Northwest String Summit 2019: Manifested Dreams and Lifelong Connections
Northwest String Summit: Manifested Dreams and Lifelong Connections
By Billy Ray Fasching
The 18th Annual Northwest String Summit was held July 18 – 22, 2019 at Horning’s Hideout in North Plains, OR. This year’s lineup included host band Yonder Mountain String Band, along with headliners Trampled by Turtles, Infamous Stringdusters, Galactic, Dark Star Orchestra and more.
The Magic of Horning’s Hideout
For those of you that have been, and for those of you that have not been, there is a magical place in the rolling hills just outside of North Plains, Oregon.
If you make the trek out there, you will be welcomed by the sounds of free-range peacocks roaming the grounds. This enchanted, lovely grove of trees and sprawling spread-out land is called Horning’s Hideout.
It is owned and operated by a man that goes by the name of Bob Horning. It first opened its doors to the public back in 1983. At that time, you could rent a horse and spend the day horseback riding through the lush green forest, as well as try your hand at fishing in the public trout pond. It is open to the public from 8am to 8pm for most of the year.
But twice a year, this place comes alive. For the last 18 years, Horning’s Hideout has become a place where memories are made and where the Kinfolk reunite. If you are a fan of traditional bluegrass, jamgrass, blues, and or funk, you might have already heard of Northwest String Summit.
My first year out at this amazing venue was 20 years ago. A friend of mine that helped construct the Main Stage ended up inviting me to a small little gathering that was called Summer Hummer. If I remember right, at that time Bob was charging $25 per carload of people. Local bands like The Buds of May and Big Island Shindig were just a few of the opening acts.
My 16-year-old self instantly fell in love with the music, the arts, and the community. It was the first time in my life that I had witnessed what unconditional love looked like in a group setting.
Like a fish that took the bait, I was hooked. I made a promise to myself that I would never miss a year. The following year my high school sweetheart and I attended the 2nd annual Summer Hummer. With an attendance of no more than 350 people, the main bowl/amphitheater was a free-for-all hootenanny with a ton of room to cut a rug and dance a jig.
Northwest String Summit Comes Alive
Then something quite extraordinary happened the following year. A group of gentleman known as Yonder Mountain String Band and others ended up holding the first annual Northwest String Summit. At the time I had never heard of them, but once I saw Yonder Mountain String Band play for the first time, I right away understood why everyone was so hyped to see them.
I have always been a visual person, so I was instantly drawn to Yonder’s ability to connect with the audience around them. Like a beacon of light, they had the power to draw you in, and to hold your attention for long periods of time. If they were not on stage playing, you would most likely run into them. Frolicking around the rolling hills that Horning’s Hideout has become known for.
String Summit Brings Band and Fans Together
That year I had my first encounter with Yonder’s extraordinary, extroverted mandolin player that went by the name of Jeff Austin. When our two paths crossed, I found Jeff rolling down the hill with a bunch of kids. At this time I was 18 years old, and the first thing that went through my mind when I saw Jeff playing with the kids was the fact that I had not rolled down a hill since I was a little kid. So I quickly ran over and joined in on the fun. Afterwards many others followed in pursuit. It was only later that I discovered that the same guy that I was playing with was one of the leading members of the headlining band.
The symbology behind the no separation between bands and fans at Northwest String Summit was unlike anything I had ever seen. I had been to a lot of festivals and concerts before, but I had never seen an atmosphere quite like the one at Strummit. I knew right then and there that I would do whatever I had to do to attend this beautiful event every year.
Northwest String Summit: Where Dreams are Manifested
So I did just that. I spent years volunteering, and then I eventually ended up serving coffee for my neighbor Tanya who is the owner of the Solarshots espresso cart. I always worked day shifts. That way I could play at night when all the lights and misfit toys came out. Anyone that has ever been to NWSS could tell you that the night time is the right time.
