Thursday July 15 It was 5 a.m. July 15 when I loaded up my socks and glowey things, and headed to the airport on my journey from San Francisco to Horning's Hideout, Oregon. Landing in Portland, I was launched away swiftly with my amigo on our drive to Bob Horning's amazing hideout about and hour Northwest of the Portland airport. Surrounded by towering pines, the strumming of strings, and the crying and cawing of Peacocks, Horning's Hideout was the perfect location for this years Northwest Strings Summit which hosted four nights of music: three nights of Yonder Mountain String Band, and an all star line up of musicians from Darol Anger to Mickey Hart. Celebrating it's 9th year, NWSS is full of wonders.
Pulling into Horning's, we were greeted by the volunteer staff who were all pleased to help us get our wrist bands and sent us on our way into the musical jungle. Setting up a great campsite full of the usual festival supplies, we had our tapestries up in no time and were off to explore the area. Horning's layout is beautifully arranged with wide open fields, a big lake, sunshine, peacocks, and plenty of forest giving way to the start of something great. The venders began to set up and more and more people started to fill in. Camp sites were boosting music and art from every little corner and nook of the forest, and the love and excitement filling and churning in my stomach was beginning to leak over. The sunshine was beaming and the beer tent was blinding. Rogue brewery was setting up for a full weekend on the left side of the concert bowl facing the stage, and I set up for a nice spot awaiting fellow Colorado boy Pete Kartsounes of the band Wayward Sons.
Pete welcomed the crowd with beautiful songs about the Rocky Mountains relaxing everyone into their hillside seats for the next couple of hours. His swift and elegant acoustic playing is well complimented by his soulful yet crisp voice. I could feel the love of Colorado sweeping across the faces of my fellow festi-goers and Coloradans, as Pete and Friends played the day to night. Later this year Pete will be hiking the Colorado trail to raise money for cancer.
Heading back to Camp the first night, noticing the piles of cars filling up the fields in front and behind our infamous Turtle Camp, I was only able to yell out in awe for I felt as though I had climbed the highest mountain and now was able to enjoy the view. String bands were filling the alleys and streets of our weekend neighborhood, and exploration was at hand. Taking it all in is not easy, as everywhere you look, something amazing is awaiting your approval. Falling asleep I felt blissful being out of the city and back in a place surrounded by what was about to be something too perfect.
Friday July 16 Waking up in a camp site at a music festival is hands down the best place to wake up ever. Walking around in the morning to locate food and friends I realized just how many more people were making there way into the city of strings. My friend took the lead and showed me around the different areas of the park, including a trip to an old red barn filled with staff, being cooled down by a sprinkler running from the roof. The tradition of the first day at NWSS(not north, west, south, south, as outdoors men like myself subconsciously see) is to hold a band competition. The band Pert Near Sandstone of Minneapolis, MN kicked of the competition blowing everyone away with the quick soulful bluegrass. With guitars, fiddles, banjo, bass, and tap shoes, Pert Near was getting the dirt nice and loose as many enjoyed their first dance of the weekend. Blackberry Bushes featured singer Jessica Raymond creating a beautiful indie take on bluegrass with a taste of lust and hope. The stringing of the banjo and the fiddle worked art with Jessica's voice as the dancing crowd kept growing. Boys of Greenwood Glen took the stage and kicked the can all over the place. The beautiful harmony work between the Seattle boys charged on to whistles and hollers from the audience. The great combination of strings and vocals made this band stand out on its own and left the judges with a lasting impression and a tough choice. Lastly Whistlin' Rufus of Portland, OR led the crowd through some grassy tunes with smooth bluegrass and a local twang. The competition boosted some great underground talent and the judges decided on Pert Near as the winners who would be playing a Sunday set at noon.
Taking a quick break to eat up and meet some more friends pulling in a little late, I ran from the Turtle Camp to catch Darol Anger with his Republic of Strings. For those unknowing to Darol's silky inventive playing, he has played his way into history mashing down with anyone lucky enough to collaborate with him. Joined onstage with Tye North, Scott Law, Mike Block, and Lauren Rioux, the republic of strings played for a crazed loving crowd of grassers awaiting the skills and shred of these great players. The combination of Scott Law dazzling his thick swaying guitar around the feathery slices of Anger's violin kept any witnesses gazing as the tunes raged ahead. Darol, announcing his joy to be at NWSS was only overshadowed by cheers and applause as everyone welcomed his amazing group.
