If you strolled through downtown Arcata over the weekend, you may have heard the sound of music in the air, caught a whiff of barbeque, or a glimpse of a bright tent with artwork laid out for the passerby. Organizers called it the "first annual" Humboldt Arts Festival. Any copy editor will tell you that's in improper use of the word "annual." This particular festival, should it return next May, will earn the term by becoming yearly.
Our annual guide to the summer music festivals of Humboldt and points nearby includes some just taking flight -- last year's Mad River Summerfest in now legitimately "the Second Annual" -- but most are established events, some have been around for decades. When you've been around that long, you move past simply putting on a little party -- your celebration of music, art or whatever does not merely get bigger, it become part of the fabric of your community.
Of course that doesn't happen without a lot of hard work and in most cases work done by volunteers. Before we get to our list of summer happenings, let's lift a glass and sing a song celebrating those who make the festivals happen - you know who you are. Thanks in advance for the party! I know we're going to have a good time. "There's a party going on right here, a celebration to last throughout the years..."
The 34th Annual Summer Arts and Music Festival. The Mateel's massive party is as impressive as ever with more music than you can keep up with, dozens of bands and dance troupes on four stages, plus art, craft and food booths galore, fine arts, a kid's zone. Saturday headliners include Heavyweight Dub Champion, Lydia Pense and Cold Blood, Wisdom, the hot salsa band Rumbaché, Yogoman Burning Band and Scott Huckabay. Sunday they have Melvin Seals and JGB, Crooked Still, Moonalice, Tempest and, from Hawaii, The Alliez. June 6 and 7, Benbow Lake Recreation Area south of Garberville. www.mateel.org 923-3368
The 33rd Annual Redwood Run. The big Kiwanis biker bash is one of the only R-rated festivals -- you must be 21 to attend. As usual the music is in the blues and hard rock vein including bluesmen Elvin Bishop, Matt Schofield and Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Floridian rockers Blackfoot. Last year's all-girl Aerosmith cover band was a hit so this time they have Priss, an all-girl Kiss cover band and Mötley's Crëw, a female Mötley Crüe tribute. June 11-13, Riverview Ranch, Piercy. www.redwoodrun.net 839-2319.
The 2nd Annual Mad River Summerfest. This free festival on the Mad River from the folks who brought us Winterfest includes a homebrew contest, disc golf, a skate ramp, a rock wall, arts and crafts booths, a petting zoo and straw maze for the kids. And, of course, mucho music, all local: The Bucky Walters, WoMama, Kulica, Trifecta, Full Moon Fever and No Good Redwood Ramblers. Did we mention it's all free? Proceeds from beer, food, etc. go to Friends of the Annie and Mary Rails-to-Trails. Saturday, July 10, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Mad River in Pump Station No. 1 on West End Rd. outside of Arcata. eruptionproductionz.com.
The 26th Annual Reggae on the River. The Mateel's one-drop bash survived SoHum's Reggae War and now has expanded to two days of reggae and world music on the river at Benbow. This year's lineup ranges from roots to contemporary reggae with some awesome worldbeat. Among the artists, Sly and Robbie aka The Rhythm Twins, Don Carlos, Sugar Minott, Pablo Moses, Sister Carol, Quinto Sol, Tchiya Amet, NYC Fela followers Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra and Angolan AfroCuban ambassador Ricardo Lemvo with his band Makina Loca. There's camping close by but not onsite -- reserve early. July 17 and 18, at Benbow Lake State Recreation Area. www.mateel.org. 923-3368.
The 32nd Annual Humboldt Folklife Festival. The Folklife Society presents an ambitious program with nine days of music. It kicks off with a Swing/Country Dance on July 16 and a Family Contra Dance July 17, both at the Arcata Vet's Hall, then moves to Blue Lake's Perigot Park for the Annie and Mary Day Fiddle Festival July 18. Weekday shows include a Dance Night with tango, samba, swing dancing etc. on July 19, Songwriters Night on July 20, then an Evening of Acoustic Jazz July 21 -- all three shows in Dell'Arte's Carlo Theatre. The action shifts to the Rooney Amphitheatre Stage July 22, for Backyard Bluegrass and Beyond. A July 23 Swing Dance back at the Arcata Vet's Hall serves as prelude the grand finale All Day Free Festival July 24, in and around the Dell'Arte complex in Blue Lake. July 17-25, Blue Lake and beyond. www.humboldtfolklife.org
The 4th Annual Reggae Rising. When the dust settled following the Reggae War, Tom Dimmick ended up in control of the festival on the bend in the Eel, once home to Reggae on the River. Most of the money made on last year's fest went to pay for the settlement with the Mateel and/or the lawyers who took the War to court. Bills and workers still remain unpaid, but putting on another show seems to be the only way to get back to even, so, as they say, the show must go on. A partial line-up was announced at the end of April, but it's just a dozen acts, at least a couple of them back-up bands. The Web site suggests, "Stay tuned for more announcements..." So far they have dancehall queen Lady Saw, Third World, Judy Mowatt, Ky-Mani Marley, The Mighty Diamonds, The Melodians, Everton Blender, Admiral Tibet, Yami Bolo, Kevens, HighGrade All Stars, The Yellow Wall Dub Squad and Culture in Dub. August 6-8 at Dimmick Ranch, Piercy. www.reggaerising.com
The 10th Annual Buddy Brown Blues Festival. Named for the late, great Blue Lake bluesman, this one-day blues-a-thon is always all local. This year' show includes Buddy Reed, Saint John and The Sinners, Trifecta, Secret Club, Vintage Soul and Errol Previde. Saturday, Aug. 7 in Blue Lake's Perigot Park.
