“Mountains. Magic. Music.' The tagline of the Strawberry Music Festival, a lively, four-day event in May, says it all. Held at the Nevada County Fairgrounds in Grass Valley, about an hour north of Sacramento, the festival hosts dozens of musical acts playing bluegrass, blues, folk, swing, indie rock, gospel, Cajun and Celtic music—and probably some unlabelled genres too. Those attending are encouraged to turn the family-friendly event into a giant camping party—there’s loads of space to pitch a tent or park a camper van.
Over the course of four days, a line-up consisting of more than 20 acts will grace the Main Stage, and several additional smaller stages showcase an even wider array of accomplished artists. But what sets the Strawberry Music Festival apart is the level of audience participation that is built into the programming and is encouraged in more informal ways. At the Band Scramble, for example, concert-goers show up with their own instruments and are randomly divided into bands, which then have an hour to come up with a two-song set. The champion band is decided by audience response and silly prizes are awarded, but it’s really all about the chance to boast.
Other events include the Breakfast Club, an event where anyone is welcome to get on stage to perform (all participants earn a free breakfast) and The Revival, a Sunday morning gospel show. But you don’t even have to attend all of the events to hear the music—every one of them is broadcast over Hog Ranch Radio, a low-powered FM station set up just for the festival. Adding to the variety, the performances are not limited to just those that are scheduled. Musicians of all levels get together to jam at the campsites all over the grounds, which creates a dizzying kaleidoscope of sound that accompanies anyone taking a walk around.
The Strawberry Kids Program is a big part of the goings-on as well. Four separate programmes, for toddlers to teens, offer activities such as dance, art and photography workshops, yoga, film nights, henna tattoos, tie-dying and more, all of it culminating in the Strawberry Kids Parade on the Sunday after The Revival.
Insider tip: admission options range from 1- to 4-day passes (including camping) to single day and even single-night passes. Camping is on a first-come, first-served basis; hot showers and access to potable water is provided.