Sierra Fest 2016
by Steve Heilig, June 29, 2016
There was a striking man walking up and down 128 all weekend with a goat on a leash. At least he looked like a man, wearing some kind of goatskin-looking coat. The goat was real, and at one point had some sort of coat on too. At Mosswood Cafe one morning, customers were speculating.
"He must be part of the music festival," one said.
"Yep, maybe even a performer," added another.
"I think it's probably just Jesus," a third contributed.
The latter observation seemed closest to accuracy. I knew this Goat Man was no reggae or world music singer, at least nobody we knew, and Iearned later that he had tried all weekend to talk his way into the festival, at all three possible gates, for free and with his goat. He was not successful. But he looked more like the (white, longhaired) Jesus many of us westerners were raised on than anybody else around, even on this festival weekend. My dog smelled the goat a block away and really wanted to meet him/her. Most others seemed to be keeping their distance. Even waving at him and saying "hi" elicited no audible response.
So far as anybody I talked to could say, including an admittedly random selection of "the law," the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival 1016, now at least a decade in residence in Boonville so far as anybody can recall, went off without any real hitch — unless you count the rain that forced an early closure on Friday night a hitch. It certainly was unprecedented, for June, and it was sad to see the stage crew — whom I could watch up close — desperately try for over an hour to figure out a way to provide a dry zone for the final two big stage performers do their things. But the big shade structure over the Fairgrounds stage seemed to concentrate the misty rain so that it became the wettest spot around. Eventually they had to call it quits. Headliner Don Carlos was able to stick around and play a wonderfully solid set on Saturday on the smaller stage. Alas, legendary producer/singer/self-proclaimed madman and "Upsetter" Leee Scratch Perry had to be on his way. But he did hold forth in his dressing room tent for an hour or so for a select group who heard his wisdom regarding taking LSD with the Queen of England and much more that was untranslatable.
Saturday was gorgeous and perfectly temperate. Great artistes from Jamaica, Colombia, West Africa and more held forth on both stages while the biggest crowd of the weekend grew through the day. On the big stage the accumulated roster of reggae stars added up to what some called the strongest ever, with Israel Vibration — longtime reggae harmonists who met in a Jamaican child polio ward and use canes to walk, but who, backed by their legendary accompanists the Roots Radics, sound like roaring lions; Beres Hammond, a sweet/gravely-voiced heart-throb who sang on and on, making women swoon and the masses sing along; and the return of Toots Hibbert, with his latest version of the Maytals. Toots coined the word reggae with a song in 1968, steamed on for decades relentlessly, but was beaned by a bottle onstage a few years back, with sad medical consequences. This was his comeback show and he seemed downright overjoyed, presenting a somewhat more subdued style of stage show that actually fit his vintage songs well. The crowd, as they say, went nuts — and not just due to the big full moon looming over all.
Sunday morning was hot and by afternoon the visibly diminished crowd was chilling in the shade — until La Santa Cecilia, formed on the streets of Los Angeles but soon winning Grammy nominations and awards, roused many to dance to their infectious pan-Latin sound. Brazilian chanteuse Ceu, a big star in her home nation and also a Grammy nominee and #1 Billboard world music chart-topper, delivered a more sultry set, quite jazzy, with her superb band. And then the reggae powered up again with veterans Inner Circle, Leroy Sibbles of the legendary Heptones, and West African superstar Alpha Blondy storming through. Blondy in particular, a mercurial character with a mixed history in live shows and recent history of illness (malaria), took full command and mesmerized the crowd. Besides his hits done in a few languages and a Pink Floyd cover in English ("Wish You Were Here" — the original viewed almost 23 million times online), he delivered some scathing words about both Islamic and other fundamentalists purporting to kill for God, and politicians here scapegoating immigrants and the poor. It felt like he wasn't pandering but really meant it too.
Monday morning, all the SNWMF crews working away at making it seem the thousands of festival-goers had never even been there, Goat Man was still roaming. I had to wonder how he'd gotten to town and what had drawn him — probably the festival, yes, but he had no means to get in, goat or no. I sat at Mosswood again, fueling up on good coffee and day-old baked goods (not just cheap, I hate to see food go to waste). There was a giant muscle truck parked across the highway with TRUMP written on each side and something like "Heavily Armed Assault Vehicle" on the back. Somebody obviously didn't get enough attention when they were little. Another SNWMF fest staffer came by and we had a brief discussion about how the stage guys had worked so hard, including turning down the music whenever they could to protect not only delicate children’s ears but those of some nearby residents. We hoped, sincerely, that they had succeeded at least in part.
"There's that goat!" yelled a cute kid.
"Which one you mean?" cracked a local.
I had a few AVAs from last week and spread them on the tables. A nice-looking woman picked one up, looked at it, curled her lip, and said, "I HATE this paper."
Not being able to resist but not brave enough to break my cover so early in the day, I just said "Really? How come?"
She looked at me and replied "They say mean things about the local radio station."
"Hmm," I said. "Maybe you should write them in response with a correction or like that?"
"Too much trouble," she sighed dismissively. "Plus, I NEVER read it."
I sighed too, then went back to looking for Goat Man. What would Jesus say?