With summer on its way and the music festival circuit approaching, it’s nice to know that a relatively new one is within reach. Now in its third year, the 2011 Mother Hips Family Hipnic took place in Big Sur at Fernwood Campground on May 14 and 15. Having grown beyond the confines of the Henry Miller Library, local promoters (((folkYEAH!))), upped the ante and created a first class concert experience complete with tents, families, a festive atmosphere and Mother Hips fans stoked to have two days with their favorite band.
The opening bands on both days were a mixture of Americana roots and new California Soul with only a smattering of attendees paying attention—most were busy setting up camp, hiking the beautiful terrain and making friends with neighbors. But heads turned when Nicki Bluhm took the stage with her band, The Gramblers.
Having taken a page from Delaney & Bonnie’s shows, where family shared the stage, it’s no wonder The Gramblers feature Tim Bluhm on keys. When sharing vocal duties on songs like “Women’s Prison,” the husband/wife team conjures memories of June and Johnny Cash with their effervescent harmonies. This is not to say Nicki needs vocal accompaniment—her voice is so strong and dimensionally correct, it soars as high as the falcons circling above the stage.
The Mother Hips have a vast catalogue of songs harvested over the last 20 years that touch on a variety of genres: country, rock, blues and psychedelic. Though initially not a group that wanted to be pigeonholed into the journalist-crafted genre, “jam bands,” there were moments on both nights when the music disintegrated into a black hole only to reemerge as a bursting nova.
Longtime bassist Paul Hoaglin is on a band hiatus (much to everyone’s dismay), so Frank Zappa henchman Scott Thunes filled in, crushing the bottom end like a seasoned vet with a wicked sense of humor. Stalwart drummer, John Hofner—looking more and more like he was just transported here from the ’70s—kept everything in time. The band never sounded better.
Saturday, Jackie Greene joined Tim for a thin set of their side-project The Skinny Singers, but it just seemed to be a prelude to Greene (on keys), who joined the Hips for the late-night jam.
Sierra Nevada provided ample kegs of the new Mother Hips beer, Hips Helles—and libations flowed generously. Just as rain began to fall, Beach Boy Al Jardine came onstage to wow the crowd with a Hips flavored mini-set of Beach Boys classics. “Help Me Rhonda” was a crowd favorite as the children onstage joined in harmony. Hips guitarist Greg Loiacono even had a rare onstage smile as he shredded alongside the legendary band member.
The rain meant camping was out of the question, but my fiancée and I headed back to Santa Cruz with warm memories of singing along to festival closer “Can’t Sleep at All”, and anticipation of next year’s Hipnic.
For more info about Mother Hips, visit motherhips.com and next year’s Hipnic 2012 at folkyeah.com.