Somewhere around 2016 I suddenly started investing time and energy into my passions like art and photography. I spent my free time running around the campgrounds taking pictures of all the festy-goers in their elaborate handmade costumes. This over-abundance of stock footage led me to starting my own photography page called Fare Thee Well Photography. Once I started investing time and energy into my passions, the community that I had so dearly fell in love with started supporting me in my new artistic adventures.
Bands like World’s Finest and The California Honeydrops allowed me to bring my camera in to practice shooting at their local Portland shows. This eventually led me to hooking up with the Festy GoNuts crew and obtaining a press pass for this year’s Strummit.
Keeping Time With Yonder 2.0
Comparing the old days to the new days would almost be like comparing Yonder Mountain String Band before and after Jeff Austin’s departure in 2014. We can all agree that when Jeff made his exit, the band had a whole new makeover in 2015. I remember taking it to heart because Jeff was always the big wide-eyed kid that we all wanted to play with.
But after seeing Yonder 2.0, I was immediately blown away by their ability to keep time. Like cogwheels turning around and around inside a clock, their timing is impeccable. Their stop and start time signatures from one melody to the next is unlike anything you will ever see. Like a high calibrated machine, the new Yonder never missed a beat.
The Yonder that we all know and love today still has 3 out of the 4 original members. After Jeff left, the band was joined by Allie Kral on fiddle, and Jacob Joliff, who is easily one of the fastest Mandolin players that I have ever seen. Throw in original members Dave Johnston on banjo, Ben Kaufmann on bass, and Adam Aijala on guitar, and you have what is known as a group of legends.
A Welcome Hug
I cannot speak about this year’s NWSS without having a heavy heart. All of us long time fans were hit with a very heavy blow with the sudden news of Jeff’s passing towards the end of June. I arrived at this year’s Strummit with excitement and joy, just like I would have any other year.
But I right away felt the presence of the overwhelming sadness amongst the fans and Kinfolk. I was instantly met with a big old welcome home hug from Bliss. Anyone and everyone that comes to Strummit is usually met by a welcome home hug by this happy jolly man. You can usually find him up in vendor row selling his tasty handmade chocolates out of his blissful wonders stand.
One of the most beautiful parts about this community is the fact that year after year you will see all of the same faces, as well as all of the new ones that have come to join in on the fun. We have gone from a family of 350 to a family that is almost 5000 plus and growing.
The Anticipation of Thursday at String Summit
The first band to start us all off on Thursday was Scratchdog String Band on the Tweener stage. As festy-goers piled in, and as the campsites started filling up, we were all blessed with their music to keep us moving while we unpacked our camps. Soon everyone started piling in to the amphitheater looking for the best spot to hang their hammocks, and or lay down their tapestries on the lush green grass inside the main bowl. The Kitchen Dwellers were the first act to play the main stage this year.
Thursday has always been one of my favorite days, because all year long all of us regulars spend our winter months and down time prepping and preparing our costumes and our camp themes. The anticipation builds and builds as we all get closer to unveiling our newest creations.
String Summit: Where Adults Can Be Kids Again
Like other like-minded festivals that I won’t mention, NWSS is one of those places where all of the adults get to come together to play. And the best part is the kids get to join in on the fun. There are activities for all the different age groups that attend. They have an amazing “not-for-kids-only” play area set up that offers workshops on mindfulness as well as yoga and meditation.
If that’s not your thing, you can try your hand at stone balancing at the creek. The first thing I think anyone that has never attended will notice is the vast majority of age ranges. Unlike other festivals that seem to draw in certain age groups, NWSS is a community that is three generations strong. The young, the old, and the in-betweens.
Soon after the Kitchen Dweller’s left the stage, we kicked up some dust with acts like Ghost Light, Shook Twins, and Dark Star Orchestra. It was Dark Star Orchestra’s first year playing at String Summit, and all I gotta say is they definitely did not disappoint all us Grateful Dead Heads. Shortly after they ended their se, we all funneled down the hill to the late-night Cascadia stage to listen to TK & the Holy Know Nothings, followed by Hillstomp closing out the night. Both of these bands are phenomenal acts that are local to the Portland music scene, and have been for a number of years. I highly recommend you check them out the next time they play at a venue near you.
