Words by: Dennis Cook | Images by: Sara Sokolowski
Summer Meltdown 9 :: 08.13.09 – 08.16.09 :: Whitehorse Mountain Amphitheatre :: Darrington, WA
In the days following the ninth installment of Summer Meltdown Festival I have twice dreamed myself back to Whitehorse Mountain Amphitheater. This is a first for me in all my years of fest attendance but something about this experience, even for a first time attendee like myself, spoke powerfully to my subconscious, transporting me back to the snow covered peaks and lush forests ringing the Main Stage or once again happily jostled like a roiling water molecule inside the late night tent (or "Boogie Dome" in veteran's vernacular). In most fundamental ways, this is a perfect festival, striking to the heart of the gypsy soul that makes one set up a temporary home away from home, finding kinship, kindness and carefree jubilation amongst folks who were once strangers but by fest's end have joined one's extended family.
|Summer Meltdown 2009|
And while the lineup isn't household names, from hosts/curators Flowmotion on through, the level of musicianship and raw talent held its own against anything out there, and perhaps resonated more because so many acts proved such a happy surprise. The anticipation of the known has its own value but there's no replacing the ontological smack of coming face-to-face with an amazing unknown quantity that rocks your world – something that happened repeatedly every day of the Meltdown. Like kindred spirit Las Tortugas – Dance of the Dead, Summer Meltdown is a celebration of great players and perseverance, a stupendous harnessing of wondrous music unleashed with the wholehearted goal of delighting one and all.
Arriving to cliché drizzle in Seattle, I made my way by train and automobile to the countryside two hours outside the big city, passing numerous signs selling hay, small towns whose compact main streets announced we were going to the country in an almost '60s way. There's the vibe of Max Yasgur's farm as one approaches the site, a place where folks can get together for fun and music and maybe live up to Joni's call to be stardust and golden for a few days. However, unlike Woodstock, this undiscovered jewel of a venue was dustup free and featured seamless production with killer sound that bounced between the large Main Stage and the smaller Garden Stage situated next to the Beer Garden, where most alcohol was consumed, a factor in the very kid friendly environment. Waiting in line for coffee or a cocktail one made fast friendships that only strengthened as the hours piled up, and by Sunday one found themselves kissing the neck of the barista that'd just made their latte and slapping hands or throwing the horns to people everywhere they strolled. Seriously, a total absence of conflict and a pervasive vibe of community prevailed in a way that spotlighted our better angels in ways that offset all the darkness of the recent health care town halls and wholesale invitation to dumbness and ignorance rising in America.
Thursday's early arrival mini-lineup was bookended by On The One and Panda Conspiracy, who both offered top-notch playing, groove-laden material and an inviting audience pull that showed them to be real festival dynamite, early catalysts for the skipping, uplifted feel that hovered over this weekend. But, the main attraction on Thursday was Flowmotion's first bite at the apple before their Saturday night, first-ever two set headlining performance. While clearly beloved by the 3,000-plus crowd, the band is much less known outside the Pacific Northwest and Seattle in particular. That's a goddamn shame because these guys are possessed of such undisguised beauty, muscular musicality and "holy crap, they're good" chops, all in service of material that anxiously reaches out and seizes you with sureness. They are a rock band in the open-minded mold of the 1970s, able to synthesize distinctly funky, jazzy elements into a tough whole. Listening side stage much of the set, watching them closely as they plied their trade with broad, mischievous grins, I was reminded of my childhood days listening to AM radio, where Al Green sat comfortably next to Steely Dan, Charlie Rich, Hall & Oates, Springsteen and Bob Marley – all inflections of broadminded groove, thoughtfully textured and possessed of a craftsmanship and intelligence almost entirely absent from today's mainstream.
|Josh Clauson - Flowmotion|
Summer Meltdown 2009
Their music seems designed for the long haul, both in its construction and lightly philosophical character. It's easy to imagine singing "Please Don't Forget" or many others in the shower, a tuneful splash that wakes us up to the moment at hand instead of leaving us lost in our mistakes and miscues. While I'd enjoyed the few times I'd seen them before, this exhibition on a huge stage in front of their core audience was stunning, a revelation of a band simply MUCH greater than one realizes in hour-long opening slots for out-of-towners. That they've literally built this stage, this opportunity, for themselves speaks to their dedication and vision. While they remind me in spots of two of my personal faves - The Black Crowes and Marillion - this band hums on their own frequency, easy to like but layered in such a rewarding way.
Opener "How I Know" was the ideal slow boil, a twinkling, contemplative tune that makes one look up at the stars and sigh a little. Later, "Mind Cell" proved a steady blossoming classic, so lovely and intrinsically strong that it cemented in one fell swoop my move from being an enthusiast to being a full-blown fan, especially as guest John Fricke's trumpet entered late in the game shifting things into loose Latinismo. "A Thousand Little Things" showed guitarist/singer RL Heyer to be kin to vintage Dickey Betts in his delivery, while "Future's Following The Sun," written by percussionist/keyboardist Bob Rees was a luscious simmer full of twists and inflection I can see Phish diehards getting down to in a big way. Ending the night with the largely untapped cover resource of Elton John's "Take Me To The Pilot," Flowmotion closed out their opening salvo on a fab gospel-rock note.
How I Know, Step On This Old Heart, Canopy, Mind Cell (John Fricke on trumpet), I Tried (Muleskinner on vocals, John Fricke on trumpet), See You Through, A Thousand Little Things, What's Been, Better Luck, Please Don't Forget, Future's Falling on the Sun,
Take Me to the Pilot (Elton John Cover)
Continue reading for Friday's coverage...