If you live in California, or if you’re planning on venturing to California, and you’ll be in the Bay Area, you need to check out the Lagunitas Brewery in Petaluma. I hear the beer is excellent, although they refuse to make me a gluten free Jam in the Van Ale (to date), so I can’t vouch for the taste. I can however vouch for the people, and they are one of a kind.
Perhaps their positive nature is a result of being around booze all day. It keeps them in good spirits (yup, did that). I could imagine them getting off shift, running dry, and being grumpy at home. No, actually, I couldn’t imagine these folks running dry. They have beer coming out of their ears. The real explanation is that Lagunitas has a knack for hiring high caliber individuals, who, in my experience, all are gifted in the art of brightening one’s day. I dig them a lot. So when we get the chance to film at the brewery, we jump at it.
For this run around we collaborated with our friends at Ploom, creators of the PAX device. They too are good at making people smile, they just load their tool with a different type of hops.
We arrived at the brewery early in the afternoon and put up all of our bells and whistles. Spud took his customary seat on the couch and Lagunitas even gave us an extra couch so that everyone else could sit. It was their signature “Couch Trippin” couch and it is quite possibly dingier than the couch that I’ve been begging my roommate to get rid of for the better part of the last two years. The Lagunitas one has a bit more character to it though. It’s been more places, seen more things, had less dudes fart on it… maybe not the last one.
Couches aside, we were there to film some music. First into the machine was Alice Drinks the Kool-Aid. Kool-Aid in this case is beer. Alice must have been some broad from back in the day who knew the band’s front man, Tony Magee, who just happens to be the creator of Lagunitas. He prefers the title “Imperial Warloard” of Lagunitas. Whatever moniker he wants to go by we’re cool to give to him. I’ve now typed this sentence about ten times in the last year, but he is allowed to jam in our van any time he likes. Without him we might still be sitting in my backyard in Venice, CA both literally and figuratively.
So Alice Drinks the Kool-Aid got to jam. It was the first run for our newest addition to the team, Ethan. He’s our new sound engineer and also doubles as a mechanic. He’s very much not a dick, which this go around was one of the main criteria we had in finding a new man to stand behind our Presonus sound board. The mechanic thing was pretty big too, given how many hours we’ve spent on the side of the road pretending like Spud has even a hint of an idea as to how to diagnose engine problems.
Working as the Van’s resident sound guru is not necessarily the easiest of tasks. There’s a learning curve and getting thrown directly into the fire will tend to start you off with a few burns until your skin calluses. So our boy Ethan, bless his heart, got burned on the first go around. We told him this guy Tony, he’s kind of a big deal around these parts, don’t mess it up. That probably didn’t help the situation and Ethan frantically fidgeted about the van trying to figure out how to get everything to work properly. Unfortunately the vocal monitors were not cooperating with him that day and Tony was forced to sing his session without hearing what his voice was sounding like. On top of that we couldn’t hear it outside of the van because our monitors weren’t going. None of that was super awesome, but we (by we I mean Ethan) learned from our mistakes.
The next couple sessions and interviews went off without a hitch. The Wood Brothers who were headlining the Lagunitas Amphitheater that evening gave us three songs in the van and an interview in the Lagunitas Loft. That’s their breakroom. It’s basically a bar with a shuffle board table, foosball and a bunch of funny books and trinkets lying around. It’s pretty rad. Spud of course did the interview. He’s pretty much a celebrity at Lagunitas by now, and he acts as such. I don’t really know what a good analogy in nature is for this scenario, but there’s got to be some kind of animal comparison to a black man being surrounded by a bunch of a white women. It’s not quite hens around a rooster, not that these women weren’t hens, but a rooster isn’t necessarily any color per-se, oh well, you get the point. They all want to hear his stories and he’s more than happy to oblige in that.
After wrapping The Wood Brothers session we took in their set on the Lagunitas amphitheater stage and then joined them along with our Lagunitas pals and surprise guest Allen Stone in the loft for a little suare. Again, this was mostly Spud entertaining white women until he and Allen Stone locked eyes and proceeded to confess their superior love for each other. Meaning Spud basically would say “oh Allen you’re so great, you’re the best,” then Allen would say “no Spud, you’re the great one, you’re the best,” and it went on like that, back and forth, for quite some time with intermittent mumblings of drunken conversations between myself and others and those two individuals, until the crowd finally had sullen themselves with lager far too deep into the night and took steps towards their Petaluma homes. Our home for the evening being a hotel down the street. Mr. Stone would be met again along that same midnight stroll in route to the same dwelling as us. Upon the encounter he was offered a half-eaten 7-11 pizza from none other than the Perfect Hippie and upon receiving the gift Allen refused to let the Hippie leave his presence without returning something in barter. The agreed upon item was settled to be an equally half eaten bag of mini-carrots that Allen had been carrying with him. He on his way towards more reverie, the Hippie to bed. This tale no doubt remains in the forefront of the latter’s mind, while the former most certainly remembers a mere nothing of the entire night in question.
