With the fifth Strawberry Music Festival set to open at the Nevada County Fairgrounds this holiday weekend, it seems like the venerable spring version of the festival has found a new home.
"From what I can tell, they (the festival) are quite happy about being in Grass Valley," said KVMR 89.5 FM festival broadcast producer Eric Rice. "And it seems like the (Fairgrounds) crew loves having them here, too."
Both Rice and KVMR Chief Engineer Dave "Buzz" Barnett have been at nearly all the twice-annual festivals since the 1980s, with Rice contracted to be Strawberry's electrician for the past two decades or so and Barnett a longtime part of the festival's Hog Ranch Radio crew.
Strawberry first came to the Fairgrounds in 2014 after fire damage and infrastructure issues forced it to move from Yosemite area's Camp Mather to Grass Valley in the spring and Westside Tuolumne in the fall.
Some longtime festivalgoers were leery of the new sites at first, but the dust seems to have settled.
Actually, there isn't much dust.
"Now this is a great place for a spring festival," noted Rice. "The grass is in great shape for a concert this time of year. No wonder I think Strawberry loves bein' here."
Meanwhile, engineer Barnett raves about the "superior audio quality" found at Strawberry.
"The front-of-house engineer for most of it will be Larry Cummings, a Grammy award-winning sound engineer," Barnett explained. "He creates one of the finest live mixes you will ever hear, and we do our best at KVMR to maintain it."
It's certainly found a home on over-the-air radio. The first broadcast and online streaming of the festival by a fulltime radio station was by KVMR, which again will partner with Strawberry's traditional Hog Ranch Radio onsite presentation for the fifth time.
KVMR's broadcast from the festival begins 2 p.m. Thursday (May 24) and includes headliners Todd Snider, Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real, the Taj Mahal Trio and Bruce Cockburn.
But both Rice and Barnett agree Friday night's combination of Dave Alvin & Jimmie Dale Gilmore is the act they're most excited to see.
"This combination of California (Alvin) and Texas (Gilmore) songwriting and collaboration is bound to be new, exciting and extremely rocking," said Barnett. "I'm psyched to see and hear them live."
As for Rice, "Well, Wesley (Robertson) would have been doin' back flips about that one."
Robertson's enthusiasm for live roots music was indefatigable, and he was a longtime live remote broadcast producer at KVMR. He passed away from injuries he suffered in a March car accident.
And, no, Eric Rice would never start a rumor.
"Well. whenever Willie Nelson's son Lukas is playing, there's always a chance Neil Young might sit in; that's Neil's back-up band these days..."
"Now it's probably just a fairy tale," added Rice with a wink. "But you can spread it."
Also on tap for Strawberry are main stage performances by regional performers Barwick & Siegfried (Thurs, 6:15 p.m.), Hannah Jane Kile (Sun, 12:15 p.m.) and the Heifer Belles (Fri, 10 a.m.), including KVMR broadcaster Kim Rogers on pedal steel guitar. Rogers also hosts her regular Thursday show, "Good Stuff", from the Fairgrounds to kick off the KVMR broadcast.
And the Strawberry Way permeates the festival: consideration, cooperation, kindness and generosity.
Says Barnett, "It's really a community that developed as far back as the '80s that continues to grow and change. It's more than a music festival. It's a gathering of some of the finest people on this planet."
KNOW & HEAR
WHAT: Strawberry Spring Music Festival Broadcast on KVMR 89.5 FM, streaming worldwide at kvmr.org
WHEN: Thursday (May 24), 2 p.m. to 11 p.m., Friday (May 25), 10 a.m. to approximately midnight; Saturday (May 26), 10 a.m. to approximately midnight; Sunday (May 28), 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
WHERE: Nevada County Fairgrounds, Grass Valley.
ON-SITE RADIO: Hog Ranch Radio, 88.3 FM
TICKETS: Available at gate & at strawberrymusic.com