By Gary Linehan
The 2016 Strawberry Fall Music Festival is now etched in the warm glow of memory.
In addition to all the great musical performances, camaraderie and bonus events that mark every Strawberry, this year’s gathering at West Side in Tuolumne, California, proved a success in many other ways.
Perhaps the greatest of these is the Strawberry team’s logistical accomplishments in turning a culturally-rich but rough-hewn tract of land into a well-designed, functional and festive environment. Granted, there is always room for improvement — with shade at a premium and dust all but inevitable — but I guarantee the staff will be addressing these issues as soon as they decompress over the next few days.
I like to focus on the positive — it’s the Strawberry Way. The fact is this year’s fall festival was light-years ahead of the first staging at West Side a year ago. Improvements this year included expanded camping areas, lawn in front of the Main Stage, wood chips to help with dust control, grass growing in the children’s area, the return of Amy’s Orchid Lounge in a new tent and free access to the nearby Tuolumne Swimming Pool.
None of this is to detract from last year’s effort, when the staff and crew overcame massive obstacles to put any kind of festival together at all.
Everyone I met and observed over this past Labor Day weekend seemed to be having a good time and expressed many of these same sentiments. As usual, it was a multi-generational, diverse crowd with a common interest in fine music and communal co-existence.
This year was my first as a festival volunteer. You may have seen me in the Strawberry Way Cafe, helping sell ice, drinks and snacks. Depending on the day, I was the one wearing a tie-dye or past Strawberry T-shirt. I had a blast meeting everyone and working with a great team.
By the way, all proceeds from drinks and snacks in the cafe, including tips and donations, benefit Rock in Road Inc., Strawberry’s new non-profit partner, whose ultimate goal is to extend the Strawberry Way into the wider world.
And what exactly is the Strawberry Way? Intuitively we all know it’s pretty much doing the right thing — treating your neighbors with friendliness and respect, giving and sharing freely, helping others whenever possible, letting your inner light shine.
But it has many other facets. The Strawberry Way Cafe had a poster board and pens available for people to make their own comments, and the responses were encouraging, enlightening and often entertaining. All the written comments have been saved and will be taken under consideration as guiding influences in future Rock in Road efforts to educate, entertain and celebrate.
Also at the cafe, children were invited to draw their impressions of the Strawberry Way, with their colorful, insightful artwork taped to the wall for everyone to see.
Another recently announced endeavor of Rock in Road is the pursuit of a dialogue with the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department seeking the return of the Strawberry Music Festival to Camp Mather, its home for more than 30 years before the Rim Fire of 2013 cancelled that fall’s festival and forced the event into a nomadic existence. (A tip of the hat goes to the Nevada County Fairgrounds in Grass Valley for coming to the rescue by hosting the fall 2014 festival and the last two spring gatherings, as well as next year’s spring event.)
The Camp Mather project was a popular topic at the Strawberry Way Cafe, with many people stopping by to ask questions, offer suggestions and sign up to receive more information as it becomes available. The official statement on the subject can found on Rock in Road’s home page under “Return Strawberry to Camp Mather.”
And how about that music? I didn’t get to see every band, but I saw and heard plenty. I enjoyed it all, and was floored more times than I can count, whether it was the wild antics of the Squirrel Nut Zippers, the clean, classic bluegrass of the Del McCoury Band, the rock opera “Tommy” presented in bluegrass style by the Hillbenders, or any number of surprise revelations throughout the weekend. Who impressed you the most? What was your favorite part of the whole festival?
So here’s one more virtual ovation to the Main Stage musicians — Risky Biscuits, Anne and Pete Sibley, David Luning Band, Asleep at the Wheel, Molly Tuttle Band, Lil’ Smokies, Shinyribs, Shannon McNally, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Del McCoury Band, Run Boy Run, Marley’s Ghost, Brothers Comatose, Howell Devine, Ruthie Foster, Los Lobos, Sweetwater String Band, the Hillbenders, Mandolin Orange, Session Americana and Leftover Salmon — along with Painted Mandolin for an inspired tweener and all the extracurricular music that filled the grounds over the weekend.
Cheers to everyone who made the 64th Strawberry Music Festival happen — including you!
Bob Dylan quote of the day: “Everything passes, everything changes, just do what you think you should do.” (From “To Ramona,” 1964.)