Scenes from the High Sierra Music Festival in Quincy, now in its 20th year. Photos by Ryan Salm

ASJ’s guide to the best music festivals in California

By Deb Bolt

Summertime brings images of sun- soaked meadows, sparkling riverbanks, and a thousand of your newest friends rocking in unison to scintillating live music. Here are some of the classics.

The Greenest
Harmony Festival, June 10-12
Sonoma County Fairgrounds

The Harmony Festival is about as green as it gets. For the past 32 years, Harmony has been celebrating ecology, health, art and spirituality like no other. In the last ve years, it has become a major music festival attracting the likes of Michael Franti & Spearhead, G. Love & Special Sauce, and Railroad Earth. When you are not dancing you can take a break at the Health and Harmony Village. There you will find three outdoor stages hosting panel speakers, discussions, and workshops for all your eco-groovy needs. Speakers include: Bonnie Reiss, Brock Dolman, Mike Farrell, Teresa Rousseau, John & Ocean Robbins, Mariel Hemingway & Bobby Williams, Woody Hastings. Artist highlights: Primus, The Flaming Lips, Michael Franti & Spearhead, G. Love and Special Sauce, Railroad Earth, Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, SOJA, Ghostland Observatory, and more.

The Most Memorable
Kate Wolf Music Festival, June 24-26
Laytonville •

Set in the beautiful backdrop of Black Oak Ranch, three hours north of San Francisco, the Kate Wolf Memorial Music Festival started as a one-time commemoration for friends, family and supporters in 1996. Now, 16 years later, the festival has grown into a three-day, three-night camping shindig. Sitting under those black oaks, feeling the slight breeze on your face, watching the rambling creek, and swaying to the folksy tunes, one might think they have joined Kate “across the great divide.” Artist highlights: TajMahal, Ruthie Foster, David Bromberg, Angel Band, Hot Buttered Rum, Los Lobos, Mavis Staples, Poor Man’s Whiskey, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, The Wailin’ Jennys, Rosalie Sorrels, Corinne West & Kelly Joe Phelps, Todd Snider with Great American Taxi.

The Biggest
High Sierra Music Festival, June 30–July 3

Quincy •

Held in the northern Sierra at the Plumas-Sierra County Fairgrounds in Quincy, be sure to bring your tarps and shade structure for Big Meadow tent town. Now in its 20th year, 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. You won’t be able to hear all the music this festival has to offer. Beyond music, there are workshops and parades by performers, craft and food vendors, all in the vicinity of a quaint mountain town with access to swimming holes, and trails to bike and hike. Artist highlights: Ween, Neko Case, Warren Haynes Band, Yonder Mountain String Band, Maceo Parker, ALO, Beats Antique, Dumpstaphunk, Rebirth Brass Band, The Travelin’ McCourys, Ruthie Foster, March Fourth Marching Band, Pimps of Joytime, Emancipator, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, The Brothers Comatose, Skerik, Josh Clark, Audio Angel.

High Sierra Music Festival by Ryan Salm

Most Likely to Make You Earn Your Beer
Mammoth Blue Sky Fest, July 8–10
Mammoth •

A three-day mountains, music, and adventure fest, highlighting outdoor activities, tasty food, beer, wine, and great tunes. All the adventure activities are free, including: yoga, kayaking, guided hikes, mountain bike and road bike rides. They also offer healthy cooking and wine demonstrations, included 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. So not only will you earn your beer on Friday, but you pay it forward on Saturday. Artist highlights: The Brothers Comatos, Poor Man’s Poison, City Folk, Strunz and Farah, Vance Gilbert, Tito Puente Jr.

The Most Jamming
Reggae on the River, July 16-17
Humboldt •

Held at Benbow Lake in Garberville, with access to the magnificent Eel River and surrounded by old-growth coast redwoods, this festival attracts people from all over the globe to share a weekend of reggae and world music. Don’t forget your swimsuit and sunscreen. Artist highlights: Ky-Mani Marley, Gramps Morgan, Seun Anikulapo Kuti & Egypt 80, J Boog, Tony Rebel, Queen Ifrica, Bushman, Gondwana, Rootz Underground.

The Most Flexible
Wanderlust, July 28-31
Squaw Valley

Wanderlust returns to Squaw Valley this summer, bringing together an intriguing mix of music and yoga in a breathtaking setting. With views of Lake Tahoe and a host of on-site activities from hiking Shirley Canyon to lounging at the High Camp Swimming Lagoon and Spa, there’s plenty to occupy your time amid the music and yoga classes. Music performers include Michael Franti and Spearhead, The Wailers and Girl Talk, among others.

The Bluesiest/Brewsiest
Bluesapalooza/Mammoth Festival of Beers, Aug. 5-7

Mammoth Lakes

A sudsy combination of blues and brews set in the spectacular Eastern Sierra, showcasing some of the best microbreweries in the West (nearly 50 in all) and the top blues performers, this is Mammoth’s biggest event and party of the summer. Headlining the “Blues and Brews” weekend this year is none other than Blues Traveler. What could be better than listening to John Popper’s frenetic harmonica-laced tunes with a high-altitude beer buzz? But it doesn’t end there. Other headliners include Robert Cray, Walter Trout and Ivan Neville’s Dumstaphunk. Now in its 15th year, this festival has really hit its stride.

