The month of May has brought not-so-rosy news for Sacramento music festivals with an announcement that the TBD Fest remains a possibility but not a certainty in 2016. Add to that the May 15 fatal assault and fire at a concert in Discovery Park, and the picture dims further for outdoor entertainment.
Fortunately, from here things only look up. The summer festival season unofficially boots up this weekend, with the long-running Sacramento Music Festival (formerly the Jazz Jubilee), the recently relocated Strawberry Music Festival in Grass Valley and the Red Hot Chili Peppers leading the charge in Year 4 of BottleRock in Napa. Then for a coda, in early fall there will be the relocated City of Trees, followed by Aftershock, which announces its lineup on June 7.
The brimming slate of summer festivals throughout Northern California ranges from four-day multistage marathons with camp-outs to tidy one-day affairs, many of which you can catch on a budget.
Let summer begin!
Sacramento and the foothills
Sacramento Music Festival – Friday-Monday, May 27-30, Sacramento (Old Town): Sac Music Fest still seems to be searching for its new identity, eschewing last year’s bill-topping ’90s acts for an onslaught of swing with Lee Rocker and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, as well as venerable acts Tom Rigney and Mumbo Gumbo. Thankfully, the devotion to Dixieland and vintage jazz runs strong throughout the always-full schedule. www.sacmusicfest.com
Ink it in: Todd Morgan & the Emblems – In case you needed proof that “kids these days” are indeed paying attention to classic ’50s swing and crooning pop, the upstart Todd Morgan offers it.
Strawberry – Friday-Sunday, May 27-29 – Grass Valley: Longtime devotees cried foul when this festival was uprooted from the Yosemite region a couple of years ago, but its new digs in Grass Valley seem to have quickly won over hearts of the lifers and the new blood. A lineup that includes vintage lounge bluesman James Hunter, the indelible Mavis Staples, David Grisman and the Wood Brothers won’t hurt that cause, either. www.strawberrymusic.com.
Ink it in: Pokey LaFarge – His uppity tin-can roots revival act is the stuff you only dared dream would make a comeback.
Father’s Day Festival – Thursday-Sunday, June 16-19, Grass Valley: The California Bluegrass Association presents its 41st annual festival. The music on the stages (including Rhonda Vincent, the Gibson Brothers and Flatt Lonesome) is one attraction, while the all-night jams in the campground is another. National touring acts as well as regional favorites pick the strings among the pines of the Nevada County Fairgrounds. www.cbaweb.org
Ink it in: Tennessee Mafia Jug Band – Banjo impresario Leroy “Tennessee Slicker” Troy and the rest of the band will put a smile on your face and a bounce in your step. Take note of Troy’s so-called “washing machine” contrivance of an instrument.
Davis Music Festival – Friday-Sunday, June 17-19, Davis: This annual takeover of downtown Davis brings in some out-of-towners with L.A. Americana gem Miner and Santa Cruz hellcats Miss Lonely Hearts, but keeps it mostly local with West Nile Ramblers, Joseph in the Well, Element Brass Band, Big Sticky Mess and tons more. www.davismusicfest.com
Ink it in: Hannah Jane Kile – Wisps of Bonnie Raitt and Lake Street Dive’s Rachael Price swirl around this emerging singer-songwriter talent with major breakout potential. www.sacmusicfest.com.
First Festival – Saturday-Sunday, June 18-19, Southside Park, Sacramento: No longer content to have a “West Side Story”-style showdown for sound space across the river from Sac Music Fest, the sophomore installment of First Festival shifts to June in Southside Park and doubles in size to two days and more than 40 musical acts, keeping it hyper-local with their vendors, and talent including Drop Dead Red, Tell the Wolves and Death Party at the Beach. www.firstfestivalsacramento.com
Ink it in: Epsilona – Frisky, edgy electro psych-pop is a hallmark of these emerging locals. Think of a less-brooding Tame Impala or more flashy Local Natives.
Owlfest – Friday-Sunday, June 24-26, Grass Valley: Bring your flying discs – this one is way off-grid in the middle of a disc golf course and features heaps of unheralded and inventive talent. www.owlfest2016.weebly.com.
Ink it in: The Rabbles – If your brain isn’t already twisted, this psychedelic art pop act will take care of that for you.
High Sierra – Thursday-Sunday, June 30-July 3, Quincy: Anyone who misses the four days at perhaps the most precious and inviting festival in the known world is going to be bitter. Especially considering Harper is back as headliner, and he brought Thievery Corporation, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Dr. Dog and loads more. www.highsierramusic.com.
