This year marked the tenth anniversary of the North West String Summit at Horning’s Hideout in North Plains, Oregon. And, for the first time, the event included music playing on the main stage on Thursday night. Thursday music, matched with a stellar line-up, made this Strummit one of the best ever. But, we can’t really talk about String Summit without first talking about Horning’s Hideout.
Horning’s Camping and Fishing Hideout is a magical place about 25 miles NW of Portland, but a world away. To get into the park, you must first traverse a curvy road where, at the bottom you are met with happy faces, colorful peacocks, and open fields carved into thick forest. There is a stocked trout pond behind the stage, which serves as the stage backdrop to the naturally formed amphitheater. In the middle of a hot July day, one can rent paddle boats and have water fights, or just float there listening to the sweet music. With all of this, the place is a festival wonderland, complete with tons of camping in the shady trees.
Fifteen bands played the main stage over four days and nights including six sets of Yonder Mountain String Band. The music started on Thursday night with Pete Kartsounes & Benny Galloway, who were joined by Vince Herman of Leftover Salmon on Bass. I was happy to see Vince back at Horning’s, especially when he belted out a “Woody Guthrie” that joyous drew cheers from the Salmon crowd. Next up was Cornmeal. This Chicago band has really been improving over the past few years, and they showed all of that talent for their first ever set at Horning’s bringing out old favorites, and tearing into some great jams. The highlight may have been the cover of Paul Simon’s “I Know What I Know” to finish their set with the crowd in a dancing frenzy. Greensky Bluegrass, out of Michigan, kept the feeling going with some fast paced bluegrass. During the chorus of “Dancing in the Dark”, all of the lights went black, sending cheers through the wildly dancing crowd. This first ever main stage Thursday line up was an incredible way to start off the Tenth Anniversary of String Summit, with three days of pickin’ to go.
Friday started out with the Band Contest. There were five bands competing for a spot on next year’s roster, and a set on Sunday. Their sounds ranged from folksie trio of women, to a full on jamgrass group from Arcata. The winners were a true bluegrass band named Windy Hill from Menlo Park, CA. They won by playing some fast, old-time grass tunes. Next on the stage was the Cascadia Project. Darol Anger, Scott Law, and Sam Grismon played some great music, with many guests making appearances, including Billy Nershi. Keller and the Keels came out next firing hot with “Freaker by the Speaker” to start off the set. Keller Williams is now playing with husband and wife duo Larry and Jenny Keel, throwing down on songs like “Portapotty”, along with a few other bluegrass and Keller favorites. It was great to hear them play “Breathe” at Horning’s, just a perfect place for that song. Then the main show came, what everyone had come for, the start of six sets of YMSB over three days.
Yonder came out gunning with “Ten” into a great “Ragdoll”. Then they went straight into “40 Miles from Denver”; always a crowd favorite. The intensity kept escalating, but the best part was the finish of the set. The last three songs were great, starting with “Left Me in a Hole”. Keller Williams came out to help finish the set with “New Horizons” into “Don’t Stop til you Get Enough”, back into “New Horizons”. The lights on the stage were going crazy, and the crowd was pumped. Everybody knew it was the Tenth Anniversary of this most special festival in these most stellar grounds, and we were going to dance our hearts out to celebrate. Yonder came out in the second set to the fan favorite “My Gal”, a funny and great dancing song. The cover of “Girlfriend’s Better” from the Talking Heads was a fantastic rendition. Other standouts from the night were “Criminal” and a set closing “Traffic Jam”, that had the crowd hopping and ready to head over to the late night stage in the woods.
The Cascadia Stage was a little stage set in the woods by the Cascadia Coffee House. A local Portland band named Fruition played the late night shows on both Friday and Saturday nights. Mimi Naja, Jay Cobb Anderson, Keef Simon, Kellen Asebroek, and Tyler Thompson make up this fun and very talented band. I saw them play outside of San Francisco's historic Fillmore Auditorium a couple of years ago on the street, and loved them. Now, only a couple years later, with the addition of a drummer, I only expect to see them on bigger stages very soon.
Saturday started off with Pert Near Sandstone, and fast playing bluegrass group out of Minneapolis, MN. They had the crowd dancing hard in the hot sun. They were followed by a band that was at the first Summit, Jackstraw. Jackstraw is a rocking string quartet out of Portland, OR, who played a killer set. Emmit Nershi was next, bringing out some old Leftover Salmon and String Cheese tunes that kept the fans jumping. They finished their set with a great “Texas”, leaving Cheese fans grinning with satisfaction. In between sets, there was a kid’s parade through the amphitheaters bowl, with kids in masks and face paint that they got or made at the children’s area. This is one of the great things about Summit, and Horning’s in general, it is a very family oriented festival and place. There are arts and crafts all day long, down near the music, so the whole family can enjoy the experience.
After the parade, The Traveling McCoury’s came on the stage sans their customary neckties. This was great, seeing one of the most proper bluegrass bands, people who always wear ties on stage, being relaxed and ready to get down to some dirty picking. These men can all play and sing with the best of them. They make Del McCoury, the boss, look very good, even when he’s not even at the show. It was great to hear Ronnie McCoury joke around with Billy Nershi, talking about a cape Billy gave him at 2010's String Cheese Incident event at Horning's.
