Northwest String Summit 2013

NORTHWEST STRING SUMMIT REVIEW:

Words and Photos – Lauren Howland

For many, traveling to the forested hills of Horning’s Hideout for the annual Northwest String Summit is like going home.  Volunteers wave you in as you drive down the dirt road into the grounds, less for directional purposes, and more to celebrate that you’ve made it back this year.

Not many festivals are situated on such a special spot. The 160 acre park became open to the public after many years as a secret oasis for the Horning Family. The late Dick Horning originally bought the property to raise cattle and grow Christmas trees on. As time passed, they added a lake (the one that sits behind the amphitheater) and filled it with trout.  In 1983, the land became a relaxing spot for locals looking for a place to spend their quiet afternoons. Now the park has paddle boats, camping, concerts, three disc golf courses – one of which is rated in the top ten in the world — and places to hold wedding receptions and other events. To keep with the legacy that Dick Horning started, who passed away from Leukemia in 1985, Horning’s will stay open to the public as a benevolent place to spend time with friends and family for as long as possible.  Intimately shared, their humble family gravesite is just around the backside of the house near the lake close to where the notorious peacocks and their young nest.

Horning’s rich history isn’t the only reason that NWSS feels so unique. The camping areas are tucked away into pockets of wilderness with moss covered trees that are perfect for setting up a whole slew of hammocks. The vendor food is literally worth bragging out. What is missing in quantity is made up for in quality with several local and delicious vendors (think breakfast burrito bowls and chicken curry) and many from the Portland area including Toast, Bunk Sandwiches and Eva’s Herbucha on tap.

Unlike some music gatherings, NWSS is known for its family-friendly virtues and many join the rank of attendees. Children seem to be everywhere, faces painted, happy and safe, with a welcoming community to support their playfulness. This wonderful inclusion of generations really makes the gathering feel stronger and more tied together than others. On Saturday night a young girl went missing. When this happened the entire festival was announced to and the gates to the main stage were closed for 15 minutes. With that type of hyper-awareness and “all hands on deck” attitude the girl was found immediately and the festival continued. Kids come first.

NWSS also has a rock-solid environmental policy with several stations set up for compost, recycling and garbage with volunteers constantly monitoring that nothing goes in the wrong place. Ninkasi brewing also did a great job of using post-consumer waste plastic cups that were a dollar off if brought back up for refills. The festival team held a “Greenest Campsite” contest that anyone could enter to prove they had the most sustainable and minimal waste campsite. Garbage was nominal both in camping and in the grounds.

There are three stages located around the festival. The main stage which sits adjacent to the lake (think paddle boating while listening to YMSB) sits at the bottom of the amphitheater and held great sound all weekend (minus the circuit that blew on Sunday afternoon during an epic Yonder jam). Above “the hill” is the Further Bus Stage where bands played mini-sets in between larger shows. The bus is beyond an aesthetic and historical wonder. It was the original Ken Kesey & the Merry Pranksters travel machine, which was used to explore the countryside back in the 1960’s (The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test has many more stories about this very bus). The bus usually resides at the late Kesey’s Farm outside of Eugene where his wife still lives today.  The last stage, coined the Cascadia Coffee House, is tucked away in the woods near another small lake and offered shows throughout the morning and late night – think jam’s lead by Fruition & Dark Side’s Whisky featuring Allie Kral.

Music Highlights over the weekend included the wonderful hosts Yonder Mountain String Band who for the last 13 years have made this festival an important project. Although the festival isn’t “theirs,” the band helps with planning changes and deciding on new music talent each year.

YMSS played a mix of just about everything over their six sets. On Friday, Darol Anger sat in on fiddle for the entire show. Danny Barnes also sat in for a chunk of the set. Saturday’s set had a sit in with Danny Barnes as well and ended with a crowd pleasing Pink Floyd cover of ‘Goodbye Blue Sky.’ Sunday’s power outage (Traffic Jam was stopped mid song) was not too long and they picked up exactly where they left off. A sweet cover of ‘Girlfriend is Better’ by the Talking Heads came after.  For full set lists and recordings, click here: Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Danny Barnes side project Barnyard Electrics early afternoon on Saturday was also excellent. Barnes who runs the small “cassette label” out of his kitchen called Bucket Records, and who seems to have sat in with just about everyone, throws a blanket over the eyes of the conventional bluegrass singer/songwriter and brings the banjo into a new world of looping and contemporary play.

The quartet Iron Horse featured songs from their Pickin’ On series on Saturday as well. The Alabama-based group made their first appearance to Oregon to play this year and as the stage host emphasized “is definitely not a cover band.” By throwing different tempos and amazing twangy jams into Metallica, Modest Mouse and Led Zeppelin songs – to name a few – they create their own takes on respected artists and definitely get the crowd moving and singing along.

Other highlights included David Grisman Bluegrass Experience; Leftover Salmon; Keller & the Keels, and Black Prairie. There is never enough time to feel bored.

******

On Sunday night after Yonder finished playing “Must’ve Had Your Reasons” Ben Kaufman went up to the microphone and laughed.

“I didn’t mean to laugh,” he said. “That’s a sad song but that’s how I feel.”

And that’s how everyone seemed to feel as the festival wound down that night. Dizzy with all the stomping and dust rising in the air. A little delirious from hours spent laughing and drinking Ninkasi on friends’ blankets on the hill. And mostly content, with the constant perfect breeze and friendships that have developed over the years while watching the festival evolve into something so much more beautiful than anyone ever really imagined.

Want to learn more about North West String Summit? Look out for “Turn Left at the Peacock” a full length feature film (Epic Creative Productions) chronicling the last three years of the festival.

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