The following day found most of us a tid-bit rusty from our night in the loft, save of course for myself who can’t dally in wheat based fermented beverages due to the abundance of gluten in their chemical makeup. Nobody it seemed was in worse shape than Allen Stone who was certainly feeling way under the weather. Evidence is inconclusive as to the cause of his aliments, although strong signs point to early morning 7-11 pizza. At any rate, he put us on alert to that, as he was scheduled to perform at the amphitheater later in the evening and was supposed to return to the Jam Van for his third session. However that was starting to look a bit bleak as the day wore on. It got downright grim when the United States’ Mens Soccer Team failed to advanc in the knockout round of the World Cup. I watched it in the Tap Room across the bar from Allen Stone, and when Belgium tucked away a second goal to make the score 2-0, the look on his face was certainly not one that screamed “I’m ready to Jam in the Van!” No worries though, we’ve gotten plenty of jams from Mr. Stone, and there will always be a next time and there will always be more music to fill the holes if there should ever be a hole.
Band one for the day was a local San Francisco group turned on to us by our friends at Ploom who touted their recent major lable inking as evidence that they were indeed a high quality sound experience. Having now viewed them up close and personal we can agree with this assessment of the group Finish Ticket.
Allen Stone may not have jammed with us that day, but he did give Spud something to check off of his bucket list when he sat down in Cuz’s corner for what might have been Spud’s most highly anticipated interview ever. Spudnik’s been wanting to talk to Allen on camera for as long as he’s known him, and now his wish had come true. Perhaps this was a journalistic masterpiece, who am I to judge. What I can say is that the bro-bonding-fest that had begun in the loft the night before certainly continued into Cuz’s Corner, and neither came out of there knowing which one was truly more fond of the other, but Allen did get a lot of Ploom devices for himself and his band.
Fortunately, Allen was able to rest up and recover in time for his performance in the amphitheater that evening. to see him go from sluggish and bummed out to an enigma of energy on the stage like that was impressive. The guy is a hell of a showman and a hell of a musician.
Again, the evening carried into the loft after the show. There it was pointed out to myself that not all folks present the last couple of days were in awe of Mr. Spudnik. There was as it were one individual who apparently took offense to our PA speakers being present during the live-show-soundcheck, and took it upon himself to unplug them. It’s a no-brainer that Spud wouldn’t be down with that brash action. So apparently, and understandably, Spud responded with a minor gesture of bravado directed at the perp. This guy turned out to be an enourmous priss about that situation and he had a conniption. It was pretty funny, I was pretty fuzzy on the entire situation, and when the drama was brought to my attention I just wanted it to be brought away from my attention.
In the end I was persuaded to apologize to this dude for Spud checking him for touching our stuff. During my apology this fella decided to start answering text messages in front of me. I explained to his girlfriend who was mediating the situation that things would go south if he persisted with being a tool. She told him to stop, he did, sort of. Then, having said my piece, I washed my hands of it.
Mind you I contemplated recanting that nugget of the story, I didn’t want to bumb my Lagunitas buddies out with rehashing that noise. The thing is, I regret apologizing for something that I was unapologetic about. Mail it in or not, I shouldn’t have done it at all. So I’m using this space to take back that apology. If he wants to come talk about it some more he can email me at Jake@JamintheVan.com. I’m happy to forward him my address so that he can come over to Venice and have his dreadlocks adjusted.
That pretty much ended my night. I went back to the hotel and crashed. In the morning we made a food run in a borrowed car and upon returning found a girl and her mother waiting with her luggage at her feet. This was our new intern, Stephanie. I can only imagine what her mother was thinking dropping her daughter off with this rag-tag bunch of hungover hooligans. She let her hop in the van with our band of weirdos, all dudes mind you, three of whom were smoking things with their shirts off at the time. At any rate, the intern having arrived, we were off.
It took approximately two bad movies to make the winding drive up to Quincy. Surprisingly enough Spudnick only stopped for gas twice on the ride. I had guessed we would make four petrol runs, Jack guessed three, but no, just two.