When the McCoury’s were done, there was a ceremony for those inducted into the Kinfolk Hall of Fame, where Yonder fans vote on who have been the biggest and best supporters of the band over the years. This is why Yonder has such diehard fans, because they are such huge fans of their kinfolk. They give their fans all of the credit to their success, and want the community of their fans to be as strong as possible.
Todd Snyder with Great American Taxi was the next on, continuing the festivals strong list of bands. Great American Taxi played as the band behind Todd's songs which were smart, and funny, keeping the crowd dancing and laughing all at the same time. What I can say about Todd Snyder is that he’s a great story teller. Whether it was listening to the lyrics of his songs, or the stories he told as a prerequisite to some songs, the man can entertain.
All of this day had led up to the final three sets, one from New Jersey favorite Railroad Earth, and two more sets of Yonder. Railroad Earth was Fantastic. They sent the crowd into a dancing frenzy, everyone dancing as hard as they could, hoping that there would be enough energy to last through Yonder. The highlight for me was a great “Warhead Boogie” and a hard, funky jam to close out the set. Then came Yonder.
Yonder came out strong with the J.J. Cale number “After Midnight” straight in “Casualty”. Everyone was still pumped up from the day, and the crowd stretched all the way up the bowl. The light show this year was better than ever, because of the addition of a Cloth design backdrop. This allowed the light to cast shadows and shapes around on the backdrop. They kept going with a fast and hard “East Nashville Easter”, keeping the crowd moving as the night cooled. It was in the middle of this set that Tyler Fuqua’s creations took over the bowl. His sculptures have been apart of Horning’s festivities for years. He creates large, moving puppets that dance along with spectators while traveling through the crowd. This year’s creation was a giant peacock, swaying and dancing through the crowd. With the peacock still in the crowd, Yonder tore into the dual song closer of the set “Angel” into “Kentucky Mandolin” that was exceptional, showing why I love this band so much. I have heard both of these songs multiple times, but they are so great I just can’t help but dance.
Second set started with “Out of the Blue”, a long-time favorite of fans, and a song that will put a smile on anyone's face. They really kept the crowd moving the rest of the night with such greats as “Sidewalk Stars”, “Cuckoo’s Nest”, and “Two Hits” along with a great rendition of the Grateful Deads song “Althea”. The closing three songs, “Peace of Mind”, “Boatman” and “Looking Back Over My Shoulder” which segued back into “Peace of Mind” was like listening to a greatest hits of Yonder. Watching the crowd made me realize why this festival has grown so much over the years, and why it will continue to be a success. As Bob Horning, the owner of the property told me, “It’s a testament to this kind of festival that we made it to Ten years.” The kind of festival he is talking about is a Family and fan based, mainly volunteer run festival. The fan support and help has made this be a safe place to bring your kids, while still allowing all to have a great time.
Sunday was “Wear Something Pink and Frilly for Lilli” Day. YMSB’s #1 fan Lilli Trippe, who passed away just prior to her 4th birthday and Summit. Many of the crowd came dressed in silly pink outfits, frills hanging from their hats, to honor the memory of the very special little girl. Lilli was inducted the day before into the Kinfolk Hall of Fame, where Jeff Austin gave a tear filled speech about Lilli. Her parents accepted the honor on her behalf.
Sunday's music lineup began with the band Contest winners Windy Hill taking the stage to show why they won. Next was an up and coming band from Nederland, CO called Elephant Revival. This band has a great sound, mixing old Appalachian type instruments like the washboard and banjo to create a melodic sound that is just beautiful; the perfect Sunday band, a group that just makes you want to sit back and relax with friends on a sunny day. Second to last band of the weekend consisted of Danny Barnes, Drew Emmit, and Larry Keel. While the music was great, the absence of the Super Jam that has traditionally been at the end of most Summits was a disappointment. Having the stage filled with twenty musicians all playing their hearts out has always been one of the best parts of past Summits. Hopefully they bring it back next year, as it usually brings out some of the best jams of the weekend.
The end of the weekend was here, with only a final Yonder performance remaining until String Summit ’11 was officially over. Starting with “Rambler”, I knew that we weren’t in for a lazy Sunday. It went from “Rambler”, into the Beatles song “Come Together”, back into a “Rambler Reprise”. They kept it going all set through the end with a “On the Run” into “Steep Grade, Sharp Curves”, back into “On the Run” finish. Two of my all-time favorites, mashed together, and kicking the crowds butts into high gear. The last set was also fantastic, keeping the end of the first sets energy going with a “Troubled Mind” into the Misfits “20 Eyes”, back into “Troubled Mind”. The rest of the set included “Finally Saw the Light”, “Too Late Now”, “Cannonball Blues”, and more. Ending the set with “The Bolton Stretch” into “Ten” made me wish there was another day of String Summit. No matter how tired I am at the end of Summit, Yonder always finds a way to keep me dancing hard through the final notes.
The Northwest String Summit has been steadily growing over the past Ten years. This is due to the Family oriented vision of the creators of Summit, and the strong ties they have to the fans. This relationship is what will hopefully keep this festival going at least another ten years to its 20thAnniversary and beyond. A Big thanks should go out to the weekends MC, Pastor Tim as well as Yonder Mountain String Band, and the Horning family for allowing such a wonderful event to happen in their most pristine back yard year after year. I am already eager to return in 2012. See you there!