PREVIEW: High Sierra 2012 Artist Playshops

High Sierra is less than four weeks away and our groups’ camp plans are slowly crystallizing, but until yesterday there was one large part of the puzzle that had not been put into place: the Artist Playshops schedule! For the last week I had been refreshing the High Sierra’s website multiple times a day, because some of my favorite High Sierra memories invariably emerge from these playshops. They are usually extremely intimate performances with some of the top talents of the festival, and an opportunity to see one-off collaborations which will never happen again. Also note how they don’t bill them as “workshops”; they almost always turn into bootyshaking funk sessions with 10+ people on stage, guitar onslaughts, or 100% pure, unadulterated improv. And did I mention that these things are INSIDE? Great way to escape the daytime heat.

Here are some quick clips of years’ past to give you a bit of flavor for what typically goes down:

Horn of Plenty with Skerik, Karl Denson and Trombone Shorty going to town @ High Sierra 2010:

Skerik, Karl Denson, Chris Littlefield, & Trombone Shorty Jamming at High Sierra 2010

Stanton Moore’s “History of Drumming” @ High Sierra 2009:

Stanton Moore Drum Clinic at High Sierra

“The Kitchen” aka Skerik and Marco’s 45 minute jam session @ High Sierra 2009:

Skerik, Marco, and Chesthair

So after examining this years playshops, here are the ones I am most looking forward to that are sure to elicit some more magic moments.

Guitarmageddon: Celebrating the Talking Heads

In years past, Guitarmageddon has honored such bands at the Rolling Stones, Nirvana, and The Allman Brothers with in your face, balls to the wall renditions of the classics that can sometimes have five or six guitarists on stage trading lick after fiery lick. Josh Clark of Tea Leaf Green, Lebo of ALO, and a cavalcade of others will be taking the stage to pay homage one of my favorite bands of all time: Talking Heads. Here’s hoping for a rendition of “The Great Curve” with some horns sitting in. Deep cuts for the win!

New Orleans Piano

A follow up to a late night throwdown at The Maple Leaf during JazzFest this year, featuring Marco Benevento, two members of the New Orleans Suspects and the legendary Johnny Vidacovich on drums, this is sure to be a master clinic of the New Orleans sound. Focusing mostly on the music of James Booker as well as Dr John and Professor Longhair, this will be a fun way to kick off the weekend of incredible playshops.

Skerik’s Horn-A-Copia

Anyone who knows me knows that I can’t get enough of the mad scientist of saxophonics known as Skerik. No one else is billed as performing with him, so what will happen is anyone’s guess. My prediction: tons of loops, some beat boxing, and countless mind-bending sax solos.


I know nothing about the band Brownout besides the fact that is the funky alter-ego of Austin’s Grupo Fantasma, and more importantly, they have moonlighted as Prince’s backing band more than once. If it’s good enough for His Purpleness, it’s damn sure good enough for me.

The Ramble Gramble Tribute to Levon Helm

Boasting an all-star cast of members from ALO, The Slip, The Mother Hips, and Nicki Bluhm, this is sure to be an incredible playshop honoring the late, great Levon Helm. Expect nary a dry eye in the house and a joyous and cathartic “The Weight > I Shall Be Released” closer.

Well, there you have it. The folks that put on High Sierra never cease to amaze me with what the lineups they put together, and this is just adding more fuel to the fire. Well done, boys; I’ll see you all in the front row!