The feeling of how magical the weekend had been hit when the sunset colored the skies beyond the trees and warm springs swimming pool behind the stage, when the early summer air at 6,200 feet in elevation called for throwing on a light jacket as dusk settled, and when the third day of music echoed through the air of a rural corner of northeastern Nevada.
Schellraiser, a small music festival with a large lineup, took place June 1-3 for its second year and seems to have captured and created more of an intimate weekend experience than that of a largescale commercial festival. If you can imagine seeing headliners like Dinosaur Jr or Blonde Redhead at a backyard party while dancing beside members of the opening bands and finding yourself on a first name basis with other fest attendees, you’ll start getting the picture of how Schellraiser feels.
The event takes place at the McGill Pool Park, surrounded by trees fed by an adjacent natural warm spring that is sizable enough that it doubles as the community swimming pool. With a population of less than 900, McGill sits off a quiet two-lane highway not too far from what would be about the geographic center of Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and Reno/Tahoe. With only a few hotels in the area and several campgrounds still emerging from their winter slumber, the small town feel permeates atmosphere. From local artists and food trucks lining the park’s edge to bands staying and returning throughout the weekend to the festival and mixing with the crowd.
With three dozen bands playing, the lineup tended to run the gamut of cow punk to alt rock to indie to country soul. Headliners at this year’s Schellraiser were ‘90s mainstays Dinosaur Jr and Blonde Redhead, along with Asleep At The Wheel and The Joy Formidable. Alternating stages kept the music going pretty consistently with only a few minutes break between artists.
The casual atmosphere seemed to lead to more interactive performances – such as when the Ottomman Turks took pause during their set to bring out fellow Texans, 40 Acre Mule, to play along on the group’s song “Glass Bottles.” Or when The Death Valley Girls brought several young girls who had been playing beside the crowd during their set onstage to dance and play keyboards with the band.
Other notable performances were given by Murder By Death who joked about only having sad songs while seemingly leading the entire crowd to press against the rail and dance, or Jenny Don’t And The Spurs and their energetic alt-pop country shimmering and spinning. Cumbia rockers Tropa Magica inspired not a circle pit but a conga line weaving throughout the grassy dancefloor, and Asleep At The Wheel were joined by fest performer Brennen Leigh for upbeat crooning renditions of their duets. Other notable performances from the weekend were the two-piece rockabilly twang of Denver’s White Rose Motor Oil, punk bands The Paranoyds and Frankie & The Witch Fingers, an onstage interview with author Jim Ruland speaking about his writings on 80’s and 90’s musical figures and bands like Black Flag and Bad Religion, and a punishing set by Dinosaur Jr that is very likely the loudest thing that the community of McGill has heard.
With only a couple hotels and bars in nearby Ely, stumbling into the Rio bar following the last night of music to find members of 40 Acre Mule, The Paranoyds and Sad Girl taking turns belting out karaoke songs while festival poster artist JR Boyce smilingly showed off sketches throughout the bar that he had turned into a makeshift art show while the bar staff offered homemade food to visitors seems to capture just the surreal feeling of Schellraiser weekend.
One moment that stands out is when the festival’s generators stopped running during Joshua Ray Walker’s set. With an abrupt power loss, sound crews started running around backstage attempting to figure out how to fix the situation. As the final blue light of the evening faded from the Steptoe Valley sky, Walker simply climbed down from the stage and took a seat on the ground, inviting others to gather round him. Lit by a few people holding up cell phone lights, most the crowd sat quietly, listening to Walker open up on the events that inspired his songs before playing an acoustic guitar and singing un-mic’ed into the night air. The cheers following his songs may have been the loudest and most appreciative of the weekend, and skirting what may have been a disastrous delay, the shared moment really captured the essence of the fest’s intimate environment.
Schellraiser can be looked at as a music festival for those who value a surreal and communal experience over a commercial one. Where the camping, the morning yoga, the smaller footprint of the event space, and the artists casually mixing with fans and attendees and interacting from the stage rather than just giving another performance make up a uniquely refreshing event.
As of this writing, Schellraiser has announced that it will return in 2024 for another two-day event in McGill. Information and social media links can be found at Schellraiser.com.
– Shaun Astor