Lyrics Born // Paul Piazza
By Paul Piazza
Guitarfish Music Festival has developed into one of the country’s best boutique festivals in its brief six-year existence. It’s an intimate alternative to monolithic, daytime-only festivals—and arena shows—where the performers are often an extreme distance away, projected onto a big screen.
Located in the Cisco Grove campground near Truckee, Guitarfish also aims to raise awareness of overfishing and pollution of the ocean. But the uniqueness of this campout experience lies in a feature most promoters cannot boast: a short walk from the festival site sits the beautiful south fork of the Yuba River.
At the river, it’s not unusual for festival artists to soak in the sun and cool water alongside fellow campers. In fact, a casual conversation on the rocks with Gene Evaro Jr. drummer Ben Kennedy resulted in him wandering into our camp late one evening and having an epic jam on a fellow camper’s djembe.
The Yuba River // Paul Piazza
The Jank // Paul Piazza
This year, the festival centerpiece was a mind-bending, steam punk-themed art piece called the Jank, a 35-foot mobile stage that featured artful acrobats. The Jankytown Orchestra, a group of regional all-stars, including local bassist Lynn-Michael Palmer of Mumbo Gumbo, closed out most nights.
Headliners included groovy jammers ALO, the versatile Greyboy All-Stars, rockin’ bluegrass from Poor Man’s Whiskey and hip-hop legend Lyrics Born. They all featured male performers—except for the group with Lyrics Born, which included rapper’s lifetime companion Joyo Velarde, a dynamic singer and dancer. The two met when he was known as Tom Shimura, a deejay at UC Davis freeform station KDVS, more than 20 years ago.
In fact, it was the ladies who stole the show this year. The festival’s Saturday night showcase was called the Starfish and Guitarfish Diva Ball and it featured knockout vocal appearances by Dirty Revival’s Sarah Clarke, Katdelic’s Lesley Grant and San Francisco’s Pamela Parker. Festival goers had already been blown away the day before by Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Bird’s Arleigh Kenchloe, a petite powerhouse who rocked the stage in white cut-offs and matching Converse high-tops.
Adryon DeLeon of Orgone // Paul Piazza
On Sunday night, Orgone’s stunning Adryon DeLeon worked over the audience. DeLeon, who is a featured performer in Disney’s California Adventure when not touring, held the audience in the palm of her hand.
“I appreciate the intimacy of Guitarfish,” DeLeon said. “At a lot of festivals we’ve played, people just go to be seen. At this is one, you feel that people are appreciative of the artists.”
It is important to mention that this festival, like the life in the waterways it strives to protect, has struggled with survival. Over the past two years, attendance has taken a hit due to regional competition—though, not just from other festivals. Either Phish or Dead & Company have played area shows on the same weekend in the past two years, taking many potential festival attendees with them. How ironic, given that’s exactly what Guitarfish is trying to prevent: more dead fish.