Summer in the Bay means music festival season — hold on to your butts (and your wallets)
LEFT OF THE DIAL Earlier this month, Oakland singer-songwriter Ash Reiter was at Hipnic, an annual three-day music festival in Big Sur thrown by promoters folkYEAH!, featuring Cass McCombs, the Fresh & Onlys, the Mother Hips, Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers, and plenty of other Bay Area folky faves. Held at the Fernwood Resort and campgrounds, with families gathering under the shade of redwoods, it's one of the cozier, more homegrown summer festivals in the greater Bay Area — there's nary a Coachella-esque VIP section in sight — but a three-day pass still comes in at a cool $240.
Looking around, Reiter saw how the ticket price had shaped the crowd.
"There was obviously some great music, but that kind of boutique festival thing is so expensive that a lot of the audience seemed like older, well-off folks, parents — I mean, those are the people who can afford to go to these things," she recalls. "I'm sure a lot of the bands playing wouldn't be able to go to that festival, if they weren't playing."
It was that kind of thinking that sparked the idea for Hickey Fest, a three-day festival now in its second year and named for its location in Standish Hickey State Park in Mendocino County, "where the South Fork of the Eel River shimmers against the backdrop of the majestic redwoods," according to the fest's flyers. Born of the desire to curate a "musical experience outside of just your average festival, a chance for musicians to actually hang out and talk to each other and get to know each other that's not just in a loud rock club," Reiter launched Hickey Fest over Memorial Day weekend last year, with a lineup of friend-bands like Warm Soda, Farallons, Cool Ghouls, and Michael Musika. The goal: A festival her musician friends would actually enjoy, in an atmosphere that wouldn't be "as overwhelming as a BottleRock or an Outside Lands." She estimates some 500 to 600 people attended in total.
This year's festival, which runs June 20-22 in the same location, includes another local-love lineup, including Papercuts, Sonny and the Sunsets, Black Cobra Vipers, and more. A $60 ticket gets you three days of music and camping. "I wanted it to be about community, about putting the fun back in music," says Reiter, who will also perform. "So I did intentionally try to make it as cheap as possible."
It's a sentiment rarely heard from music promoters, especially as the days get longer and the work-ditching gets ubiquitous and the college kids are all turned loose for the summer. Festival season is upon us, Bay Area, and make no mistake: It's a great way to see touring bands from all over the country. It's a great platform for local bands, who get the chance to play bigger stages and reach new audiences. And as a music fan, it's a great way to spend a shit-ton of money.