Great American Taxi took to the stage to follow the swirl of Anger's strings, and the crowd made them feel welcome as they began their set. Led by Leftover Salmon frontman Vince Herman, these guys leave nothing out to a leading Jam band in the circuit. Their honky tonk, rock and roll, bluegrass, funk, soul, blues, boogie, swamp rat, jam style is enchanting, and easily sucks listeners in. Chad Staehly grabbed the keys with fierce hands reminding everyone of the existing strings held in the grand container of his upright piano. The vocals and enticing tunes reminded me of the great presence of Colorado musicians in the area making me feel even more at home. The band was oh-too-perfect to set the scene for the first night of the festival. With Great American Taxi creating a luminous aura around the dance floor as night turned on, hips were swaying, people were singing, and Yonder was about to play.
Yonder Mountain String Band stepped onto stage to an explosion of appreciation from everyone in Horning's. Jeff grabbed the mic and welcomed the crowd and told us they were gonna play some bluegrass for us tonight. Joined by friends for the rest of the nights were Danny Barnes and Darol Anger. By the end of the first set, it was almost hard to think of YMSB without these guys. Jeff and Ben Kaufmann, bass, led the way into an over the top 'Peace of Mind' allowing Danny Barnes to spill out all of the place. From the start of the night Yonder was going for it and the crowd was feverish for everything to come. The culmination on the night had to be the hard crushing, wailing, 'Whipping Post' that the band took as their own for the night and, if I may, shredded to bits. Overall YMSB was supper strong all night and the first night of the festival was set off right as the exploring began.
Saturday July 17th Saturday awoke to the 2009 band competition winners, Crunchy Western Boys. The band plays an arrangement of smooth acoustic guitar driven songs telling of stories past and old about love, summer, or the winter. After their set, it was clear these guys deserved the spot this year at NWSS. The early afternoon headlined Benny Galloway and Jessica Kilroy, the Urban Monroes, and the Infamous Stringdusters. The weather was so sunny out making the dance area by the stage the perfect place to set up and enjoy all theses amazing players....as long as you had spf 2000 and a pool of H2O. The real excitement was growing as the Rhythm Devils began to set up and check their sound. I made my way from the lake side to the stage in anticipation of thunder and lighting to blast from the speakers.
Leading the band are the Grateful Dead's own Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann. Joined by Keller Williams, this exciting lineup was sure to pick things up and twist them around. As I was finding a place to watch from I began to feel this surge of energy filling up the bowl around the stage. Lead guitarist, and young gun Danny Knowles led the group into 'Uncle John's Band'. The tightness of the band and pure tone boosting from the stage and right through the heart of Horning's Hideout created a lasting effect through the rest of the set and on through the night. A beautiful 'Scarlet Begonia's' and 'Fire on the Mountain' was complimented by the new aged bluesy tone and fiery licks coming from Knowle's electric rig. The 'Casey Jones' was by far the topper for me as this seemed to be the closest to the Dead I was gonna come all year. The energy and speed of Keller's rhythm proved to be devilish as the band soared on to end their set. When the set ended I retreated to camp before Yonder's sets. Bob's Horning's backyard was now completely filled with music, art, and beautiful people of all ages. I was wondering what YMSB was going to play to out do the explosive sets from the night before. I wasn't worried, remembering Jeff Austin’s hint at a jam with the boys from the Dead the night before.
Sure enough, as we heading back to the stage we noticed what was about to be amazing. They started the night off with 'Snow on the Pines' to a completely glowing, sweating, dancing, loving crowd. Other songs given justice throughout the set included 'Red Bird', 'Honestly', and a great mandolin solo over 'My walking Shoes'. Yonder had invited Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart up to join them towards the end of the first set. Between 'New Speedway Boogie' and 'Franklin's Tower' to close out the first set, YMSB had the ability to throw down justice and check off a life long goal. The second set took off fast with a very grassy 'Lord Only Knows'. The harmony's between Adam Aijala, guitar, and Dave Johnston, banjo, were as thick as whiskey, but as smooth as honey. The thumping bass of Ben Kaufmann, and his incredible story time folk lore voice creates a deep soothing vibe carried on by the sweet picking of Jeff Austin's mandolin. A worthy 'Sometimes I've Won' filled the air as I grabbed the dance floor and boogied sweetly to the layers of strings. Others of note included 'Don't You lean on Me', 'Another Day', and 'Follow me Down'. YMSB is full of soul, bluegrass, and rock and roll. They never seem to let down and only keep you surprised set to set, leaving you wanting more, but full enough everytime. Leaving the stage the band asked us to stay and give our love out to Moe. who was going to take it away for a late night acoustic/electric showdown.