Ink it in: Billy Strings – Your early Saturday morning wake-up call comes courtesy of a punk rocker who was put under a spell to make him think he’s a bluegrass wizard.
Worldfest – Thursday-Sunday, July 14-17, Grass Valley and Nevada City: This one always lives up to its name with globally influenced music acts such as Nahko and Medicine for the People, the Bhangra-Celtic beat fusing Delhi 2 Dublin and Brazilian dance machine SambaDa – and then buck that trend a bit with the likes of Boz Scaggs and local songwriter Lee Bob & the Truth. Don’t try to figure it out, as it’ll be over by the time you do. www.worldfest.net
Ink it in: The Suitcase Junket – A scintillating one-man band wrapping up the best of Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Jon Spencer, Jack Kerouac and Oscar the Grouch.
Mountain Vibe – Friday-Sunday, July 15-17, Wilseyville: An abundance of Sacramento talent including Massive Delicious, Arden Park Roots, Hellbound Glory, Ideateam and the indelible Zuhg head for the hills for what’s sure to be a rowdy campout (with off-roading?). www.mountainvibemusic.com
Ink it in: Overland – A group raised on a steady diet of ’90s alternative now gravitates toward beefy psychedelic blues rock.
Guitarfish – Thursday-Sunday, July 28-31, Cisco Grove: This workhorse of a festival always totes a solid top-to-bottom lineup and manages to remain a buried treasure. ALO, Orgone, Sister Sparrow and the classic gentlemen of Greyboy Allstars are your headliners at this four-day humdinger. www.guitarfishfestival.com
Ink it in: Hamsa Lila – A global overload for the senses, this trance-themed act starts you off in an Indian desert and from there, no one knows the destination.
Highlights from farther afield
BottleRock – Friday-Sunday, May 27-29, Napa: This mashup of music, food and wine is sold out, but you might have luck with the ticket exchange. For those who’ve scored tickets, you can nibble the dishes of star chefs while losing yourself in the music of such headliners as Stevie Wonder, Florence & the Machine or Ziggy Marley. As for the wine, well, it’s smack in the middle of Napa. www.bottlerocknapavalley.com/
Ink it in: Is there a better fit for a festival that pairs music with celebrity food, beer and wine than a band called the Red Hot Chili Peppers?
Eastlake – May 28, Oakland: Teeming with local spirit, this free shindig on the shores of Lake Merritt offers underground talent such as Eyes on the Shore, David Harness, Sal’s Greenhouse and the Jamming Nachos – it’s Oakland at its best and most inventive. www.eastlakemusicfestival.org
Ink It In: Hip Hop for Change – Self explanatory.
Redwood Mountain Faire – June 4-5, Felton: Funk from Orgone, bluegrass from Hot Buttered Rum, Americana from Dead Winter Carpenters and Yarn, a freakout from the Sam Chase and sheer madness from Scott Pemberton, and you’ve got a barn burner in hills above Santa Cruz. www.redwoodmountainfaire.com
Ink It In: MarchFourth! – A marching band, a vaudevillian variety show, stilts, rock, funk, human puppets, dance and pure effervescence – it will absolutely own you.
Railroad Square – Sunday, June 5, Santa Rosa: There is a palpable and harrowingly inventive roots revival going on in Sonoma County, and this one-day street fest is a bellcow of this grassroots spirit. Americana duo d’jour Easy Leaves headlines, with the Dixie Giants, Bootleg Honeys, the intriguing Coffis Brothers and more. www.railroadsquaremusicfestival.com
Ink It In: Royal Jelly Jive – Homegrown junkyard jazz with an indelible sweetness, just like fellow Sonoma County man Tom Waits would have drawn it up.
Huichica – Friday-Saturday, June 10-11, Sonoma: “We chica” – booked annually by Eric Johnson of veteran indie act Fruit Bats (which also performs) – features prime emerging talent, including the Beatles-esque psych-pop of Mystic Braves, Vetiver, Dengue Fever, Giant Sand, Kelley Stoltz and more.www.huichica.com
Ink It In: Nicole Atkins – Sassy, funky rock and roll with throwback pop smarts is the calling card of this enigmatic diva.
Kate Wolf – Thursday-Sunday, June 23-26, Laytonville: Harry Belafonte is your headliner, with a little help from the likes of Neko Case, Dave and Phil Alvin, Trampled by Turtles, Nicki Bluhm and Elephant Revival. This is one of the festival’s best slates yet. www.katewolfmusicfestival.com
Ink it in: The Head and the Heart – Pure Pacific Northwest acoustic soul, this is indie folk royalty, one of the most beloved collectives now touring.
