Linen attire and sun hats were no strangers to this year’s Huichica Music Festival. Tucked away between rolling Sonoma hills and dotted with autumnal leaves, the weekend struck as physically, and metaphorically, far from reality. Masks remained largely unseen, and attendees floated from intimate listening experiences to pop-up wine bars with ease.
Huichica, which had been pushed back from its usual summer dates, fell under the design of Jeff Bundschu, president of Gundlach Bundschu Winery. Music conglomerate (((folkYEAH!))), the company in charge of the festival, secured titans of the indie-alternative music scene, with Mac DeMarco, Yo La Tengo, Devendra Banhart, Whitney, and Cass McCombs headlining.
Even the smaller acts, such as Mapache and Bedouine, stand as superb representations of songwriting — departing from the typical commercialization of corporate-headed festivals and at first glance, grounding the weekend in the music itself.
Grapevines lined the dirt walkway up to the winery’s epicenter, which lay behind an entryway of white tents and tables for check-in. Smiling and complimentary volunteers breezed guests through the gates as they handed out white tin mugs, equipped with carabiners, and gestured towards what seemed like a safe haven. Entering into the vineyard grounds, one could see a fantasized vision of a festival actualized: Attendees milled around with wine bottles tucked under one arm, a sarape-esque wool blanket under the other.
Three stages provided an intimate experience with each artist, especially the shaded Redwood Barn and sloping hillside of the Amphitheater. Picnic blankets marked the latter location, with a row of hay bales closing off the stage to the crowd. Running into artists remained an organic part of the whole festival: Bedouine sat in a truck bed and chatted to fans, and Banhart joined the line for vegan bratwursts.
The Saturday lineup promised fantastic sets, starting strong with a mid-afternoon performance by Wet showcasing lead singer Kelly Zutrau’s mesmerizing, deep-octave vocals. The barn-sheltered stage offered a refuge from the outside, blistering heat that beat down on attendees who attempted to cool down with wine-filled tin mugs. The clinking of the guests’ carabiners joined Wet’s mournful ballads, reverberating around the barn’s wooden shafts.
Perched upon a wooden stool, Bedouine beguiled the hillside audience with an acoustic set. Her rendition of her track “Dusty Eyes” complemented the afternoon heat and sun dappled-trees that made for a serene backdrop. Bedouine garnered grace throughout her set, remaining collected in a denim one-piece as she finger-picked her way through the almost spoken-word enunciated lyrics of “Solitary Daughter.”
Following suit, Banhart and his four-piece band played their set with adoring aloofness, prancing around the stage with incredible lightness of foot during “Fancy Man.” During the performance of his popular track, “Mi Negrita,” Banhart’s attractive Spanish lyrics floated up and over the heads of swaying, sitting attendees. As the afternoon progressed into a hazy, sun-kissed early evening, time remained to revel in the enjoyment of the Gundlach Bundschu house white, which tasted surprisingly delicious at a relatively low price point.
When it was time for Yo La Tengo to take to the stage, darkness had descended upon the winery, but the stage glowed shades of deep purple and red as the group’s three members took on their second set of the weekend. A lengthy introduction showed the extensive musicality of Yo La Tengo, and the band reveled in the opportunity to perform relatively unknown tracks from their multi-decade discography. The trio still paid homage to their popular songs, as “Autumn Sweater” joined the night’s repertoire with heavy synth chords and a captivating drum beat sweeping over the hillside.
DeMarco’s team ran late setting up for his set, and the Canadian artist even stopped the set midway to retune. That being said, DeMarco’s return to live performance faced a more-than-welcoming audience, with fans jumping to their feet at long last after a day of casual listening. DeMarco filled his set with nods to his most beloved tracks, such as “Another One” and “Salad Days” off of earlier albums and dance-favoring tunes such as “The Stars Keep On Calling My Name,” from his sophomore album. The charisma and comedy of a DeMarco set did not disappoint, with DeMarco’s bassist donning a neon green guitar and bathrobe, and the artist using his guitar clamp as a cigarette holder when singing.
DeMarco’s set marked the end of Huichica’s weekend of intimate moments with beloved musical artists, forged over ambrosial wine and striking Sonoma scenery. Huichica offered an escape from reality — albeit at a steep price. What Huichica lacked in accessibility, it made up for in priceless moments where the personality of each artist felt palpable. Driving away from the curated fantasy of Huichica felt like a heartbreak, to wind homebound away from a place where skies remain blue, with wine and music flowing endlessly.