"Time is a song just waiting for a singer, song is a fire that burns in the night, Burnin' so hot that your flesh becomes thinner, If you can't hold the flame then you tend to lose sight." Moe. started the first set all acoustic with beautiful versions of 'Time Again' and 'Shoot First'. Moe. was dressed in their 20 anniversary suits, and looked like pros up there shinning in their acoustic wardrobe...especially when trying to get those things to stay in tune. After a good acoustic set, they turned it up throwing down with the electric guitars. The shred tactics of Chuck Garvey and Al Schnier on electric guitars gave a different ending to the night and day of bluegrass and acoustic picking. The string fans embraced the funky, jam, blues, rock stylings of Moe. and let the band lead the crowd into the night. Jeff Austin returned to the stage to close out the set on 'Zed Nought Z', and 'Rise'. The energetic mandolin picking and rhythmic hand tossing of Austin made for a great connection and closer to the night. The band encored with a fan favorite, 'Rebubula', leaving everyone to bounce on down into the forest for the rest of the night.
Leaving the stage area for the evening, bands had already formed around every little bend possible. There were lights glowing everywhere inviting visitors, strings picking, and sure enough, whisky pouring. After a brief stop at camp to gather our group, we heading over to check Fruition, a soul string band from Portland, Oregon. There was already a crowd gathered as the band played sweet soulful bluegrass. The night was chilly but a nice break from the day full of almost tortured heat. No matter where we seemed to be there was music and love. The day was full of mystery and excitement. The stars were shining incredibly bright throughout the whole night lending everyone a hand as we dance through the forest. The night ended as I snuggled my way into my tent to lay down and enjoy this beautiful life.
Sunday July 18th Sunday. Wow, what a great time so far and there is still a whole day??? Pert Near Sandstone took the stage at noon to begin the last day of music. You could tell that everyone had been dancing for the past two days as a crowd took place on their blankets and pillows on the lawn. Crooked Still followed and I was surprised by the song writing ability of this band. On fiddle is Brittany Haas, who is a brilliant young player. Along with the beautiful songbird vocals, and a talented banjo, the band played me into complete relaxation. Darol Anger joined for a few songs and traded solos with Haas whom he was rejoicing during her playing. The sun was pounding so hard I had to retreat to Camp to grab supplies for the rest of the day. Danny Barnes took up right before 3p.m. and played his heart out. The writing skills of Danny Barnes kept amazing me. It was all I could have asked for to be able to relax at the end of the weekend with Danny. The way he handles the banjo is very smooth and relaxed. His melodic approach is very comfortable and his writing skills match great. This is where the super jam started as friends came up from the likes of Yonder and Darol Anger. The set was an exciting trade off between the players. The mixed styles of these string masters created a soundtrack that define the vibe of NWSS.
Yonder came on to a nice breeze filling the area. I made my way into the front of the stage to enjoy a close up first set. The crowd began to fill in after a few songs as Yonder warmed up into the beautiful day. As the band played 'Two Hits and the Joint Turned Brown', dirt, sweat, smoke, laughter and singing filled in the bowl. The band invited everyone to join in around the bowl..of Horning's, and experience the magical energy here for everyone. After a smooth first set, we got some food and headed to camp to say some farewells to some dear friends. It was sad to see them go, but amazing to share this beautiful time at Horning's with them. The second set was great. It seemed that everyone else from the front during the first set, had the same idea to move back by the hill for the second set. I payed a little respect to my friends at the Rogue Brewery tent and relaxed in some shade for some great Yonder. As the band shared songs, its was starting to feel as though a new little home was forming for me here. Its was great to hear them play at such an amazing spot. A little 'Ketucky Mandolin' gave me what I needed to feel fine for a while. The super jam began and players from the Stringdusters, Darol and Danny, and Pete Kartsounes delivered some great songs. Pete played some great harmonic solos which blended so smooth with all the strings. Amazing harmonies were coming from everywhere as the thick string section came through extremely bright and load. Yonder closed by thanking us all for coming and sharing this experience.
After the show we wandered around a little bit more to get the last fix on nature before heading back into San Francisco. While enjoying fresh crepes by the notorious Red Barn, we noticed an amazing peculiar phenomenon to truly cap off the weekend. We first heard some of the Hideout’s many peacocks screaming from everywhere around in the trees. Then to our surprise, we starting noticing all sorts of the huge, beautiful birds up in the hundred foot trees navigating between them gracefully.
Soon, we headed back to camp where we decided to pack it in and head home. Driving out of Horning's I couldn't help but feel lucky to have come to such a beautiful spot. Thanks to a friend that told me about it in the first place, all I can say is I'll see you there next year.