Unique music comes to Moke Hill festival

Bay Area-based percussionist Allen Biggs lives part time in Mokelumne Hill and is using his Bay Area connections to bring a music festival to the town.

Part-time Mokelumne Hill resident Allen Biggs felt like sharing his passion for music not often heard over the radio.

So this weekend, Biggs has invited a group of musically inclined friends to Calaveras County for the inaugural Mokelumne Hill Music Festival, which promises a relaxed and intriguing collection of performances. The festival runs from June 5 to 7, with a couple of free daytime events and other paid concerts at night.

“In a sense, this festival is a dream of merging my two worlds,” said Biggs, a percussionist from the Bay Area who teaches at San Francisco State University. He has also been part of the orchestra for the musical “Wicked” in San Francisco. “My parents bought a unique home, known to locals as ‘the glass house,’ in Moke Hill in 1960 for $5,000. It was a way to have fresh air and to let the four kids and dog have room to roam as an alternative to our life in San Francisco. Many of the happiest times of my childhood were spent at local swimming holes, learning to ski at Peddler Hill, picking blackberries, going to the Frog Jump. The natural beauty of the place is profound.”

Biggs performed a show at the Petroglyphe Gallery in Moke Hill last year that was all percussion.

“My wife and I are lucky enough to be professional musicians in the Bay Area. We are part of an exciting dynamic community, and I want to share the incredible artistry of our colleagues with the people of Calaveras and Amador counties.”

On Friday, June 5 at 12:30 p.m., Biggs will play 5-gallon buckets at the Moke Hill Branch Library. The public is welcome to attend, but students from Moke Hill Elementary School will be given preferred seating in the hands-on experience.

Another free event is at 1 p.m. Saturday, June 6 at the Mokelumne Hill Town Hall, where all of the festival’s concerts are staged. Saturday’s kind of mixer with performers in the festival also finds Moke Hill’s own “Ragz” Tuttle on hand sharing his Ragz pole, an instrument he invented.

“Taiko and Duos” is Friday’s concert at 7 p.m. at the town hall. The performance features ritualistic Japanese drumming combined with Mark and Cindy Lemaire’s unique compositions on guitar and vocals, followed by Biggs and his wife Kathy Marshall-Biggs closing the concert on violin and percussion.

At 7 p.m. Saturday, June 6, “Stravinsky’s ‘The Soldier’s Tale’ Versus ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia’” promises a unique experience. The classical masterpiece will be performed with narration and actors, and then a more-recent rendition of the same story will be performed.

The 5 p.m. show Sunday, June 7 features Quartet Rouge. “You have never heard a string quartet make these amazing sounds!” Biggs said.

The composition “Vessels” will also be introduced by composer Walter Anderson. Apropos for the Mother Lode, it features the sound of water sloshing in gold pans. Then, “The sonority of different sized pieces of wood is explored in ‘Music for Pieces of Wood’ by minimalist master Steve Reich,” Biggs offered.

“My hope is that festival attendees will come away fascinated by having been exposed to something new, something they have never heard or seen before,” Biggs said. “There are already plenty of music festivals, and good ones. I want to bring fantastic new music to the Mother Lode, repertoire not heard in the foothills, and played by fantastic performers.”

“As human beings,” Biggs continued, “we tend to surround ourselves with the familiar, we stick with what we know; new experiences can be uncomfortable, whether it be new tastes, new sounds, new experiences. And yet, if we are willing to venture out of our individual cocoons, we can have a very rewarding experience and come away the richer for it.”

“All the artists performing are dedicated performers and have great skill,” Biggs concluded. “And they are performing new music not ever heard in the Gold Country.”

Tickets for individual concerts are $20 and festival passes are $50, available at the Moke Hill Branch Library and Petroglyphe Gallery in Moke Hill or visit brownpapertickets.com/event/1587053. A complete festival schedule and musicians’ biographies are found at mokehillmusicfestival.com.

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