“Mountains. Magic. Music.” The tagline of the Strawberry Music Festival, a lively, four-day May event, 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—and probably some unlabeled genres too. Folks attending are encouraged to turn the family-friendly event into a giant camping party—there’s tons of space for pitching tents or parking a camper.
Over the course of four days, a lineup 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 to take place in more informal ways. At the Band Scramble, for example, concertgoers show up with their own instruments and get randomly divided into bands, which are then allowed an hour to come up with a two-song set. A champion is decided by audience response and silly prizes are awarded, but it’s really all about the bragging rights.
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 the events to hear the music—every one of them is broadcast over Hog Ranch Radio, a low-power FM station set up just for the festival. Adding to the variety, performances are not limited to those scheduled. Musicians of all levels get together to jam at campsites all over the grounds, which makes for a dizzying kaleidoscope of sounds to accompany anyone strolling around.
The Strawberry Kids Program is a big part of the goings-on as well. Four separate programs, for toddlers through teens, offer activities such as dance, art, and photography workshops, yoga, movie nights, henna tattoos, tie-dying, and more, all of it culminating in the Strawberry Kids Parade on 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-serve basis; hot showers and access to potable water is provided.