Concert halls have their place but let’s remember that the great outdoors served as humankind’s first music venue. Indeed, an enduring attraction of the world’s top music festivals is how they offer audiences the opportunity to hear top-flight artists perform outdoors under bright blue or starry skies.
Natural beauty has played a prominent role in the Bear Valley Music Festival from its inception. The festival was founded in 1969 on the simple but daring idea that people would travel far to hear classical music performed amid the high Sierra’s rugged beauty. Changing demographics have led Bear Valley to add other genres over the decades but the event’s basic chemistry remains the same – an appealing combination of rustic sights and uplifting sound.
The 2015 edition gets under way July 24 with a performance by the Americana trio the T Sisters. Over the course of the next 15 days and nights, Bear Valley will showcase a wide variety of performers from pop to classical but its focuses shifts decidedly toward jazz in the first week of August.
That schedule includes a Frank Sinatra centennial tribute with Chicago-based vocalist Ron Hawking (August 6) and “The Best of Both Worlds,” an evening of classical and jazz featuring Bay Area vocalist (and returning Bear Valley favorite) Paula West (August 7). That’s followed by West headlining the fund-raising “Night in Havana” gala (August 8).
Festival performances are held in a large tent located in the heart of Bear Valley Village. In addition to the main performance tent, small tents are located adjacent and offer local wines from award-winning wineries, beer, beverages and snacks along with festival merchandise for sale as fundraisers for the festival.
Bear Valley at 7,000 feet elevation is located on scenic Highway 4 three hours east of the Bay Area in the heart of the Stanislaus National Forest. It’s an area known as the California Alps between Lake Tahoe and Yosemite. In colder seasons, Bear Valley represents an attractive ski resort but for the festival it’s all about towering pines, crisp evening air and statuesque peaks.
Originally named Grizzly Bear Valley by explorer Jedediah Smith, the Alpine County location remained largely untapped until the development of the Bear Valley Village and nearby ski area began in the early 1960s. That was followed by Lake Alpine, a man-made reservoir, which features a rustic lodge, cabins, restaurant and store, as well as a large concentration of camping facilities.
Today, Bear Valley is a must-see Sierra destination, offering a multitude of summer and winter sports as well as easy access to foothill golf courses and the Calaveras Big Trees State Park. Just be aware that evenings can get cold so bundle up for the performances.
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