Woollystar Music Festival returns for the second year

Andy Fahlander and Avery Hellman perform at Woollystar Music Festival 
Photo special to The R-C by Susan Korngold

Andy Fahlander and Avery Hellman perform at Woollystar Music Festival Photo special to The R-C by Susan Korngold

They found a spot where a gentle breeze blows through the Jeffrey pines and the snowflakes fall like soft feather down. It is an exceptional place, and the land itself called to them. Some might even venture that it is the most perfect piece of property in Alpine County, and that is saying a lot. When you enter the wild lands in the smallest county in California, it is like finding a little section of heaven that has dropped itself to earth and grown roots.

For musicians Avery Hellman and Andrew Allen-Fahlander, their lives together have been a series of improvisations, all with wonderful results. 2023 marks the second year of hosting the Woollystar Music Festival.

“Music connects us with the larger part of the world,” says Avery. “This event is intended to be a shared experience of the countryside and the music.”

Her grandfather was the man behind the legendary “Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival,” an annual free and noncommercial music festival held in Golden Gate Park. She was raised spending every year there, giving her an ongoing living, breathing immersion in blue grass. When her grandfather passed away in 2011, Avery picked up his visionary outlook, added her own unique take on it, and relocated it here. Like her grandfather, making this happen is part of giving back to the community by creating an experience that can only be found in Alpine County.

Because of her love of the Eastern Sierra, she chose Woollystar as the festival’s namesake. It is a remarkably beautiful perennial herb from the phlox family. It is not ordinary in any way, just like their gathering. The Woollystar Festival is a weekend of live music, film, and camping.

“It takes commitment,” she said. “It might not take right off, but it is worth it. It is never meant to be a huge event, but rather a welcoming, more intimate mix with no more than 300 people attending.”

She studied environmental science at UC Berkeley which gave her an understanding of sustainable ranching and how to manage rangeland.

There will always be a connection to her family ranch in Petaluma where they run sheep and cattle, have chickens and a huge vegetable garden. A couple of years ago they had orphan quadruplets they worked hard to keep alive.

“I have such a deep appreciation and respect for the lives of farmers and ranchers.” Avery said. It is a life of total commitment, and it is a lifestyle that she has adopted herself, along with the work ethic.

She has Mustangs and spends time riding and exploring in the mountains, along with trail running. She dabbles in graphic design, but at the core of all she is, that is where her music burns the brightest. She has spent the last 10 years as a professional sing-er songwriter sharing her sublime voice throughout the West.

Andy does some mighty fine pickin’ on guitar and mandolin, and Avery adds the richness of her other-worldly vocals to let you experience the celestial sphere. Her songs are floating, yet down-to-earth, made of the divine, yet accessible and real.

Their band is called Ismay, after a tiny town with a population of around 19 people in Montana. It is an amalgamation of Isabella and May, and they will also be playing at the festival. After their Alpine Ranch, they became the new owners of the General Store. They have produced two records that are available there, as are tickets for the event.

They took the time they spent hunkered down during the pandemic to build a stage, milling the trees directly from their property. “That period of time turned out to be a real gift.” Avery ob-served, “It gave us a chance to nurture our creativity, break out of the mold, and become what we want to be.”

This year, Markleeville’s Out West Cafe will be serving meat and vegetarian tacos. The bar will be run by the Alpine Watershed Group on one night to support their non-profit, and the Cutthroat Brewing Company will be serving the other night. The dates are June 16- 18. When you purchase tickets, you will be given directions to the venue.

Go to the Woollystar website for more details and to purchase tickets. In addition to Ismay, the folk, alternative/indie, and singer-songwriter line-up includes The Brothers Comatose, Margo Cilker, Quiensave, Los Cenzontles, The Live Oakes, Jenner Fox, Wreckless Strangers, and Agouti.

“The place we live transforms us and defines who we are,” says Avery.


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