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More than a music festival: Strawberry Music Festival returns to Nevada County Fairgrounds

Hollie Grimaldi Flores
Special to Prospector
The band Rising Appalachia takes to the stage during the 2017 Strawberry Music Festival at the Nevada County Fairgrounds.
Photo: Elias Funez

Following a short hiatus due to the pandemic, this Memorial Day weekend in Nevada County brings the return of the Strawberry Music Festival. With camping and single days tickets already sold out, the long-anticipated return of the Americana-themed multiday event promises to be one that will not be soon forgotten.

Strawberry was founded in 1982, named for the town in which it was created, and held at Leland Meadow, which it quickly outgrew. The festival then moved to a new location outside Yosemite National Park where both a spring and fall rendition was enjoyed until 2013 when the Rim Fire forced the cancellation of the fall festival. Organizers then reached out to Nevada County Fairgrounds, said Festival Manager Jodi Barnett. “We were unable to return to our former location, so we came to the folks at the Nevada County Fairgrounds, and they gave us an extremely warm welcome and they have been great partners ever since.”

This year marks forty years and the 79th festival. Barnett said it is really a labor of love. “We do what we do more out of love for the event and being together,” she said.

One of the remarkable things about Strawberry is the community it has created, Barnett explained. “I think that what makes Strawberry unique really stems from the beginning and its history because so many of those people who came back in 1982 continue to come and as their families grew, and as their friends started to join them over the years, we’ve evolved into this tight community of people and we care so much about each other that it is just very much indicative the Americana music lifestyle or folk music lifestyle, I think that sort of kindness is indicative, but also for us it’s just a unique family reunion.”

Bands take to the stage during the Strawberry Music Festival at the Nevada County Fairgrounds.
Photo: Elias Funez

She went on to describe the many long-time volunteers who come back year after year bring a love to the event and a sense of camaraderie that carries throughout the festival and brings new people in each year. “So many lifelong friendships have been forged at this festival. People have found their spouses. Children have been born out of the connections that have been made at Strawberry. Weddings have happened. It’s magic. It’s a magic you don’t know or expect until you get there and then it’s just the music floating through the trees and the ways people reach out and engage with one another. Strangers will look you in the eye and smile and tell you to have a happy Strawberry. For me and for a lot of others, it’s a five-day Utopia we just can’t have the other 360 days, as humans.”

Barnett explained the atmosphere and experience goes far beyond the talent taking the stage throughout the event. “Something about that, about being supported to practice what it is like to be human, especially at this time where we are coming back to it, for the first time in three years. The inclusive nature of the event for all ages, all abilities, all types of people – the lack of politics — all those kinds of things are what make Strawberry special, and that is not even talking about the music.”

A large part of the Strawberry experience takes place outside the gates with the sound of music drifting from one campsite to the next. “More music gets played in the campgrounds than gets played on any stage at Strawberry,” Barnett said. “You can stay in camp the whole time, never go to a stage performance, and have a heck of a time and hear some really fantastic music and be part of something really special.”

Many campers create their own venues. Returning attendees are known by their camp names and will host their own unique events, which may include a special lunch, a wine and cheese afternoon and other welcoming activities.

The Strawberry Music Festival stage stands illuminated amongst the pines of the Nevada County Fairgrounds Saturday, silhouetted by the light of the setting sun.
Photo: Elias funez

Barnett said organizers of Strawberry simply facilitate the opportunity, but it is the spectators who bring the magic with them.

The five-day festival also boasts an expansive children’s program for all ages. “It’s a family friendly event that people can bring their kids to. They are cared for. They are having so much fun and there are lots of opportunities for them to engage.”

The children’s program is divided into four different areas by age groups from toddlers to teens. “The teens have their own recreation center with games, jams, a late-night dance with a lot of staff to make it as engaging at it can be.”

While the music almost takes a backseat to the spectators, the quality of the musical acts that take the stage each year are among the best of the genre. The quality of the sound coming from the stage is superseded as a top priority only by the health and safety of all who attend.

Sam Bush, Steep Canyon Rangers, Sierra Hull, and the David Bromberg Quintet are just a few of the top names headlining the 2022 Strawberry Festival.

With a reduced capacity for the sake of social distancing, single day tickets are already sold out and same day tickets are not offered for adults (though children and teen tickets are always available). More information is available at http://www.strawberryfestival.com.

Make plans to attend next spring and to be part of the ever-growing family that gathers a couple times a year, making memories that will last a lifetime.

Hollie Grimaldi Flores is a Nevada County resident and freelance writer for hire, as well as a podcaster at HollieGrams. You can hear her episodes at http://www.buzzsprout.com/1332253. She can be reached at holliesallwrite@gmail.com

The California Honeydrops, who featured a song with singer and harmonica player Javier Matos, performed during the 2019 festival.
Photo by Elias Funez/efunez@theunion.com
Strawberry Music Festival goers young and old keep the long-standing tradition of family fun alive during the 2019 spring festival. The festival returns this weekend after a COVID-hiatus.
Photo by Elias Funez/efunez@theunion.com
Festival goers dance to the music from the main stage bands at the 2017 Strawberry Music Festival at the Nevada County Fairgrounds.
Photo by Elias Funez/efunez@theunion.com
The children’s program is divided into four different areas by age groups from toddlers to teens.
Photo courtesy Strawberry Music Festival
Leah Song (left) and Chloe Smith of the band Rising Appalachia performed to a large crowd on the 2017 Strawberry Music Festival.
Elias Funez/efunez@theunion.com
The Strawberry Music Festival returns to the Nevada County Fairgrounds.
Photo: Elias Funez

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