Kevin MacMillan: High Sierra Music Festival a reminder to take risks |

Kevin MacMillan: High Sierra Music Festival a reminder to take risks

One of the best things about life is having the opportunity to try out something new to see if you like it.

While thousands of locals and visitors flooded the beaches, grocery stores, parks, trails and just about every other nook and cranny at Lake Tahoe and Truckee this past weekend, I escaped the crowds and traveled Thursday afternoon to the 24th annual High Sierra Music Festival in Quincy, Calif.

It was my first-ever music festival, and while I’ll admit there were bits and pieces that weren’t enjoyable (not to mention the abrupt transition Tuesday morning of returning to “the real world”), the experience was nothing short of incredible and eye-opening. I’d recommend to anyone thinking about making an inaugural venture into this type of world to not hesitate to pull the trigger.

Before I explain why, first, let me get something out of the way: “This type of world” is something that may come as a major culture shock to some. Yes, High Sierra (and, I assume, other like festivals) was populated with “abnormal” and “weird” people who “don’t look or act like you.” Yes, there was nudity. And dreadlocks. And the smell of marijuana smoke was at times more prevalent than the aromas wafting from the festival’s food vendors.

Simply put, there are things you’ll see and smells you’ll smell and sounds you’ll hear — heck, even things you’ll touch — that you’re not going to experience on a “regular day.”

But that’s what made it all so darn enjoyable.

I learned some time ago that one of the biggest mistakes one can make is to judge a book by its cover. Instead, I find it much more fulfilling to open up to the book’s pages and view all the pictures and look up all the words you don’t understand in the dictionary before deciding at the end if it’s something you like.

My book cover this past week consisted of this: Outside of traveling there with one of my best friends, and meeting a couple more, our camp of roughly 30 was loaded with people I’d either never met or had fleetingly met only recently. Of course, my friends all vouched for their character, so deep down I knew I would be accepted.

Still, I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into, and I definitely made a few rookie mistakes, whether it was forgetting to pack the right things or forgetting the, shall we say, “challenges” that come with having nothing but portable toilets for a bathroom for four days.

But it was in those and several other moments of difference when the true spirit of the High Sierra Music Festival — and most definitely among all my camp mates — brightly shone through.

For lack of a more compelling word, people were “nicer” at High Sierra. They shared their belongings. If you were short on food, they had your back with an extra granola bar. If you needed to cool down in the simmering heat, a complete stranger would be there with a water bottle or a quick hose down. If you forgot a sweatshirt or needed an extra sleeping bag, someone would step up before you could get the question out of your mouth.

And this wasn’t just my camp, it was everywhere. People helping people. People being nice to people. Men and women — young and old and any color under the rainbow, literally — sharing fun stories and making memories.

It was a comforting sight to see.

At times in this column space, I’ve talked about the “bad things” that can happen in our lives that taint society as a whole. There are evil people in this world, no doubt, and they aren’t going away.

The challenge is to “overcome the distraction,” which is a phrase taped to my work stations across Tahoe-Truckee, and look for the ways to help others succeed.

For those four days at High Sierra, I was reminded once again what the “power of good” can do and how better off the world can be because of it.

It’s funny. I never thought I’d be using the concept of running out of toilet paper as a metaphor in a newspaper column, but it helps solidify half my point; someone was always there to help others in their time of need, and if you can rely on your fellow man or woman to lend a hand (and return the favor), you’re going to be a better human being because of it.

Maybe all it was was a simple break from reality. After all, as I write this, I still have bills to pay and I still have life and work responsibilities that aren’t going away.

But, in a way, that’s what helps bolster the other half of the point I’m trying to make here. I took a risk to do something for the first time, to get outside my usual routine and give something else a shot. And it was totally worth it.

So, the next time you’re presented with a risk, my suggestion is that you take it — otherwise, you will never know what it’s like to live outside the book cover you create.

Kevin MacMillan is managing editor of the Sierra Sun and North Lake Tahoe Bonanza newspapers; he may be reached for comment at

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