Music and craft beer mix at Seven Sisters Fest

New festival takes place at El Chorro Regional Park on Friday and Saturday

slinn@thetribunenews.comJuly 10, 2013 

The Honey Island Swamp Band performs Saturday at the Seven Sisters Fest.

COURTESY PHOTO

Eclectic music, craft brews and camping are the focuses of the inaugural Seven Sisters Fest, this weekend near San Luis Obispo.

The event, which takes place Friday and Saturday at El Chorro Regional Park and Campground off Highway 1, borrows its name from the chain of volcanic peaks, or morros, that mark the San Luis Obispo skyline.

“(The range) defines San Luis Obispo County,” event co-organizer Sarah Mason said, just as she and her partners, Jim Vanko, hope to redefine the local festival scene.

The owners of Morro Bay marketing firm HarvestMoon Inc., Mason and Vanko chose El Chorro Regional Park, located across Highway 1 from Cuesta College, because of its scenery — particularly the views of Cerro Romauldo — and its proximity to San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay. The 700-acre site includes Dairy Creek Golf Course, San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden, camping areas and a couple of hiking trails.

“It just has a great vibe,” Vanko said.

A great party

HarvestMoon, which specializes in integrated marketing, branding, design and event management, has been working with entertainment venues such as the Fox Theater in Bakersfield and the Ojai Libbey Bowl since 2005.

“We know how to throw a great party, and know how to invite people to the party,” Mason explained.

One of HarvestMoon’s biggest events is the Mammoth Festival of Beers and Bluesapalooza, sponsored by Mammoth Brewing Co. Now in its 18th year, the four-day festival brings 6,000 people to Mammoth Lakes each summer.

“Our infrastructure is one fire hydrant. That’s it,” Vanko said. “Everything else is brought in — the electricity, the box office … the staging, the Porta-Potties, everything.”

Over the years, Mason and Vanko have dealt with everything from missing main-stage acts to blown generators, forest fires and thunderstorms.

“You just become very resourceful,” Vanko said, taking catastrophes as they come. “(But when) everything clicks, there’s nothing like it. There’s nothing like seeing those people having a great time and reacting to live music. … There’s a buzz in the air.”

Eager to expand, the organizers looked homeward.

“We thought, ‘Gosh, why aren’t we doing something in our backyard?’ ” Mason said.

In creating Seven Sisters, the organizers took their cues from such popular camping-based events as the High Sierra Music Festival in Plumas County, Live Oak Music Festival in northern Santa Barbara County and the Strawberry Music Festivals near Yosemite National Park.

“We would love for Seven Sisters to be the younger sister festival, no pun intended, to Live Oak,” Mason said, while capturing the same social experience. “Some people come for the music. Some people come to hang out with their friends and family. I think this festival encompasses all of that.”

Although music takes center stage at Live Oak, Seven Sisters places equal emphasis on craft beer — and some select wines. The festival is hosted by Tap-It Brewing Co. of San Luis Obispo and benefits the California Craft Brewers Association and San Luis Obispo Brewers Guild, as well as the botanical garden, Guitars in the Classroom and the Infinite Music Foundation.

Participating breweries include ManRock Brewing Co. in Grover Beach, Barrelhouse Brewing Co., Firestone Walker Brewing Co. and Paso Robles Brewing Co. in Paso Robles, and Central Coast Brewing, Creekside Brewing Co., Einhorn Brew Co. and SLO Brewing Co. in San Luis Obispo.

“Who doesn’t want to sit down to great music and have a beer?” Mason asked.

Brews and bands

Musically, Seven Sisters features an eclectic blend of sounds.

Bluegrass/hip-hop group Gangstagrass and Americana combo Nora Jane Struthers & The Party Line will perform at Friday’s Beermaker’s Bluegrass Ball.

On Saturday, groove band Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe and legendary blues/jazz/rock guitarist Robben Ford perform with folk trio City Folk, soul/rock powerhouse Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds and the New Orleans-based Honey Island Swamp Band. (Those concerts coincide with beer and wine tasting.)

There are also sunset concerts just for campers — folk-reggae group Poor Man’s Poison on Friday and City Folk on Saturday.

“We really purposely wanted to bring in musical entertainment that had never played in San Luis before — or if they had, it had been a while,” Vanko said.

“We’re always on the hunt for somebody new,” Mason added.

Although the organizers predict most of the 2,000 or so people attending this year’s festival will be local, they have festival attendees coming from as far north as Reno and as far south as San Diego. They plan to eventually expand marketing to Los Angeles and San Francisco.

After their experience with the Mammoth Festival of Beers and Bluesapalooza, Vanko said, “It’s great to be starting over with Seven Sisters. The possibilities here are so endless.”

IF YOU GO

Seven Sisters Fest
4 to 8 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday
El Chorro Regional Park and Campground, Highway 1, San Luis Obispo
$25 to $95, $30 to $100 at gate
855-966-7767 or http://sevensistersfest.com

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