The 14th Annual Blues by the Bay. Redwood Coast Music Festivals throws yet another Labor Day weekend blues bash with a mess of top-flight bands. Saturday's lineup includes The Commander Cody Band, Curtis Salgado Big Band, Shane Dwight, Otis Taylor, Ty Curtis Band (also playing the Redwood Run) and Anna Hamilton Trio. Sunday they'll have BbtB fave Tommy Castro, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Walter Trout, Rod Piazza and The Mighty Flyers, Teresa James and The Rhythm Tramps, Red Mystics and Dr. Squid. Sept. 4 and 5, Halverson Park, near Eureka's Adorni Center. www.bluesbythebay.org 445-3378
The 37th Annual North Country Fair. Things were not looking good for Arcata's venerable fair this time last year, but issues with the City of Arcata seem to be resolved, in part by mats that protect the precious grass. So things are on track for another weekend of crafts, food and music overseen by the Same Old People -- music line-up still TBA. Sept. 18 and 19 on the Arcata Plaza. www.sameoldpeople.org
Summer music fests abound elsewhere in California. Here are a few within reasonable driving distance of Humboldt:
The 32nd Annual Harmony Festival. It's not the New Age "Health and Harmony" fest it used to be, but the three-day event still includes speakers on matters spiritual and ecological. The eclectic music line-up includes Ms. Lauryn Hill, Slightly Stoopid, Galactic with Chali 2na and Lyrics Born, 7 Walkers, Steel Pulse, Fishbone, Toubab Krewe, Kitaro, a "Techno-Tribal Dance" with, Ana Sia, Beats Antique, Jai Uttal and many others. June 11-13, Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa. www.harmonyfestival.com
The 16th Annual Sierra Nevada World Music Festival. While the festival moved from the Sierras ages ago, they still maintain the "world music" portion of the title. This time out performers include Baaba Maal from Senegal, Nigerian drum legend Tony Allen, New Zealand dub band Fat Freddy's Drop, American Afro-trance band Toubab Krewe and the YouTube busker project Playing for Change, along with reggae by Gregory Isaacs, Don Carlos, Barrington Levy, Marcia Griffiths, Soul Syndicate, Big Youth, The Skatalites and Italian reggae star Alborosie. June 18-20, Mendocino County Fairgrounds, Boonville. www.snwmf.com 916-777-5550
The 15th Annual Kate Wolf Memorial Music Festival. Founded in honor of the late great folk singer, the event has evolved beyond its folk festival roots. This year's lineup includes Ani Di Franco, Little Feat, Robert Earl Keen, Charlie Musselwhite, Greg Brown, The Waifs, Baka Beyond, Po' Girl, Steve Earle, David Grisman Bluegrass Experience, Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir, Hot Buttered Rum and Rosalie Sorrels among others, with many artists playing sets on two days. June 25-27, at the Black Oak Ranch, just north of Laytonville. www.katewolf.com
The 20th Annual High Sierra Music Festival. This Fourth of July weekend gathering near Quincy started as a jamband festival, but the jamband tent is pretty big, in fact wide open, so the musical styles range freely. Among the dozens of bands playing: Widespread Panic, The Black Crowes, The Avett Brothers, Ozomatli, Femi Kuti and Positive Force, Blitzen Trapper, Railroad Earth, Lotus, Carolina Chocolate Drops, The Mother Hips, Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Nels Cline Singers. July 1-4, Plumas County Fairgrounds, Quincy, CA. www.highsierramusic.com
The 8th Annual Earthdance NorCal. "Global Dance Festival for Peace" founder Chris Dekker says "Farewell Black Oak Ranch" this year figuring they've outgrown the Laytonville location. Headliners for the last dance on the Hog Farm include some past favorites and new additions, among them Michael Franti and Spearhead, Zap Mama, Matisyahu, Kinky, Rootz Underground, Delhi 2 Dublin, Yard Dogs Road Show, BLVD, Dumpstaphunk and Trombone Shorty with Orleans Avenue. Sept. 17-19 at the Black Oak Ranch, just north of Laytonville. earthdancelive.com.