Then it was through the gates at High Sierra, and first to our campsight, the plush accommodations of the Lagunitas Barn. This year complete with a disco ball and lazer light that reacted to changes in the ambient music playing in atmosphere. Yeah, wow, I know, that’s totally a thing. The first move to make at High Sierra is obviously to crack a brew. Then you set up your tents before it gets dark out. While we did that there was an old grumpy type fellow who kept yelling at us because the Van was sticking into the dirt road a little bit while we unloaded. It certainly didn’t jutt out enough to prevent him from driving by. Yet he felt the need to come at us hot. He was told to cool out and check his vibes. There’s no need for aggression at this event. It was strange seeing someone on that bend so early into the weekend. Dude needed a shroom or three.
There’s no music on Wednesday, you just get drunk and stumble around the grounds of the festival while it sleeps for a final night. Once the Sun rises the next day it will be awake and alive for the entire elongated weekend.
Thursday, rise and shine, eat a banana and some cereal for breakfast. You’ve got to get a good base. Do a little bit of wandering, get the barings, also get a bloody mary, they literally have some of the best bloody mary’s the author has ever put to his lips. I got a gluten free pizza, the first of eight such pizzas I purchased that weekend. You may want to purchase yours with gluten, whatever.
I found my way to the Jam Van around one, had the intern sketch up some schedules to notify the heads of our session schedule. The intern has like exceptionally good handwriting. She didn’t put that on her resume, but we would have hired her on account of it.
So The masses now alerted to the day’s festivities. The PA was kicked on and the heads began to take note. By 2PM a large crowed had amassed in anticipation of Nahko and Medicine for the People’s set. There were hoola-hoopers, belly dancers, dirpies of all shapes, sizes, colors, credes. Nahko and his tribe of minstrels arrived, big smiles on their faces. They shared with us their chanting hymnals, which blared through the speakers and sent the bystanders into fits of joy, only subdued by the release brought upon by either dancing or smiling or both. You had to do one, it was impossible to do less than one.
Those dancers and smilers stayed strong through the day as we saw the T-Sisters serenade us with folk tunes. and Turkuaz shake our bones with frenzied funk. The Turkuaz crew was a fairly large one and our boy Ethan had a time of it setting them up and breaking them down. This was after all his first festival gig. We’d gone easy on him in Petaluma. Things sped up from there. So while Ethan sucked down cigarettes through gasps of air in his hustle to plug shit in, Shakey Graves sat to the side and washed away their wait with Lagunitas. We strapped a GoPro camera to a PAX vaporizer and elongated it with drum-sticks to be passed around like a peace pipe. Surely enough the time dwindled from the clock and in a blink Ethan was ready for the final performance of the day.
To say that Shakey Graves is a talented musician would be an insult. There are talented musicians in every train station and bus stop of America. Shakey Graves is something entirely different. His voice commands your attention. It is of such a pleasant tone and he uses it to sing such magnificent words that you demand it of yourself to pay attention. You listen, and you can’t render such devotion upon every talented musician out there, but you have to donate your ears and mind for as long as this man requests of them with his songs.
That was it for day one. There had to be time made for night one. You always go a bit harder than anticipated on night one. The excitement gets you, and once you’re gotten, if you’re gotten good, well the side effect is that your memory is fuzzy at best. That’s the case here. I do know that I got another fuzzy marionette doll to go with the one I got last year and named Clyde. I named this one Clydette. I remember walking off with it in my hand from the fuzzy puppet booth in the childrens’ area at around 3AM. The Perfect Hippie yelled at me to leave money for the fuzzy puppet vendor, I left a twenty on the counter. On my way out of the children’s area the fuzzy puppet vendor yelled at me. I said “I left twenty.” That’s what I remember of the night.
Our story resumes the following morning in my underwear peeing on a tree outside of the barn where I slept. After that I ate cereal in a red SOLO cup, and found my way to the Jam Van.
We had booked Hollow Wood in between crappy movies on the drive from Petaluma to Quincy. A friend of mine was a friend of their friend’s, and now we’re all friends. Their lead singer has the second largest white-dude-afro that we’ve ever had in The Van. He didn’t get a merrit badge for that. The first place guy did though.
Hollowood was followed by Greensky Bluegrass a band whose name I’d heard and seen a countless number of times, but only finally understood it on that hot and sunny day in Quincy, CA. Sure it seems pretty dumb in retrospect, that I didn’t get it, but trust me, I’ve done dumber stuff before. The crowd for this set was one of the largest we had all weekend, and having seen this group at a number of festivals around the country by now, it wasn’t too shocking to see so many people twirling under that bluegrass sky. Banjo pickin’ and knee slappin’ is hip nowadays and these guys are at the forefront of this bluegrass revival.
