NWSS | 07.16 – 07.19 | OR
Northwest String Summit :: 07.16.09 – 07.19.09 :: Horning’s Hideout :: North Plains, OR
A lot of work goes into this beautiful beast, and we are lucky to revel in the labor of folks busting ass simply because they believe in it. Like any family, we have people we know will be there for us, to pick us off the ground when we need lifting, steal us to the dance floor, or simply listen to us chatter away our mental load. And like any family, the joys and sorrows are shared ones. This weekend was dedicated to Sandy Alexander, whose passing hung heavy in many hearts. A much-loved man who truly embodied the Kinfolk soul, his tapes were instrumental in spreading word of the band in their early days. A great spirit moves us in times where it’s needed most, and suffice it to say that a tremendous one was present at this Summit.
Now, I sit and sift through my notebook. I have a truckload of moments and snapshots captured in messy scrawl (maybe someday I will perfect the fine art of taking notes while dancing). Many are too much for words. Welcome to the clusterpluck. Welcome to the family reunion. Welcome to the way we tear it up on the weekend. Most of all, welcome home.
Thursday, July 16
From the moment I set my tattered Birkenstocks down on that dusty Horning’s Hideout ground, the excitement jitterbugged my bones. As a local peacock strutted in front of the car, twisting its head with perplexion, I saw the festival’s pieces coming together, volunteers meeting and running down the schedule and crews running equipment in on golf carts. Wandering to the amphitheater area, with the bowl virtually empty, the tech crews hoisted dazzling eye-catching banners on both sides of the stage, courtesy of Kelly Thomas and Rob Bruce, bearing a tumbling cascade of sequined peacock tail feathers. Watching the sound check, familiar faces bound down the hill for happy embraces. The Yonder boys warmed up one by and one, and then threw down on a few songs together, including John Hartford’s “Steam Powered Aereoplain” and the fist-pumping new tune “Complicated,” turning up the juice, and welcoming us to the Summit. I felt like a live-wire sparking for the weekend ahead.
On my way back to camp, I caught some of Montana Slim raging at the bottom of the hill that led to Camp Turtle. A band competition entry, they held down this spot every night of the festival and threw a hell of a party. Serious props for keeping us moving across that gravel, and making those late night trips to the Honey Buckets less painful. Tenacious troubadours from San Francisco with snappy rhythms that inspired some delightfully dirty dancing, they won over several new fans before the weekend was over. Their ripping take on “”I Know You Rider” left me ready to recharge, looking forward to a leisurely day before Friday night’s madness.
Continue reading for Friday’s coverage of the NWSS 2009…
“Back by popular demand,” the program read about Greensky Bluegrass and even our lovable and spirited MC Pastor Tim exclaimed, “This band is the shit!” Genuine bluegrass souls with rock & roll hearts, they’ve put in serious elbow grease and get better with every show. This set was smoking in a way that made you want to grab your family photos and bolt from the house. A lot of their tunes feel like future classics, such as “200 Miles from Montana” or “Old Barns,” and Paul Hoffman (mando) and Dave Bruzza (guitar) both possess appropriately old soul voices. Maybe some of these toddling, aspiring pickers in the crowd will play their songs someday. The band’s deviations and sly pop culture pieces are executed seamlessly. A riotous “Broke Mountain Breakdown,” (with a little “Smoke on the Water” tease courtesy of Bruzza) was a nasty beast that snapped at your ankles – with Michael Arlen Bont (banjo) racing on smooth blacktop, Hoffman bringing out the mando’s silver tongue and Anders Beck viciously shredding dobro (Metal-bro! Raise those horns!) – that wandered in a blotter sheet swirl before raging full force into a timely “Beat It” with Mike Devol driving deep bass spikes through the core of the depth charge, as each musician passed off the lead with fury. At this point I was pogoing like crazy, taking in the beaming grins and the wild screaming.
Jeff Austin, who came on stage to join the Livers for a good portion of their set, stood wide-eyed with enthusiasm, leaning in and watching intensely as the other three tossed around leads. “Crow Black Chicken” broke down into delicious anarchy, and “Deathtrip” swam through some serious murk, emerging with Rubin visibly amused. Spying two little girls in the front row singing every word, Rubin laughed, “I don’t think you were even born when we recorded that record. But that was very cute. Nothing like little girls singing along to ‘Death Trip.'” Gotta give the parents some props for that!
With barely enough time to sit down and eat dinner (the quality more than makes up for quantity in the vendor department at String Summit, so supper becomes a heart wrenching decision), I preciously made my way towards the bowl. As the opening notes of “Midwest Gospel Radio” swelled, I navigated through the audience, eyes transfixed on the stage, and almost ran into a little kid in a cape. You got to look out for those kids at Summit. Their presence makes us all be a little more respectful and caring, and their excitement can’t help but rub off on you. I watched him bound away, scooped up by his mother, who put him on her shoulders. He pushed out his arms in a Superman pose, his little cape flapping while they bounced away, as Austin stepped up to the mic and said, “Welcome back… welcome home… I can’t tell you the overwhelming joy that comes over you at Horning’s.” Relishing that emotion, he sang, “This is just the way it feels when you come home.” The embrace drew us close and then – bam! – sent us somersaulting with “New Horizons,” limbs flying, feet pounding dirt, the rug pulled out in a free fall, a rubber band drawn back to the penultimate breaking point and then snapped free, flying breakneck across the room.
