HIPNIC IV, Big Sur, CA – 5/4-6

HIPNIC was originally situated in the front yard of the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur, California—the festival now takes place down Route One, not far from Miller’s at The Fernwood Resort. In the glen of towering Redwood trees with a beautiful babbling brook running through the campground—the simple stage is adorned with a majestic breathtaking background of California wildlife. This year’s supermoon illuminated the evening portion of the show—and unlike last year, rain was non-existent. Rumors continue to flood in that this venue may have reached its capacity and a new locale is on the front burner—but, for the time being Fernwood has been a haven for Hips community and heaven for camping amongst friends.

In my world view you could draw a line from the fertile crescent of Mesopotamia, the birthplace of civilization (or, where the aliens first landed) nestled between the Tigre and Euphrates straight to Big Sur, California. Humanity marched westward shedding its skin like the primordial serpent of Amazonian lore, reinventing itself, rebirthing lost ideas only to lose them again—in a struggle for emancipation, freedom from oppression and reaching for the stars. When you hit the highlands of Big Sur, with toes curled around the 500 foot drop to aquamarine waves you’ve hit evolutions edge. On the ravenous ridge there is nothing left to do but contemplate the how’s, what’s and why’s of life in the 21st Century. Henry Miller found American consumerism contemptible—but I believe he would have approved of the low-impact nature of HIPNIC.

HIPNIC seems to cap at around 300 adults with a bevy of kids in tow—which is a perfect number of folks to wander around for three days without losing community spirit. Smiles at every corner, hugs and greetings from old friends all sharing Hips Helles and locals who wandered in—are what constitutes the core base of HIPNIC—and of course there’s The Mother Hips. Similar to the legacy of The Allman Brothers and Delanie & Bonnie & Friends—extended family now dominates the line-up of the anticipated annual event.

Tim Bluhm’s wife and go-to gal of the Bay Area music scene, Nicki Bluhm and her band the Gramblers, have an ever growing catalogue of songs that showcase Nicki’s exquisite soul sister voice. Also filling the bill on Saturday were Tim Bluhm and Jackie Greene who call themselves The Skinny Singers—and within this pairing the young mercurial Greene slices open the void with his full-throated bluesy approach and extremely tasty licks on guitar.

On Sunday the festival’s headliners were The Gramblers’ and Tim Bluhm’s incarnation as Brokedown in Bakersfield—which features the dusty cowboy boots and mutual love for Hank/Merle/Willie and Waylon that have informed The Mother Hips from the beginning. Pure country riffs infuse this particular grouping with large props going to Scott Law, a badass picker and welcome addition to the gathering.

And of course, there’s the duet of Tim and Nicki, a modern day June and Johnny Cash—whose onstage love and antics are only second fiddle to the devastating ballads the two churn forth. It was a game of who’s in whose band as members of other Hip aggregations wandered onstage for special guest sets.

A funny aside is that while I was Googling HIPNIC I came across “hypnic jerk” –that is defined as that moment when one awakes from a dream state with a sudden jolt. Apropos to the state of The Mother Hips in 2012—and I hate to be a jerk about it—it’s time for the world to wake up from their torrid nightmares and embrace the commonwealth of a band and family that lives on the edge and loves every moment of it.

Gramblers breakaway guitarist Dave Mulligan is releasing his first solo album (recorded at Tim Bluhm’s and Greene’s extremely busy Mission Bells Studio in the Bernal Heights area of S.F.), alongside upcoming new works by Nicki Bluhm, The Mother Hips and Jackie Greene—this is one family who is too busy to worry about sharing the limelight.

There is much to be said about the burgeoning franchises, but I digress.

As one fan put it, The Mother Hips are the sun and everyone else rotates around them. This musical world perspective still holds true—for the time being—but it’s a weird day that rises and as we all know flat-Earther’s were soon displaced by those with better technology. For example, Nicki Bluhm’s Van Sessions (on YouTube) are impromptu POV viral glimpses of the gal and the Gramblers doing covers of songs while driving on tour. The covers of Madonna, Patsy Cline and Bobby Darin are in the respectable 100s of thousands, but their version of Hall and Oates “I Can’t Go for That,” are in the plus million of hits—which is the largest audience for any of the Bluhm affiliates ventures. Although Tim Bluhm doesn’t appear in all Van Sessions, he certainly is in this one—which leaves me wondering. Is there blowback to The Mother Hips? Do these “side-projects” bring new fans to the source? And, will some unknown novelty factor propel Ms. Bluhm (or any of the extended family) beyond the gravitational pull of the Mother Hips?

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