Burger Boogaloo – Saturday-Sunday, June 25-26, Oakland: This festival is pure trash – in the best possible way with B-roll cult film hero John Waters as host, a meet-and-greet with Traci Lords and a devil-may-care rock lineup that includes Young Fresh Fellows, Trashwomen, the Mummies, Shannon & the Clams, the Seth Bogart Show and a DJ set from the iconic Jello Biafra. www.burgerboogaloo.com
Ink It In: Thee Oh Sees – An electro-rock sludgefest to remind you that the party doesn’t have to die when the dead start to rise.
Fountain Blues Fest – Saturday, June 25, San Jose: A wee little afternoon gathering, Sacramento’s Rick Estrin & the Nightcats, Otis Taylor, Maria Muldaur and the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir present a dandy of a bill. www.fountainbluesfestival.com
Ink It In: California Honeydrops – Cliché as the saying may be: If you love music, you have to love this band.
Northern Nights – Friday-Sunday, July 15-17, Piercy: The electronic music-themed affair is loaded with artists who employ crafty live instrumentation and find ways to push the limits of the genre, including the funkified Griz, Gorgon City, Amon Tobin and the Knox. www.northernights.com
Ink It In: The Coup – Unstoppable emcee Boots Riley’s flagship outfit is one of Northern California hip-hop’s seminal acts.
Petaluma Music Festival – Saturday, Aug. 6, Petaluma: A benefit for music programs in local schools and one of the best single-day festivals around, this screamer of a lineup is topped for the second time by Jackie Greene, Steve Kimock, David Nelson Band, Mark Karan and Wine Country golden boy David Luning Band. www.petalumamusicfestival.com
Ink it in: The Mother Hips – Tim Bluhm has performed in a chair over the past few months as he recovers from an accident last year. Word on the street is this California rock staple hasn’t missed a beat.
San Jose Jazz Fest – Friday-Sunday, Aug. 12-14, San Jose: More jazz performers than you can shake a stick at gather at this long-running downtown San Jose event. Headliners include the incomparable Galactic, Funky Meters, Cecile McLoran Salvant and Jane Bunnett. www.sanjosejazz.org
Ink It In: Kermit Ruffins & the Barbecue Swingers – Many know Ruffins as a central character on “Treme.” He’s also a cofounder of Rebirth Brass Band and thus a living monument of New Orleans jazz.
City of Trees – Sept. 10, Sacramento’s Bonney Field: Message received: Fans weren’t quite feeling Gibson Ranch. After social media exploded with nightmarish claims of logistical failures, City of Trees shifts over to Republic FC’s pitch, featuring Weezer, Panic! At the Disco, Phantogram, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness and the Rebel Light. www.cityoftrees.com
Ink it in: “Four more to be announced” – Cool lineup, but this could get really good when we see what else is up their sleeves.
American River – Sept. 16-19, Coloma: The drought killed the rafting component of this riverfront beauty the past few years. The river is back flowing, and so is the lineup with L.A.’s champion roots act Dustbowl Revival, locals Arden Park Roots, the knee-weakening Birds of Chicago and the spitfire T Sisters. www.americanrivermusic.org
Ink it in: The Senate – Smokey, sharp and snappy blues, pop and folk played the thinking man’s way by this Pacific Northwest gem.
Lost Sierra Hoedown – Thursday-Sunday, Sept. 22-25 – Graeagle: Rustic and cozy is the name of the game as summer winds down in the serenity of the foothills, with rowdy sets from Willie Tea Taylor, Marty O’Reilly, Nathan Moore and the Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit. lostsierrahoedown.com
Ink it in: The Stone Foxes – Your headliner is barely recognizable from initial incarnations of this band 10 years ago, but the inferno of classic blues rock and roll is still going totally berserk.
Aftershock – Saturday-Sunday, Oct. 22-23: No official lineup or announced location (like City of Trees, the teeth-gnashing over the 2015 host venue was fierce), but the lineup will be unveiled June 7. www.aftershockconcert.com
Hangtown – Thursday-Sunday, Oct. 20-23, Placerville: The former “Hangtown Halloween” is now simply Hangtown Music Festival. “Blind faith” tickets are on sale in advance of the lineup, but hosts Railroad Earth are a lock. www.hangtownfestival.com
Editor’s note: This story was changed at 8 p.m. Thursday, May 26, to add festivals to the lineup.