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Little bit of heaven in Lotus

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THE AMERICAN RIVER Music Festival offers great music, food and refreshments, art, kid's activities and fun in the Coloma Lotus Valley. Democrat photo by Shelly Thorene

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From page B1 | September 13, 2013 |

Grisman, Thorne, headline American River Music Festival

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Music lovers of all ages and ilks have come to know Coloma and Lotus as home to a friendly, well-run music festival with enthusiastic crowds, charismatic campgrounds, fantastic food and a stretch of crisp blue water beside an idyllic park; an end-of-summer music tradition that gets better every year.

A large grassy lawn, a cloudless sky, the clear blue American River and a thousand or so like-minded souls make for something special. That’s the American River Music Festival.

There’s also some really good music. Come on down to Henningsen-Lotus Park, 950 Lotus Road in Lotus, Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 14 and 15 and you won’t be disappointed. Record the football game. The yard work can wait.

Kids’ activities, merchandise booths, live art, fresh food and local libations are all in the mix. Unlike larger festivals, a couple tickets won’t set you back a car payment.

Best of all the American River is right there, sparkling in the sun, like God’s own Frigidaire. It’s a family festival, a place to reconnect with old friends and meet new ones.

The festival lineups have particular appeal to boomers who grew up with rock and roll, then expanded into related genres such as southern rock, folk rock, bluegrass, blues, Cajun, Latin and world music, all of which have found a home in the “Americana music” stadium.

Festival coach Matt Semonsen fields a team of recognizable names and rising stars that can hit one out of the park from anywhere in the lineup.

 

Hidden treasures

Some of the best performances each year are intimate affairs at local campgrounds and eateries within the “friendly confines” of Coloma Lotus.

Anyone who witnessed Dangermuffin burn down Gringos or heard Nina Gerber’s haunting accompaniment of Ray Bonneville at Camp Lotus last year can attest that some of the festival’s best moments are after the sun goes down.

The Dangermuffins confessed that they’d never set foot in California before that week. Semonsen discovered these guys, who were complete unknowns in these parts, brought them to California to headline his Saturday show. He watched them knock it out of Henningsen-Lotus park, then do it again in extra innings at Gringos.

Semonsen also entices leading touring acts into the El Dorado County hinterland, bands like James McMurtry, Jackie Greene, Taj Mahal and Roy Rogers that often require a rural audience to travel great distances and endure an expensive urban nightclub experience, or travel even greater distances for a more expensive and crowded large festival experience.

There won’t be any of those hassles this weekend. Come on down with your lowback chair, bring the kids and get your smile on.

 

Everyone likes Lotus

The American River Music Festival has remained pleasantly uncrowded and completely, delightfully, unpretentious in its eight year run.

The long lines and the sometimes-ugly competition for stage-front real estate found at larger festivals are not a concern in Lotus.

There’s plenty of room for everyone to get close enough to see the performers up close and personal, and also room to spread out and move around. Toss a Frisbee, try a hula hoop. Take a plunge in the river.

The musicians also succumb to the event’s charms. Rarely spotted outside the CD booth or the main stage at larger festivals, many bring their families to Lotus and mingle in the audience before and after their performance.

 

Lineup and dance

This year’s lineup might be the most eclectic yet. Sunday’s headliner is Tupelo, Mississippi-based Paul Thorne, a natural storyteller and the son of a Pentecostal preacher. NPR described his songs as “part narrative, part parable and part plainspoken desire.”

Thorne once went six rounds with Roberto Duran in a nationally televised bout in Atlantic City, and came away with a vaguely Woody Harrelson weirdness to him. He describes his music as “going to church with a six-pack.”

Saturday’s headliner is the big Dawg himself, David Grisman, who mastered bluegrass at an early age, then morphed it with jazz and sprinkled it with international seasonings. He named the new genre Dawg music, but that’s not what you’ll hear on Saturday.

About nine years ago Grisman came full circle and surrounded his young son Sam with a Northern California A-list of bluegrass talent, including El Dorado County’s own Keith Little.

The David Grisman Bluegrass Experience, or DGBX for short, demonstrates the raw power of bluegrass performed by those steeped in the tradition. There are no pickups on their instruments and they sing harmonies around a shared microphone, just like Bill Monroe did.

 

More to hear

The rest of the lineup is just as eclectic.

Sean Hayes played some memorable and addictively weird sunset performances at David Girard Vineyards in the past and returns to El Dorado County on Saturday at 3 p.m. His hometown SF Weekly described his voice as a “wandering troubadour’s coo … with a wounded, wavering tone” who “gets his groove on, laying his buttery, quavering voice over swinging drum patterns, mellifluous piano and funky horn parts.”

The festival has enjoyed some memorable outlaw country Texas troubadours over the years, including Slaid Cleaves, James McMurtry and Jimmie Dale Gillmore. This year’s edition is Ray Willie Hubbard, who’s touring in support of his latest release, “The Grifter’s Hymnal,” as gritty as the back seat of a Cadillac with the top down on washboard gravel.

Flat-pick guitar virtuoso Jim Nunally is working both ends of the Saturday lineup, opening with harmonist Nell Robinson at 11 a.m. and closing with DGBX. He and Robinson are an acclaimed folk duo.

Festival-goers will get a chance to get up and shake their stuff a little earlier this year.

Two of the west coast’s leading jam bands play mid-day sets. Expect some serious turf trampling when New Monsoon hits the stage Saturday at 1:30 p.m. and again when Hot Butter Rum kicks off the jams Sunday at 3 p.m.

Poor Man’s Poison plays on Saturday at 1:15 p.m. The new generation of jammy string bands play incredibly well in the festival atmosphere. Same goes for Tahoe’s Dead Winter Carpenters, which play on Sunday, same time, same station. Both are guaranteed to make you smile.

In fact, everyone smiles at the American River Music Festival. Maybe it’s all those ions coming off the river.

Negative ions have been shown to increase the flow of oxygen to the brain, increasing alertness and clarity, according to Dr. Pierce J. Howard, of the Center for Applied Cognitive Sciences in Charlotte, N.C.

They also stabilize brain function to help you silence the chattering monkeys between your ears. Howard notes that roughly one third of people are noticeably sensitive to these “anions,” or negatively charged ions, and suffer their absence with moodiness and lethargy.

No wonder everyone’s happy in Lotus.

Single-day tickets are $45 at the door and $15 for kids. A two-day pass will set you back just $59 for adults and $20 for kids. Kids 7 and younger are free. Purchase tickets on site at Henningsen-Lotus Park.

Parking and ions are also free. Doors open at 10 a.m. The music runs from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Nevada City public radio station KVMR has set up shop in Camino, and will simulcast the festival on both stations, 89.5 and 88.3.

For more information visit the festival Website at americanrivermusic.org.

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