Music festival brings “The Strawberry Way” to town |

Music festival brings “The Strawberry Way” to town

Know & Go

WHAT: 60th Strawberry Music Festival

WHERE: Nevada County Fairgrounds, 11228 McCourtney Rd, Grass Valley

WHEN: Thursday through Sunday

TICKETS: Adult 4-day camping, $200; adult 3-day camping $190; teen (13-19) camping $100; child (5-12) camping $60. Day tickets: adults $65, teens $45, children $20.

All types of tickets are still available at the gate. Tickets from last year’s cancelled festival will be honored.

INFO: 209-984-8630 or

“It’s not going to be a problem,” said Jodi Barnett, spokeswoman for the Strawberry Music Festival.

This was pretty much her answer to every question posed by The Union about moving the legendary festival from its remote mountain home to the Nevada County Fairgrounds.

(Last year’s Rim Fire near Yosemite canceled Strawberry, and organizers have been unable to re-obtain their contracted permit to hold the biannual festival at its 30-year home at Camp Mather.)

“’It’s not a problem’ is the Strawberry Way,” explained Wesley Robertson, who has been a Strawberrian for almost three decades.

As a four-day, pack-it-in-pack-it-out and leave-the-place-better-than-you-found-it music party, Strawberry has developed a can-do, we’re-all-in-this-together community spirit.

Eric Rice, who has been a Strawberrian even longer than Robertson, said, “I don’t ask if it’s possible, I just do it.”

A professional electrician, Rice has wired Strawberry for years. This week, he strung almost a mile of cable for this weekend’s live KVMR broadcast of parts of the festival.

Both Rice (“County Line Bluegrass,” 10 a.m. to noon, Saturdays) and Robertson (“Rockin’N’Stompin’,” 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays) are long-time KVMR DJs who have pioneered and hosted dozens of live remotes.

This weekend, however, they will pioneer another KVMR first – two remotes in one weekend (See On the Air, Page 14 for more). Rice will anchor Strawberry while Robertson will anchor the broadcast of the American River Music Festival, which by unfortunate coincidence is happening this same weekend in nearby Coloma.

As the last of the renowned cooks of Camp Pig-Out at Strawberry, Robertson admitted he was sorely distressed to learn in May that Strawberry had chosen the Nevada County Fairgrounds the same weekend as the previously booked, American River Music Festival.

But, “never for a second,” did he consider reneging on his deal to broadcast American River Music Festival, an event that he has been promoting heavily on his show for the past several years.

So, this year, the self-described barbecueniac will be hosting a barbecue at Camp Troublemaker (named for the American River rapids the camp overlooks) rather than a chili cook-off at Camp Pig-Out.

Over the next four days, KVMR will be alternating between the two festivals, broadcasting worldwide via – a first in Strawberry’s 33 years.

KVMR will broadcast Strawberry Thursday evening and Friday morning, and then Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. American River Music Festival will be on the air during the day on Saturday and Sunday.

Day trippers, night jammers

The allure of Strawberry has always been its fabulous music lineup, but to die-hard Strawberrians, it’s also the after-hours, party-till-dawn music jams in the “neighborhood” camps. Often headliners will sit in for the good company, good times and good food.

Aside from the change of venue, one of the biggest challenges is converting from a four-day campout to a four-day campout with many day-trippers.

Because the Nevada County Fairgrounds is so accessible, it’s likely to draw new people who will come for the official festivities each day and then just go home or to local lodgings for the night.

“Not a problem,” according to Barnett. Because Strawberry has always been a camping festival, the meadow usually used for overflow parking will be open to campers. Day-trippers will have the rare privilege of parking in Gate 1 (for $5).

The stars aligned

Strawberry’s Barnett conceded trying to book the festival so late in the season was a challenge, but, “We’re eclectic. We like to mix it up.”

Not being locked into a single genre, Strawberry booked Main Stage acts including Patty Griffin, Dave Alvin, Hot Rize, Nina Gerber, Los Texmaniacs, Tower of Power and “names you haven’t heard of but should,” Barnett said.

Also, Hattie and Daddy (Joe) Craven will be playing sets on the Pine Tree and Ponderosa stages this weekend.

Strawberry invited two local groups as well. Achilles Wheel was such a surprise success at the last Strawberry that they’ve been invited play both the Pine Tree Stage and the Main Stage.

Additionally, Kathy Barwick and Pete Siegfried, formerly of Mountain Laurel, will perform on the Ponderosa Stage – and maybe a brief “tweener” on the Main Stage, said Siegfried, who had been planning to go to Strawberry anyway.

Both newcomers and old-timers are urged to check out the festival’s Facebook page and website for changes and new rules for the Nevada County Fairgrounds. The Welcome Sheet – – has information you’ll wish you’d known before you got there. It ends with, “Please remember our commitment to leave The Nevada County Fairgrounds in better condition than it was when we arrived … it’s the Strawberry Way.”

No problem.

Tom Durkin is a freelance writer and photographer in Nevada City. He can be contacted at

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