San Francisco Chronicle
Mt. Tam Americana festival returns with new relevance
Live music and golden California sunshine ushered in a day of restorative celebration as Sound Summit returned to the Mountain Theater atop Mount Tamalpais in Marin County on Saturday after a two-year hiatus.
The outdoor concert, produced by and benefiting the Roots & Branches Conservancy, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to preserve natural resources both physical and cultural, found new a new level of relevance against the backdrop of the pandemic; wildfires, with fresh burn scars visible on the mountain along the ridge drive to the venue; and Hurricane Ida, which left devastation and flooding in its wake just weeks ago.
Promoter Michael Nash admitted he wasn’t sure Sound Summit “was going to happen until early June.”
“It was a choice point where we had to decide whether to go forward or wait another year, and I just felt that if we had the opportunity it would be disheartening not to,” Nash told The Chronicle as the Los Angeles surf rock
band the Allah-Las played. “But it also condensed months of work into weeks, which was a heavy lift — exhilarating and exhausting at the same time.”
Nash said he was able to mobilize his crew and book the impressive seven-act lineup featuring headliners Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real and Father John Misty, plumbing every corner of the Americana landscape. Whether by happenstance or design, the eclectic roster mirrored the mood of an audience of 3,350 grappling with wariness and exhaustion wrought of tragedy juxtaposed by feelings of redemption, renewal and hope.
The ocean was still shrouded by a bed of clouds below as San Anselmo natives Ray and Paul Holmberg took the stage to kick off the day of music. Ray, a sophomore at UC Santa Barbara, and younger brother Paul, a junior at Archie Williams High School, spent the past school year at home in lockdown. During that time, the indie-pop duo caught the attention of local media and Nash with their single “When This Ends,” which looks forward to life post-pandemic.
The Teal Collins Band followed. Collins, a Mill Valley native and one of few repeat Sound Summit acts having performed in the inaugural 2015 event with the Mother Truckers, played a set of new material drawing from her Marin roots. A highlight and fun hometown moment was the soon-to-be-released single “Mothership,” a psychedelic rock ode to the early days of mountain biking down Mount Tam on old Schwinn Cruiser bicycles.
Up next was Cha Wa from New Orleans, fusing funk, brassband and Mardi Gras Indian tradition for a rousing set of dance music that moved the crowd physically and emotionally. Members of the band had been displaced by Hurricane Ida, and it appeared doubtful they would be able to make the gig.
The Allah-Las followed with a set of dreamy psychedelia that was well suited for the laid-back, sunny afternoon vibe. But the performance was marred by audio problems, making it hard for the band to to maintain the momentum established by the previous acts.
Father John Misty, the alter ego of singer-songwriter Josh Tillman, preceded the headliner and was able to initially hold the attention of the audience with the clarity of his vocal delivery, smartly crafted lyrics and selfeffacing humor, sometimes critiquing his own performance. Melting in the sun in an admittedly ill-chosen black blazer, he struggled to keep the crowd with him without the support of his backing band.
As the sun began to set, Nelson took the stage and brought back the crowd, taking both the level of performance and sound quality up several notches. Nelson, son of Willie Nelson, has been the darling of the Americana festival scene for several years running on the strength of his explosive stage energy magnified by his band, Promise of the Real.
Nelson is a natural performer with composure and maturity beyond his 32 years, whose stage theatrics brought the crowd to its feet and kept it there. But the core of his emotional appeal is his patient, drawn-out phrasing and vocal delivery.
As powerful as Nelson’s performance was, the real headliner was the natural backdrop of the Mountain Theater. A satisfied, satiated audience drifted away into the hills of Mount Tam, and traffic was barely an issue as many stuck around to take in a breathtaking ocean sunset.
“It feels pretty surreal and pretty awesome,” Nash said. “It’s a gorgeous, day and everyone is clearly enjoying themselves. It’s nourishing.”