Preparing for a Full Friday at String Summit
We all staggered back to our tents for a bit of rest before Friday morning’s sunrise. Proper resting and listening to your body aches and pains is so important at festivals like Strummit. With all of the hiking from one stage to the next, the key here is to pace yourself during the weekend festivities and to always carry refillable water containers with you so that you can stay hydrated. Otherwise, you will most likely not make it to the big peak on Saturday night.
I woke up Friday morning hearing the sounds of the peacocks wailing in the distance. I threw on my train conductors costume, grabbed a cup of coffee, and headed off to Chris Couch’s solo set at the newly constructed Honey Dome Stage.
If you have never heard of Chris Couch, I recommend that you ask the great God Google about him. You can normally catch Chris on stage playing guitar and singing his heart out with the boys from World’s Finest who have played out at NWSS in years past. But this year it was just Chris with a few sit-ins from Tyler Grant, and Michael Kirkpatrick. His American grassroots, reggae vibe blended together with a sprinkle of jamgrass on the side seemed to pair well with my morning coffee.
By the time Fruition was playing their first set on the Main Stage, all of the Fruity Freaks and busy bees had made their way out of the surrounding camps to come and play with one of our favorite returning bands. And just like they always do, Fruition soon had us all swaying, bobbing and sweating.
Friday Night Brings a Tribute to Jeff and New Festival Artists
By the time Yonder got up on stage, we could all tell it was going to be an amazing night. Starting off their set with “Half Moon Rising”, Yonder dedicated the set to Jeff Austin by playing Elevation, the first full-length album the band released 20 years ago. They were joined by several musicians to sing and play the parts of the deeply missed Jeff Austin.
There seemed to be a lot of rumblings going on about Trampled by Turtles, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, and Galactic. All three bands were new to the NWSS lineup. In years past, Greensky Bluegrass was one of the headlining bands as well as Leftover Salmon. So a lot of people were excited to see who was brought in to fill those shoes.
Trampled by Turtles and Pigeons Playing Ping Pong absolutely tore the place up. Pigeons Playing Ping Pong busted out Hakunah Matata, and the whole bowl lit up like a 10-year-old on Christmas morning. Lights and cog wheels spinning around and around, we all danced and sang along. After Pigeons, everyone either staggered back to their camps or made the decision to stay up and head down the hill to Cascadia for the late night sets with the Shook Twins and the Rumpke Mountain Boys.
String Summit’s Saturday Does Not Disappoint
Finally getting to Saturday, which is always the peak of the festival, in years past YMSB has done amazing covers of Pink Floyd as well as The Steve Miller Band in 2018. Saturday night’s Yonder set is also accompanied by live interactive art that is dreamed up by the mad scientist known as Tyler Fuqua Creations. Every year the theme is something different. And every year it just gets better and better.
This year was no different, as Yonder went through their mixtape of covers with Asher Fulero on keys. We all found ourselves suddenly surrounded by bees, bees, bees, and a giant robotic looking flower. As Yonder played on, the flower began to rise and the petals begin to open. Once the flower was in full bloom, you could see that the queen bee was dancing on her throne.
With all of the bees dying off on our planet over the years, I was astounded by the seed and the symbology behind this year’s theatrics. Year after year, these amazing artists and musicians put so much time and effort into seeding us all with their poetic words and their artistic expressiveness. It is truly medicine for our souls. All you have to do is open up your ears and your eyes and allow the seed to plant.
By the time Yonder Mountain’s set was over, Pastor Tim had announced that Galactic had a flight layover, so Fruition was going to take their slot. Some of us were a little bummed that we were not going to get our Saturday night funk in the bowl fix, but everything seemed to work out exactly like it was supposed to.
