By Gary Linehan
Welcome to 2017, fellow Strawberrians. I’m still shaking off winter’s hibernation — and I am definitely hungry for some good music.
Luckily, the 2017 Strawberry Spring Music Festival is just around the corner, May 25-28 at the Nevada County Fairgrounds in Grass Valley.
The dynamite lineup includes Richard Thompson, Lucinda Williams, Rodney Crowell, Sarah Jarosz, Jerry Douglas and more than a dozen other top acts.
Nevada County has graciously hosted three previous Strawberry festivals following the devastating Rim Fire of 2013, which burned around the festival’s three-decade home at Camp Mather near Yosemite and forced its cancellation that fall and following spring.
The Nevada County Fairgrounds came to rescue, offering a sanctuary in the fall of 2014 and again in the spring of 2015 and 2016. This will mark the third spring festival in Grass Valley. The fall shows have been held since 2015 at the historic West Side grounds in the town of Tuolumne.
One sad certainty is that the festival will not be returning anytime soon to Camp Mather. While the Strawberry/Rock In Road team has been engaged in efforts to resume negotiations for use of the beautiful forested campground owned by the City and County of San Francisco, nature — this time in the form of bark beetles — again has the final say.
Here is the latest official statement regarding the situation:
“We know that you all are anxious to hear what’s been happening with the ‘Return Strawberry to Camp Mather’ effort. Since we last updated you, representatives from both Strawberry Music Festival and Rock In Road had the opportunity to meet with San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department staff. Although they were very receptive to our inquiry, we have recently been informed that conditions at Camp Mather prohibit the current consideration of our return.
“The critical issue facing camp right now is the devastating bark beetle infestation that has caused catastrophic tree mortality in the Sierra Nevada. Over 1,500 dead trees have already been identified for removal at Camp Mather and the rapid kill rate shows no sign of slowing. The severe impact to the forest in and around camp is widespread, and Recreation and Parks Department officials anticipate that the eventual solution will require a multi-year effort.
“Therefore, due to concerns for safety, expansion of camp use cannot be considered at this time. We have seen the extent of the defoliation firsthand and we share their concerns. This is very sad news on many levels, yet we remain optimistic about the future. We feel good about the dialogue that has been established with the SFR&PD and believe that there is still a possibility for Strawberry’s return. In the meantime, we intend to keep the channels of communication open and share updates.
“We feel that we have been called down from the mountain to share the gift of Strawberry. Preserving this special musical community and its folk traditions for future possibilities remains our highest priority. Your continued support is deeply appreciated.”
Last week, intensive tree removal involving helicopters and heavy equipment was taking place at Camp Mather. Evergreen Road was closed at Highway 120, with the only access to Camp Mather, Hetch Hetchy and the Evergreen Lodge by way of Cherry Lake Road, a scenic but long, narrow, winding and pucker-inducing detour.
Tree stumps, downed timber and burning slash piles were visible everywhere through camp, but many apparently healthy trees did remain, and all of the buildings and other camp facilities survived the 2013 fire.
The last of the cut dead trees were removed from Camp Mather on April 25, apparently making the area safe for smaller numbers of people when regular family camping resumes this Memorial Day weekend for residents of San Francisco. Evergreen Road is expected reopen well before then.
However, countless damaged trees remain outside the camp periphery and there is no telling when the area will be considered safe for the festival’s return.
Optimism is part of the Strawberry Way, and we can remain thankful for those festivals we have attended in the past at Camp Mather as well as those that await us in the future, wherever they may be.
Bob Dylan quote of the day: “Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me, in the jingle jangle morning I’ll come following you.” (From “Mr. Tambourine Man,” 1965.)