The heat in Quincy is a dry heat. The sun seems to be just above your shoulders at all times and shade is at a premium. So at the height of the day or as close to it as our scheduling allows we liked to take sanctuary at the nearby swimming hole. It comes complete with both shade and a rope swing. A well known dirpie trick here is that if you go swimming in the river you don’t have to shower for at least another day. You’re also refreshed and revitalized and ready to tackle the creatures of the High Sierra night.
Before our daily dip we had one more act in The Van, One Big Guitar. The group actually consisted of three regular sized dudes all playing regular sized guitars. However, as you can imagine, when playing in unison their sounds blended together to form one tremendous harmony, the effect of which was akin to “one big guitar.” Drum roll…
What I have failed to previously mention here is that our neighbors on the festival grounds were the good folks running the Shabbat Tent. Yes, that is also a thing that exists. Having grown up Jewish, but really just semi-Jewish, I am very aware of what Shabbat is, but I had no previous awareness of a Shabbat tent. I am now semi-aware of what that is. It’s a tent at a festival where they hold Shabbat, simple enough. It was kind of unclear what the other stuff they did was, although it seemed like it was all of a very kind and giving nature. There were like, sing-a-longs and story circles throughout the weekend, They were always giving out free food, although it looked better from afar than when you got up close and realized it was just stuff with raisins in it.
Their big headline event was their Shabbat service. Shabbat being the Jewish day of rest, you usher it in with a little dinner and blessings type situation. Which they did. They were pretty nervous that we were going to ruin their big blowout, but being that a couple of us are chosen people ourselves we had no intention of tainting any of the High Sierra vibes by getting under anyone’s skin. So we turned our speakers down for One Big Guitar and I sent my special lady friend and her friend over to join the Shabbat service in my place. She’s not Jewish, but she’s got to start learning at some point.
Shabbat takes place when the sun goes down. So that was a good closing spot for us anyways. Another day at the van in the books, my barings were a bit tighter for the evening in question. During which there was time spent watching Greensky Bluegrass flash their fingers over strings on the Big Meadow stage, and then there was wandering towards the Grandstand Stage where the main event for the evening was taking place. Ms. Lauren Hill hit us with her Fugees classics, we sang along and threw glow sticks at imaginary targets, and spun around until we and her were both out of breath.
High Sierra’s late night sets began that Friday and The Chris Robinson Brotherhood was where I decided I was going to stand until I could stand no longer. However, before entering the show I had a couple of spare tickets to the other late night affair that I was looking to trade away. So I hollered out amongst the crowd that I had Afrolicious/Budos Band tickets to trade, and after only a minute or so a man with matted hair approached me and declared that he would swap me a “magical time for another magical time.” I didn’t understand what this meant at first, so I asked for clarification. He provided me with layman’s speak and I again felt rather dumb for not understanding what turned out to be quite a simple offer.
Satisfied with his reply I made the trade on the spot. I can’t speak to the Afrolicious/Budos Band show, however I can say that it would be one hell of a show if it provided the same type of magic that this man shared with me and as a result, our entire crew. Let’s just say that if Afrolicious could make colors that pretty, well, they are one hell of a band.
The Chris Robinson Brotherhood is also one hell of a band and I lasted as long as I could in that jammed barn watching them twist and turn about their guitar journey. I only succumbed to my exhaustion when at last I fell asleep standing up. The cider beer that I had in my hand crashed to the floor splattering quite a few bystanders around me and jarring me awake. A friend asked if I had just fallen asleep standing up, and since I had, I agreed with him that it was time for me to take my ass to bed, so I did. None of the people whom I spilled beer on seemed to mind my exit.
Again, we re-start the day with me in boxer shorts peeing on a tree, eating cereal in a cup, and this time making an attempt at jogging around the festival grounds, which resulted in a near convulsion of wheezing and panting, and sweat pouring down my body, which could only be quelled by cold water and alcohol and a gluten-free pizza. Thereby fully negating almost instantly any exercise that I had received from my two laps. Like the majority of good things, it felt good only momentarily. Whatever, it gave me a point of reference to scold myself less for the ringer that I was running my body through that weekend. It also made me proclaim that I’d never jog again, which I say every time I jog, which isn’t often.