Fruition played one of the most amazing sets that I have ever had the pleasure of seeing with sit-ins from the likes of Chris Couch and others. Finally ending their set with an unplugged version of “Meet Me on the Mountain”, not a whisper could be heard until the last note was plucked.
As the dust cleared, everyone seemed to scurry on down to the Cascadia Stage to get funky with Galactic. By the time I arrived at the Cascadia alcohol checkpoint, they were no longer letting people into the winding paths leading towards the stage because someone ended up having an epileptic seizure. The medical response team was so quick. Within 5 minutes or so, the gate was back open and the person was off receiving medical attention.
Galactic never missed a beat. I was truly impressed with how everyone came together to help in a time of need, all while being pounded by the funky horns that Galactic brought to the stage.
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Like Aliens riding T-Rex with rainbow stars shooting out its butt. Because we can.
Sunday’s Sunrise Bubbles Over the Pond
After Saturday night’s peak, everyone is pretty worn out. There is a long standing tradition of staying up all night, and then meeting up for the Sunday morning bubbles ceremony. As the sun begins to rise, one by one we all take a seat at the edge of the water.
Bubbles fly over the lake as we all gather to drum, sing, and/or meditate. Shortly afterwards we all crawl back to our beds and wait for the peacocks to wake us up as the hot sun starts to heat up our tents.
Wear Pink for Lilli
Sunday is Lilli Trippe’s day. The trees are wrapped in pink, and everyone that has been to past Northwest String Summits usually wears a pink shirt to help bring awareness to childhood cancer patients.
For years now, the Kinfolk and regular attendees have been participating in an annual head shaving event that is held on the Main Stage. This year’s volunteer was our beloved photographer known in the community as Dorothy St. Claire. This Sunday also seemed to be a day to grieve and to remember the legacy that Jeff Austin and Yonder Mountain have built and left behind.
All weekend long, band after band and group after group gave shout-outs to Austin’s family, as well as played some of his and Yonder’s original tunes. A poster soon popped up near the Tweener stage and by the end of the day it was filled with notes and memories from everyone that passed by.
Never Miss a Sideboob Set
I spent Sunday afternoon just grounding out, trying to look back on all of the amazing new acts that NWSS had booked this year. Some of the most notable acts that I caught this weekend were the boys from Dead South, Kind Country with Harrison Olk from Cascade Crescendo, Armchair Boogie, Dirty Revival, The Lil Smokies, and, of course, we cannot forget The Infamous Stringdusters 2-night run. The list of talent just goes on and on.
But when it comes to ending NWSS, there is only one act that can plant the seed of equality. And that band is Sideboob. This year’s performance by Sideboob was one for the books.
You could literally feel the divine feminine energy emanating off the stage. Mimi Naja, the Shook Twins, Allie Kral, Lindsay Lou, and all four members of Ley Line as well as Sarah Clarke all lined up on the Main Stage with their sparkling clad clothing and proceeded to share their light with each and every one of us.
With all of the craziness that is going on in the world around us, and with all of the damaging laws being passed in some of our Southern states, there is no better seed to plant than the seed of equality and balance amongst the sexes. Outside of Northwest String Summit, this is still an issue that so many of us are trying to address. But inside the gates at Horning’s Hideout, we all find ourselves in a Utopian future. And it is just that.
Planting the Seeds of Connection
During the four nights that we are there, that’s the magic – and I believe that’s why we all keep coming back. Everyone needs a safe place to escape once in awhile, or a place where they can recharge their batteries.
Northwest String Summit and Horning’s Hideout has become that safe haven for all of us to do so. I honestly do not know of any other community that has this kind of support system. The collective consciousness amongst all the festy-goers is a bond that is three generations strong.
Like a busy bee that spreads pollen from one flower to the next, the collective goal amongst us all is to help raise our vibrations and to transcend together cohesively.
So I hope to see you all and so many more at next year’s festivities. If you are thinking about coming for your first time, welcome home. If you are returning home after missing a few years, we will surely say welcome back.
Much love and keep on keepin’ on. See ya in 2020!
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