Ride or Die

July 22, 2023

This last weekend, The Farm did a sound and lighting gig. It’s not extraordinary for a company like ours to go out and provide some stuff for a charity event at no charge. It’s what people do. It’s fun to help others and support good causes. I’m not sharing this for some self-promotion or to show you how much we care, but because our cause is so overlooked. We also learned some valuable AV lessons.

You may have noticed that we tend to go “all in”. We don’t dabble. When we do something, we do it as hard as we can. It doesn’t mean we’re good at it, but we never just dip our toes. We dive into the deep end headfirst.

This weekend was no exception. George Astin and I got to the site on Thursday. We unloaded in the office at midnight on Sunday. In between, we worked solid 14-hour days in triple-digit heat. It was brutal. It was beautiful.

The Lost Sierra

Most folks have forgotten about the Dixie Fire. The Dixie Fire burned just short of one million acres in the beautiful Lost Sierra. You probably don’t know about it because it didn’t burn down celebrity homes. It wasn’t a mass-casualty event worthy of a movie. Over the course of a month, it laid waste to some of the most beautiful forests and landscapes most of you have never seen. Entire towns were destroyed. It seems we quickly turned the page. Fire is out. Nothing to see here. Yay.

What is known as the Lost Sierra, is the area north of Truckee and Tahoe. There is indeed a big part of California that is rarely visited. It’s the most sparsely populated region of our state. It wasn’t always this way. This area boomed during the Gold Rush. This area boomed again from other resource extraction industries. Logging was another. This area boomed from the freight train industry because it was an easy path to the east. All of that is gone. The primary industries now are tourism and drugs. And drugs. And drugs. Then the Dixie Fire came and delivered what would have been a death blow for most.  

I have always been drawn to this region. I tell my friends it’s the most beautiful place on earth that nobody visits. The Sierra Buttes have been seen by millions yet visited by few. They are on TV commercials, the backdrop for countless photos in ads and art. They are majestic, rugged peaks and are only about an hour and a half from Reno – two hours from Sacramento. There are no big hotels. There are no casinos. There are no four-lane highways. There are few people. Shockingly enough, the good people of the Lost Sierra want people to come and love their region as they do.  We want you to visit and help our communities thrive. This is why The Farm supports the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship (SBTS) with such fury.

Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship

The SBTS builds trails. Not just any trails. We service the Pacific Crest Trail. I mention that because folks know that one. The PCT is amazing, but we build multi-use trails. We believe that there is a much more inclusive version of such trails so that everyone has the ability to get out and see our region. Multi-use means hikers, bikers, horses, and yes motorcycles. I can imagine what you are thinking. You envision hikers getting run over by moto’s left and right. The trail riding motorcycle enthusiasts are some of the greatest environmental stewards we have. They are polite on the trails, leave no trace, and are not what you see on TV. I don’t ride a moto, but I love the moto folks. They take care of our space. So, we build multi-use trails. Do you have an e-bike? A dirt bike? A pair of shoes? A donkey? Let’s do this.

Trails are the most economical way to build tourism. It is more than just grabbing a shovel and a rake. We have to do environmental impact studies, archeological surveys. We have to make sure we are only impacting the land in a positive way. It is not cheap. It takes actual money. When we do it right, we displace drugs, create natural fire breaks, and provide a healthy, exciting, and inclusive path to nature. And we do it right. The work is the easy part. Paying for it is the hard part, and it costs millions.

Downieville Classic Mountain Bike Race

This weekend, we raised a lot of money. Not a little. A bunch. We did it by holding the 25th Downieville Classic Mountain bike race. We brought thousands to the Lost Sierra. They dropped off a stack of cash. Thank you so much. So, what does The Farm do in a bike race?

It’s not just a bike race. It is an expo area featuring dozens of vendors from all kinds of outdoor industries. It is a concert venue. There was a circus act. And The Farm makes certain that it has the highest production value in bike racing. We make certain that the backdrop for the event is so intense it ends up on every social media site any outdoor enthusiast would visit. We turn ourselves inside to make it happen. When we succeed, miles and miles of new trails are built. Struggling towns thrive again. Good people get good jobs. The Lost Sierra gets discovered.

And one other thing happens. We get to test new tech and learn.  

Live Production in the Woods

What did we learn this year? Networked audio is HARD. Things happen at 2 AM when you are asleep that you find out about the next day. Bad things. Things like Cat6 cables just stop working. We put the console away, took it back out, and plugged it back in. No sound.  

“No sound” is a symptom of a cause not easily deduced. It’s vague, like a headache but acute like a toothache. After a few moments of blank stares and panic, we went to work. We automatically assumed it was a clock issue. I guess it was…sort of. We also discovered it’s difficult to see activity lights on a network switch in direct sun and 100-degree heat. We stood in the middle of a giant crowd with our Klein Tools cat6 device and re-terminated and tested the cat6 cable. Problem SOLVED.   


Now when we plugged the cable back in, the console booted up without another master clock. It decided it was the master now. Q-SYS had a similar opinion. Hilarity ensued and we were back to “No sound” Part Two. How long did that take to figure out. Not long. Nobody knew that my heart rate was 150. I was sure we were going to end up with a single speaker on a stand with one mic for the show instead of a networked line array with distributed Dante speakers everywhere. But glorious audio flowed from all directions – all in sync. All digital. All pristine.

Here is the gear:

  • EAW RSX 208 Line arrays. Fantastic sounding with zero effort. Truly plug and play. We used zero EQ on the house. 
  • EAW RSX 12M monitors. These are the best monitors I have ever used. The stage was so clean. Just one cat-cable between the monitors and some electricity. It might have sounded as good or better on stage as it did in the house. 
  • Audio-Technica mics on everything including the wireless. I had used AXIENT Digital the previous events. This year I took out a mic at one-tenth of the cost. And it was ROCK SOLID. Not one dropout. We used RF VENUE D-FIN antennae… and it was just perfection. A-T mics on everything on stage. They truly make the best transducers on earth.
  • The console was a DiGiCo S31. The guitar was a telecaster through a brittle old tube amp. It would CUT YOUR FACE to shreds… but we warmed it up and made it sing. Thanks DiGiCo!
  • The remote starting line was run by a string of QSC K-Series and a TouchMix.
  • The house rig was run by the Q-SYS. It took care of all of the house music, ducking for announcements. We supplied the staff with a custom iPhone UCI so they could skip songs like, “Hey Mickey Your so Fine You Blow My Mind”. Yes, that was in our playlist.

While everything was working like a charm, The Farm volunteered in every way we could. Fourteen-hour days in the grueling heat.   

Then, when the race was over and it was time for the podium, it all was clear. The smiles from the winners when the RGB Smoke machines fired, moving head lights spinning and churning, Foo-Fighters blared and the announcer declared the champion, the iPhones held up in the air, and the cheers from the crowd made this all worth the effort.

Just like that, it was midnight on Sunday. George and I were unloading in our Roseville office and still bantering about how we can do it better next time.   

The Lost Sierra is a magical place. You can still see what California was like before we put up casinos everywhere. Not all of it burned. And there is beauty in watching our land repair itself after tragedy. You can hike or ride through it in or on the vehicle of your choice. You don’t have to be a fitness instructor to enjoy nature and solitude… thanks to the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship.

If you want to know more, visit or just ping me. There is so much left to do.