The sun alone was punishment enough, but it was shining so beautifully and the sky was so blue it was impossible not to live it up beneath. We started our third day at The Van with The Mother Hips. Those guys are rock and roll, man. They tie frills to nothing, and their sound is that of a mature rock group. They know what they like to play and they know what they play well and so they play what they like to play well. The funny thing about The Mother Hips is that they are sponsored by a craft brewery that isn’t Lagunitas Brewing Co. I know this because Tim Bluhm who plays guitar in The Mother Hips is married to Nikki Bluhm and also plays in her band and we’d filmed them couple of years back in Joshua Tree. When we were releasing that content, Nikki’s management asked us to blur out a beer label because it wasn’t Sierra Nevada, their sponsor. So at the time we obliged, but now we would never. So don’t even trip, those boys drank Lagunitas in The Van and I bet they damn well liked it.
The Dead Winter Carpenters were up next. I’m not sure if they were sponsored by a beer company or not, but they too drank Lagunitas and they were vocal about liking it. Moon Hooch, who followed behind them, did the same. If you have “hooch” in your band name you better come to party. These dudes impressed Spud with their spunk. He let them know that “it was an honor” for him to witness their van set. Spud throws a lot of compliments around but I have rarely heard him bestow that level of gratitude upon an act.
Like I always say, Saturday evening at a festival is the meat of the meal. That is when you must cause the most mischief, keep your eyes open the longest, and throw the most glow sticks. The combination of The Chris Robinson Brotherhood into Moon Hooch into Beats Antique into Hard Working Americans made for a strong meal. To close ti out with Dave Schools’ hair blowing in the early morning breeze was pretty tasty.
That combination of performances required a considerable amount of walking around the festival. I must have crossed over the glow-stick field about ten times that evening. Yes, they have a glow stick field at High Sierra, in fact, they kind of have two. On one occasion we made an attempt to purchase one of the elaborate glow staffs being vended by a glow merchant. However, the glow merchant and the Perfect Hippie became embroiled in a heated debate over the price point of the glow stick, and, needless to say, the glow merchant’s vibes were a bit off for the festival. I was tempted to walk off with one of his overpriced glow sticks, but I decided that would put my vibes on the wrong side of the fence, so I simply let him know that his vibes were out of line and his dress was unattractive. One day I’ll meet the proper glow merchant and eventually I’ll get the glow staff of my dreams, no doubt. Bucket list has been updated.
My walking concluded with me on my back outside of the Vaudeville tent. It’s an old festival secret that if you lay still enough people will part their way around you and you will not get stepped on. You may be asked if you want to buy some opium from a man carrying a picnic basket, but you will not be stepped on.
Some how I made it into my tent and was able to wake up in my boxers and pee on my usual tree.
Sunday was a bit of a different beast than we’ve ever experienced. The change came courtesy of Mr. Spud, who throughout the weekend had been staying guard at The Van, and as such had encountered a large number of passersby who wanted to know how they could get in The Van and play their tunes. He also claims to have witnessed a man propose to his now fiance. He wanted to make sure I got that into this journal entry, so there’s that.
Anyways, via considerable prodding on Spud’s part we agreed to let him host an open mic of sorts for Sunday brunch. So this is where I tip my hat to Mr. Spudnik. This was a pretty good idea, we found some pretty solid talent amongst the heads, and the scene painted of a rag-tag group of musical hopefuls sitting outside The Van, one dressed as Peter Pan, all waiting for their chance for a moment of musical magic, really echoes what we’re all about. In between sets the participants held impromptu jam sessions outside of The Van. A picture of this, with the Peter Pan character bowing his fiddle is etched in my mind as a terrific memory from a terrific festival.
We ended our sessions with Trampled By Turtles. They did one song and it was awesome. Our biggest crowd of the week gathered for the performance, and it was perfect. That’s really all there is to it. Widespread Panic closed out the weekend on the main stage. I spent half of the show in a hamock, half of it dancing out of my mind. Oh lord what it must be like to be on the other side of that mind-blow. Standing up on that stage, closing your eyes and letting a song propel you to something powerful enough to capture the minds of all of those swaying along with you on the other side of the stage. Damn, that must be something…
Back at camp our Lagunitas compadres brought over all of their remaining kegs and closed the weekend down in proper style. I stood as long as I could beside the road heckling passersby with the Lagunitas crew, that’s kind of their thing. Across the way another encampment was asking folks to tell them jokes as they walked past, glow sticks were all fading out, feet were at their dirtiest point, and eyes were beginning to tire. Like every night, I lasted as long as I could last, because on Sunday night you know that when you close those eyes you ain’t gonna be back in that place for a long time to come. So you keep the smoke rings burning, til they all but burn up, and then you pack it in and say see you again next year. Adios High Sierra, you’re a heady fever dream, and let’s keep it that way.
Jam in the Van.