Written by:  Behnam Vadi & Jordanna Dworkin

With the population explosion bombarding the Bay Area, the coveted California Summer road trip has become ever so tortuous in recent years. Even at 11 am on a weekday, driving along Highway 80 in bumper to bumper traffic can feel like a true test of patience and endurance with the final destination feeling more like a dream world away. And yet, the Cisco Grove Campgrounds beckon like a magical beacon from Truckee, drawing folks from all over CA, NV and beyond to the locally famed Guitarfish Music Festival which took place July 25th – July 28th. 

This particular festival sparks a bright light inside all who attend, making the drive worth every second of agony on the road… to nirvana. More than a playful matcha tea high, electric energy pulsates through the crowd upon entry, uniting every single festival-goer in perfect harmony. If you’ve ever been to a festival, you know what we’re talking about — it’s an adrenaline rush that just keeps surging through the weekend. And you just don’t want it to end.

Cisco Groove Campgrounds, the annual stomping grounds of the festival, are a piece of God’s country in landscape splendour, with wooded nooks and crannies and a meandering slice of the Yuba River calling together intimate social gatherings from which to chill, connect, dream and DANCE. From Baby Boomers and Gen Exers to Millennials and tiny tots, there’s a familial, cross-generational feel everywhere you land.

The Guitarfish crew never ceases to raise the good vibrations bar higher and higher each year. Like, true festival magicians, they unite just the right bright souls in a beautiful setting, curating a talented, vibe-positive musical line-up, and cultivating sweet memories to last a lifetime. If music is a universal language, the eclectic roster of world-class musicians and local favourites that Guitarfish highlights the year in and year out strengthens that unspoken bond within the ultra-resonant, collective human experience. We have all witnessed the chemical changes that occur inside of our brains/bodies from listening to uplifting music, and feeling that endorphin pulse, like when your favourite song comes on the radio, is something readily experienced at Guitarfish. If you don’t believe us, check out the research that proves listening to euphoric music results in a happier outlook on life.

Guitarfish, as a whole, stirs warm waves of elation that echo into the far reaches of the festival grounds. When a groove-ready band jumps on stage, it suddenly hits you: a distant drumbeat perks your attention, soul-drenched vocals hum like the call of angels, and a soft electric guitar riff pulls you into a nostalgic moment, all before ever hitting the dance floor. For us, it really began with The Humidors on Friday afternoon. Funk overtones with slow-burning soul may best describe this Bay Area band’s signature sound, with lead vocalist, Andre Cruz, adding his spicy flair to the group’s pizzaz. Cruz’s aura took over the stage like a BIG shiny disco ball, enticing anyone in the crowd to shake their hips and bob their heads in ecstatic union. Just when we thought we couldn’t be wow’ed anymore, Diggin’ Dirt entered the spotlight like a bunch of wild cowboys ready to rock their shit kickers (and ours) into high gear — and they did! Like a posse emerging from the tumbleweeds, these dudes brought instrument slinging gusto that left all jaws dropped to the floor. Frontman, Zach Alder, outfitted from head to toe with red roses tacked to the side of his stetson, strutted and jammed across the stage as if James Brown had just been reincarnated. And the crowd went WILD.

Midtown Social, our favourite band of the weekend, fed us an elixir of swagger-meets-divine soul on Saturday, as Aaron Joseph and Kisura Nyoto took dominion over the festival stage. Since the days of listening to punk legend bassist Kira from Black Flag, Sara Beth reminded us of just how spectacularly a female bassist can light a sexy, deeply resonating flame to stoke a below-the-navel fire. We were definitely feeling IT. As usual, Midtown Social came outfitted in bright, bold wears that would make any Normcore gasp in disbelief that true fashion and style still exist. We were impressed.

Earth Arrow was, perhaps, the most diverse band of the weekend, fusing soul and rock together with three badass female vocalists leading the way. The guitar solo sent us into a mystical swirl and left us wondering if we had left the planet for a hot minute. We can’t part without drumming up praise for the electrifying vigour of Yak Attack. Talk about a diverse melange of sounds from house, breakbeat and drum & bass, in collaboration with LIVE music! What a way to end a Saturday night with nonstop dance beats and growing inner smiles that cast hard-to-miss visible glows over anyone in plain view. At the end of an epic set, there’s nothing better than tucking your exhausted body back into a cozy sleep sack until the next day.

The rapture continued on Sunday with Jimmy Leslie, a crazy talented musician with MC panache and flair who knows how to pump a crowd. Leslie brought an intense style of southern rock mystic to satiate any music lover’s curious appetite. A bow goes to Jimmy for the adventurous style and fervour he not only brought to the festival stage, but to the music industry as a whole. Like a musical wizard, damn that man can ROCK!

And for the families, Sal’s Greenhouse, led by the sultry baritone saxophonist and vocalist, Sally Green, invited three kiddies from the audience to join them on stage, mid-performance. Not only did hearts melt from their affection towards the littles, but Sally, another boho stylin’ female musician extraordinaire, truly spoke/sung/played to the soul of the crowd — if you are a saxophone enthusiast, don’t miss Sally’s solo next round. You won’t be disappointed.

Another versatile, incredibly engaging favourite who closed out the festival on Sunday night, Afrolicious, really took us on a ride. From the family stage all-hands-on-deck afternoon jam to the penetrating beats of their DJ set sending us deep into the mystery of the night, these guys really knew how to deliver genuine showmanship with feet stompin’, throw down beats made with love for all to relish. Speaking of night riding beats, let’s give a HUGE nod to Kinky with their great stage presence, creative use of rhythm, danceable, hip-swinging funkiness, and an unbelievable cover tune, sung mostly en Espanol.

Something that differentiates Guitarfish from other local music festivals is the deeply nourishing array of massage services and healing arts classes they offer. Take your pick from a vast selection of styles/techniques, all delivered through loving hands… or, follow your bliss with a daily morning sound healing circle lead by NorCal fave, Pierrette. If these services don’t do you justice, take a splash into the Yuba River and cleanse that beautiful soul or sunbathe on the giant rocks that nature has scattered around.

As convenient as it may be to watch your favourite artists perform from the comfort of your own couch, smartphone in hand, you’d be missing the extraordinary rush that occurs every day you wake up in the heart of Guitarfish Music Festival. Roll into an early morning yoga or qi gong session led by master teachers, followed by live sound healing circles or massage, grab a cacao infused Funky Monkey for breakfast or some of the tasty eats offered by a variety of amazing and Earth-conscious food vendors, gather your dance tribe and disconnect from tech and the chaos of everyday life or just be at one with nature for a nice meditation session.  We invite you to tune in to the experience of one of the most incredible summer events Northern California has to offer — 2020 is right around the corner, so plan now and gear up – you can thank us when you get back.

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