High Sierra Music Festival offers a unique experience that is a treat for the fans, and its musicians. Musicians have the opportunity to sit-in with each other during normal set times, but there are Artist Playshops organized by High Sierra that are “one-of-a-kind performances that you most likely will never get to see again,” said Dave Margulies, who directs the playshops. “I don’t know any other festivals that do this type of thing.”
The playshops all have a theme, and they are led by artists booked for the festival. Usually they are a combination of artists from different bands.
ALO’s Dan “Lebo” Lebowitz said the playshops are just as fun of an experience for the musicians as it is for the fans.
“In a way, it’s the heart of the festival,” he said.
Lebo will be hosting a playshop that builds off one he did last year. “Lebo’s High Sierra Ramble: 50 In The Rearview — Songs from 1969” will be performed Saturday afternoon at 1:30. The list of guests there include: his band ALO, Jay Lane, Reed Mathis, Reid Genauer, Jen Hartswick, Natalie Cressman and Jeremy Schon and more.
Lebo also plans to sit in at least four other playshops. He said he loves playing music with people and he’s always willing to play with anyone.
“The whole collaborative act to me is so fun because it’s inspiring,” he said. “You hear new stuff and it’s all happening in the moment — musicians in the moment, relying on their instincts.”
While High Sierra has three outdoor stages set up, the Artist Playshops take place in the High Sierra Music Hall, an indoor stage located about in the middle of the fairgrounds. Many people might have found it over the years as a place to get out of the sun and relax in the air-conditioned room, but now people can be more eager to see the playshops than bigger artists they may have seen before.
“They’ve become really anticipated by folks,” Margulies said. “People look forward to them every year. Now they’re really well attended and that place can be packed.”
Some of the playshops take specific themes, such as performing an entire album. Saturday afternoon at 3:30 is “Classic Album Hour: The Rolling Stones ‘Let It Bleed.’” Celebrating 50 years since the album’s release, Simon Kurth and Mescalito leads many other musicians from the festival through a live performance of the entire album. Other playshops focus on a band that made an impact in the music world, like Creedence Clearwater Revival. Cris Jacobs Band, a roots rock band, will pay tribute to them at 2 p.m. Friday.
Fans can participate in the first workshop each day. As participatory workshops, fans are invited you to grab their instruments and get on stage. A funk jam takes place Friday, Saturday is blues and Sunday is the music of the Grateful Dead.
Many people look forward to the final playshop, which has been a tradition at High Sierra since 2005: Guitarmageddon. On Sunday at 5:30 p.m., the final playshop is a tribute to Led Zeppelin. Guitarmageddon describes itself as “the soundtrack for the end of the world through wailing guitars.” Reno resident Steve Holzer said that is one he will be sure to attend.
“They have 10 guitar players on stage — ridiculously good guitar players,” he said. “I definitely look forward to that every year.”
Festivalgoers should choose which sets they want to see in the High Sierra Music Hall ahead of time. Margulies said they are well attended and can get packed. The one-of-a-kind sets are put together especially for the festival audience with musicians from the festival, and it’s difficult to get those people together to create a similar performance again, Margulies said.
“They get to see a killer set that they would never get to see anywhere else.”
To view the schedule and details of every Artist Playshop, visit highsierramusic.com/artist-playshops/