A three-day rock icon explosion, with this year’s tribute event honoring Motley Crew.

Burning Man Black Rock Desert, NV, Aug. 27-Sept. 3 — A week-long extravaganza and spontaneous community experiment, there is no way to describe this event. 120 miles north of Reno on an ancient lakebed, known as The Playa, for one week a city is built.

Joshua Tree Roots Music Festival Joshua Tree, Oct. 12-14 — A rootsicana folkadelic newgrassy experience in the magical Mojave desert.


Craft Beer Festivals


2 — Beerfest, Santa Rosa — A festive microbrew and food tasting event with more than 40 of Northern California’s best microbreweries and gourmet food and music.

2 — Zoo Brew, Santa Barbara — Tastings from a whole herd of breweries from the Central Coast region and beyond at the Santa Barbara Zoo. Ticket price includes zoo admission, a commemorative tasting glass, and unlimited tastings from participating brewers.

9 — Truckee Brew Fest, Truckee — The 7th annual Truckee Brew Fest at Truckee Regional Park goes from 1-5 p.m. Tickets are $25 ahead of time, $30 day of the event, and includes a tasting glass. Live music by Drop Theory.

9 — Monterey Beer Fest, Monterey — The greatest assortment of beer ever assembled on the Central Coast. Sample varied styles of ales, lagers and ciders from over 80 breweries with hundreds of beers to taste. Tickets: $40 main, $60 VIP.

30 — Santa Cruz Hop-n-Barley Fest, Scotts Valley — This afternoon event benefiting the Community Housing Land trust of Santa Cruz County will feature more than 25 breweries, plus local bands and some of the best food in town.


14 — Beerfest & Bluegrass, Northstar Village — It’s hard to argue with this combination, especially when it’ll be at Norsthar-at-Tahoe’s mountain village. Featuring Sweetwater String Band and Grant Farm.

26-29 — Oregon Brewers Fest, Portland, OR — Planning a trip to the Pacific Northwest? This is an exciting opportunity to sample and learn about a variety of craft beer styles from across the country. Eighty craft breweries from all parts of the nation offer handcrafted brews to 78,000 beer lovers during the four-day event.

28 — California Beer Festival, Aptos — With over 70 craft brews on tap, four live bands, and mouth-watering food at beautiful Aptos Village Park, this is one of the best festivals of the year for craft brewing lovers!