Photo: High Sierra Music Festival

Madre of west coast festivals

Before Coachella, before Outside Lands, before Electric Daisy Carnival—there was High Sierra Music Festival. 2019 marks the twenty-ninth edition of High Sierra. Outliving some of the early North American festivals of the 90s and persevering through the commercialized festival onslaught of the 2000s without selling out to anyone, High Sierra Music Festival still provides the same environment to fans and musicians as they have for almost three decades now.  This year’s festival once again provides a genre-spanning lineup for even the most discerning live music fan. Indie Rock, Bluegrass, Dance, Electronic, Funk, Folk, you name it; High Sierra’s lineup has A-team, world-class examples from each genre ready to take the stage in Quincy, CA.

Do it together

Collaboration has always been a primary focus for High Sierra.  Each year, the festival finds new ways to encourage once-in-a-lifetime jams and sit-ins, often having artists play multiple sets over multiple days to encourage interaction and hang time with each other—something that most bands agree doesn’t happen as often as you’d think. In addition to spontaneous sit-ins happening throughout the entire festival, from the main stage to smaller late-night venues, HSMF always makes it a point to put new groups of musicians together each year, usually in the air-conditioned High Sierra Music Hall, to play each other’s tunes, improvise, and generally have a good time on-stage in front of an always-welcoming festival audience.

Location, location, location

Nestled on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada, Quincy, CA, started as a Gold Rush community in 1858. With a year-round population of fewer than 2,000 people, Quincy has remained quaint.  Festival-goers should most certainly stop anywhere along Main Street and take in the easily-walkable entertainment district. A bookstore and an outdoor equipment outfitter—in case you forgot your jacket—are sprinkled among locally-owned eateries and pubs. Small-town Quincy now has their own brewery. Quintopia Brewing Company is open Wednesday through Sunday, so make sure to arrive a day early to take in a few beers and their choose-your-own-toppings loaded fries.

Immersive camping

High Sierra Music Festival is one of the only festivals that allow campers to set up shop right on the fringe of some of the festival’s biggest stages. If all-day all-night music is what you’re into, try to get a spot in the Big Meadow camping area. This area encircles the “Big Meadow” and front-row camping sites offer a direct view of the Big Meadow Stage, allowing the ultimate tailgating experience to take place. With a quick walk through the Big Meadow camping area, you’ll find all manners of community, cookouts, reunions of festival-friends, and general revelry all the way through Monday morning. 

Skip the lines

High Sierra knows the importance of having some breathing (or hula-hooping) room. With attendance purposefully kept under 10,000 each year, HSFM is a festival unlike most of its peers. Fans get to see the same caliber of music that they would at a 50,000+ festival without having to wait in those heinous bathroom lines. The small-town atmosphere of High Sierra starts on day one. Thursday you’ll start to see familiar faces around the festival grounds, but by the time Sunday evening rolls around, neighbors will have become lifelong friends.

Something for the family

For being a destination festival, High Sierra sure knows how to cater to kids.  From a family camping area that provides a more quiet, kid-friendly environment to the “Rockin’ Nannies”, a group of highly qualified educators, professionals, and child-care providers who host the Rockin’ Slumber Party each night from 8pm to 4am each night, parents can keep their kiddos happy and entertained even when it’s late-night “adult time.” Rates and reservations can be found at the Rockin’ Nannies booth across from the family village where the Nannies will have a meet and greet from 4 to 6pm on Thursday. There’s also a dedicated family stage which hosts magicians, puppet shows, and kid-friendly music all weekend long.

Play dress up

High Sierra Music Festival has a yearly tradition of themed costume nights. Announced well in advance of festival-time so fans can have time to prepare their sometimes-elaborate, always-hilarious attire, these costume nights are taken more and more seriously each year, but even minimum-effort attempts are met with equal enthusiasm. Past themes have included a “Whimsical Woodland Wingding”, “Rainbows and Unicorns,” and “The Fancy Pants Dance.”

Make the journey part of the destination

For those music fans driving in from San Francisco, Chico, or practically anywhere west of the festival, a truly epic journey to the festival grounds awaits. From the time that highway 70 turns West around Wicks Corner, CA, the drive to High Sierra Music Festival turns into a nearly two-hour trip down one of the most picturesque roads Northern California has to offer. Following the Feather River, 70 twists and turns its way through the river gorge, crossing over and under century-old train tressels, tunnels, and the river itself before leveling out again on your way down into Quincy. Any drivers who might wish to avoid the semi-race-track nature of the river gorge drive or anyone arriving from the east (Reno-Tahoe International is the closest large airport), the eastern portion of highway 70 into Quincy is a bit more docile and certainly more RV friendly if you’ve chosen to go that route.

They have a pool!

Many High Sierra Music Festival attendees cite the Pioneer Pool as their favorite non-music attraction of the festival. Just a block away and a short walk from the festival site, Pioneer Pool is the largest public swimming pool in Plumas County and a great place for a refreshing swim. The capacity of the pool is limited, so please be considerate if others are waiting. There are fees to swim and use the showers. Please bring cash—rates are posted at the pool.

Learn more about High Sierra Music Festival at

Photo: Travis Souza

Photo: Travis Souza

Photo: High Sierra Music Festival

Photo: Stuart Levine

Photo: David Hammond Brown

Photo: High Sierra Music Festival

Photo: Benjamin Wallen