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A celebration of music and moving water

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Compared to other outdoor music festivals in the region, the American River Music Festival is small. "Intimate" is a better word, though, for the weekend festival that opened for camping Friday and will treat music lovers to two days of performances along the banks of the South Fork of the American River in the Gold Country. This is the sixth annual outing for the event which has grown each year but still remains "friendly" and "manageable."

Festival founder Matt Semonsen said that last year’s festival, with its approximately 1,000 attendees (as compared to about 6,000 at the Strawberry Music Festival that inspired him), turned the corner. He’s designed a family-friendly event with plenty of kids’ activities, and the festival is on track to actually make money, which goes toward music education in local public schools. 

The town of Coloma, about an hour out of Sacramento, is home to the event. Music is presented on the Main Stage at Henningsen-Lotus Park, an 18-acre site right beside the river, convenient for a cooling dip still within earshot of the music. But there’s also music to be heard in the festival campgrounds — there are three to choose from — and in local hot spots in town. Campground events range from straight-out performances to "join-in" shops where performers demonstrate and teach their craft.

There are five ticket packages available, ranging from the "get-it-all" Friday-Sunday camping/all-music package to single-day Main Stage tickets for either Saturday or Sunday (prices range from $159 for camping at Earthtrek site, which includes dinner and breakfast, to $40 for a one-day music pass). There are reduced prices for youths ages 8-17; children 7 and younger are free. Campsites opened at 9 a.m. Friday and campers can stay through 7 p.m. Sunday.

All the music presented can be (at least loosely) called "Americana." Performers range from such singer-songwriters as Tom Russell to rootsy rockers the Wheeler Brothers and the flat-out blues burners Roy Rogers and the Delta Rhythm Kings. Local legend Joe Craven (of Davis) revels in an "exploration in percussion," proving that any object can become not a "noise" — but a "music" — maker. Among hot "newer" acts to be showcased at the festival are Dangermuffin, which placed its single "Olly Oxen Free" at the top of radio’s Homegrown Music chart, and the up-and-coming soulful, gospelly, doo-wop duo Birds of Chicago.

Here is the Main Stage schedule for each day:


  • 11 a.m. — Birds of Chicago
  • 12:15 p.m. –Ray Benneville (with Nina Gerber)
  • 1:30 p.m. — Wheeler Brothers
  • 3 p.m. — Tony Furtado
  • 4:30 p.m. — Dangermuffin


  • 11 a.m. — Rita Hosking and Cousin Jack
  • 12:15 p.m. — Joe Craven Trio
  • 1:30 p.m. — Tom Russell
  • 3 p.m. — Poor Man’s Whiskey
  • 4:30 p.m. — Roy Rogers and the Delta Rhythm Kings

For more information, go to www.americanrivermusic.org.

About the author

Jim Carnes

Jim Carnes has masters degrees in English and journalism and is a former National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow in popular culture at Stanford University. He has covered Sacramento arts and entertainment for more than 20 years. He currently writes about and reviews theater, dance, music and events in the Sacramento area.

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