The Foodie-est
SF Outside Lands, August 12 – 14
Golden Gate Park, SF •

With a list of participating Bay Area restaurants a mile long, offering everything from BBQ oysters, Hawaiian poke, and pulled pork sandwiches to Indian vegetarian and vegan raw foods, this is by far the best tasting music festival around. There will also be wine tasting at this year’s event with fermented grapes from no less than 25 different vineyards. And the music is exceptional too. Artist highlights: Muse, Phish, The Black Keys, The Original Meters, Erykah Badu, The Roots, John Fogerty, The Shins, MGMT, Girl Talk, The Decemberists, STS9, The Greyboy Allstars.

High Sierra Music Festival by Ryan Salm

The Funkiest
10th Annual Brew, Jazz and Funk Fest, August 13–14
Squaw Valley •

Is there anything better than enjoying some great music and a cold beer in a serene mountain setting? Umm … nope. So get your funk on 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: Leo Nocetelli “The Meters Experience” featuring Bill “The Buddha” Dickens, Steve Kimock and Friends, Monophonics, Papa Grow Funk, Mike Mannigan’s Big Organ Trio, Todd Snider Quartet, and Eric Lindell.

The Most Family Friendly
Strawberry Music Festival, Sept. 1-3
Camp Mather, Yosemite

The Strawberry Music Festival takes place twice a year on Memorial and Labor Day weekends. 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: Preservation Hall Jazz Band, David Grisman, Dumpstaphunk, California Honeydrops, The Wailin’ Jennys and more to come.

The Cheapest
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, Sept. 30 – Oct. 2
Golden Gate Park, SF •

This free festival supplies festivarians with the best bluegrass money has to offer, with past performers the likes of Steve Earle, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Rosanne Cash, David Grisman, Joan Baez, Patty Griffin, Gillian Welch, and Robert Earl Keen, you get way more than you pay for. In the past 10 years HSBG has expanded, offering six stages with over 80 musicians to choose from, and is well worth maneuvering the swarming crowds. Artist highlights: Check the website for 2011 headliners TBA.

Other Upcoming Music Festivals

•    Beanstock Crescent City, June 3 – 5 — Two music stages with over 30 musical acts, art, hemp fashion show, green energy workshops and speakers.

•    OC Music Festival Irvine Lake, Silverado, June 3 – 5 — Three days and two nights of camping and sunshine at Orange County’s last great wilderness.

Indie West Fest, Ventura Ventura County Fairgrounds, June 4 — Thirty bands, four stages. This event is a national showcase for Independent Artists with over 100 vendors.

•    California WorldFest Grass Valley, July 14-15 — 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. 18- 20 — A three-day rock icon explosion, with this year’s tribute event honoring Motley Crew.

•    Burning Man Black Rock Desert, NV, Aug. 29-Sept. 5 — 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, know as The Playa, for one week a city is built.

•    Roots & Rhythms Summer Festival Lebanon, OR, 9/9-10 — Two day fine art and wine festival featuring Oregon wineries and music honoring entertainers who have made significant contributions to American Music.

•    Monterey Jazz Festival Monterey, Sept. 16-18 — Over 500 artists, on 8 stages for 3 nights and 2 days. Now in its 54th year, this is a star-studded jazz spectacular.

Joshua Tree Roots Music Festival Joshua Tree, Oct. 18-9 — Joshua Tree campground Info: A rootsicana folkadelic newgrassy experience in the magical Mojave.

Upcoming Beer Festivals

•    4 — 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.

•    11 — Truckee Brew Fest, Truckee — The sixth annual 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 the Dead Winter Carpenters.

•    11 — 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.

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

•   12 — Beer Flag Microbrew Fest, Sonoma — The afternoon will feature an abundance of microbrew tasting and a re-enactment of the Bear Flag Revolt, along with food, art and music.

25 — Bell Tower Brewfest, Placerville — This popular Placerville event will be hosted again by downtown merchants and will feature a sampling of over 40 different craft microbrews and live music.

•    2 — Santa Cruz Hop-n-Barley Fest, Scotts Valley — This afternoon event benefiting the Community Housing Land trust of Santa Cruz will feature 5 local Santa Cruz breweries and more.

•    2 — Beerfest & Bluegrass, Northstar Village — It’s hard to argue with this combination, especially when it’ll be Norsthar-at-Tahoe’s mountain village. A good event if you’re in the Tahoe area over the Fourth of July weekend.

•    16 — California Beer Festival, Aptos — With over 60 craft brews on tap, four live bands, mouth watering food and bocce ball. This is the event of the year for any beer enthusiast!

•   22-24 America’s Finest Beer Festival, San Diego — With over 120 craft breweries scheduled to be in attendance, you may sample some of the finest beers and ales around.