The heat of the day catching up with me, I watched the second set cozied up in the beer garden. Looking at the vista below, I spotted two glowing gnomes bouncing above the crowd, as Ted Atwell worked his light show magic. This bearded duo (or was it a trio?) would catch my eye all weekend, one of those random, yet functionally distinguishable (“Just look for the gnomes!”) pieces of festival flair that can’t help but make you laugh. The second Yonder set traveled tightly, and as the atmospheric wash out of “Sidewalk Stars” gave way to those opening notes of “Dawn’s Early Light,” I felt it in my toes. A tale of murder and revenge that could be taken straight from a grainy John Ford film, it started in body counts and mire, hurtling through Aijala’s zen, picked up by Barnes’ gutbucket banjo, which gave way to harmonic splinters. In the bright, stoney sunshine of “Two Hits and the Joint Turned Brown,” the Livers’ influence was felt strongly in the outro, with Austin and Aijala both bouncing off weird walls. The “Sharecropper’s Son” encore sent us off into the night with an extra shot of springy adrenaline, ready to take on the adventures and misadventures that waited in the darkness of the pines.
Continue reading for Saturday’s coverage of the NWSS 2009…
Modern musical gypsies Taarka play the kind of music to soundtrack bus window views, when you’ve absconded, eager to leave the past behind and look to unwritten pages. Ryan Drickey (octave fiddle), Enion Pelta-Tiller (fiddle) and Daniel Plane‘s (cello) strings combined cast a potent spell, and their music’s globalized sound evokes bustling, colorful metropolises and mysterious marketplaces as easily as open spaces. The gorgeous cover of Iris DeMent’s “50 Miles of Elbow Room” stretched over the horizon, and when they played the John Hartford tune “In Tall Buildings,” a sighing comment on the workaday path many take when they grow up, it was a reminder not to lose that spark that the kids who charmed us this weekend possess. Watching youngsters run back and forth as the dust sifted between my toes, I let the song’s lessons sink in.
This was my first time seeing Infamous Stringdusters live, and lord almighty, was I impressed. A rich full sound that’s classic, caffeinated and tight, all six Dusters are forces of nature on their own (I even noticed Greensky’s dynamic dobroman Beck videotaping Andy Hall), but combined they push it up to a category 5. It’s certainly a refreshing gale and a well-oiled machine that isn’t afraid to get a little gritty and a little greasy. Their version of Barnes’ “Get It While You Can” featured some clutching vocals on the surface and some clammy funk tickling the underbelly. The Dusters were overflowing with joy, falling under Horning’s bewitchment as they playfully ribbed each other. At one point, a lizard crawled up on one of the mic stands, just chilling while they played, a sweet little moment. “I don’t know how you people do it,” bassist Travis Book said, his perma-grin now etched in my memory, “I’ve been here three hours and I already smell terrible.” In response, someone yelled, “Welcome home!” Yup, I have a feeling these cats are going to be part of the family from now on. After the Dusters’ set, Pastor Tim led us in the traditional “beer, water” chant, advising us on how to proceed with the festivities (drink a beer, then drink some water before you drink another beer). Listen to that advice. Trust me.
That unmistakable voice. Those timeless tunes. That eternally unruffled hair. It must be Del McCoury and The Travelin’ McCourys. Flanked by his sons Ronnie (mando) and Rob (banjo), with Jason Carter (fiddle) and Alan Bartram (bass), their suited and shined presence cut quite a contrast to those of us baptized in dust (no matter how many baby wipe showers I took, by the time I walked from the campsite to the stage, it was pretty much a lost cause). It was noted a couple times that weekend that Ronnie is starting to sound more and more like his dad, and seeing the two of them lean in close to the mic for “Count Me Out” was like Del in stereo. While I love it dirty and messy, you just can’t argue with absolute timelessness. Rolling out classic after classic, spiked with cuts from their recent album, Moneyland, like the hilarious “Forty Acres and a Fool” (author Joe New was even in the audience), this set was bluegrass perfection, pure and simple. Bartram lifted our souls with a wonderful “Road is Rocky,” and “Cold Rain and Snow” was sublime, while “Beauty of My Dreams” reminded me that even though Yonder ignited that bluegrass spark for me it was Phish that first laid some kindling down. Del dropped the setlist at times and began taking requests, graciously playing “Wheel Hoss” and “Orange Blossom Special” for the eager audience. He’s got a great spirit, genially laughing about forgetting the words to songs and friskily flirting with the fillies (“I’ll take that request… because you’re real pretty”). “Bean Blossom has a lot of chiggers,” he noted at one point. “I’d rather be here than Bean Blossom,” eliciting laughter from the delighted crowd.
Then, Väsen came on stage, joined by Carter (fiddle, Travelin’ McCourys), Pelta-Tiller (fiddle, Taarka), Jeremy Garrett (fiddle, Infamous Stringdusters) and Mike Marshall. Consuming the whole amphitheatre in a hydra-headed bow attack, the strings sighed, cried, serenaded. Austin then led us gently through “Years with Rose” as the fiddles brewed, measuring out their meanness, until blowing up the bank with “Raleigh and Spencer.” Austin was the mad conductor of the crazy train, incorporating the players into the lyrics as he barreled down the track (“They laid Danny Barnes in his grave!” only to have Barnes jump out with zombie attack vigor!). Player upon player, it was passed back and forth, going down the line at frightening speed. Threatening to veer off the rails, it tottered, tilted, gravity pulled it towards the edge, and then, from the depths, Austin screamed, “FIDDLES! UNLEASH HELL!!!” And, oh my lord, did they ever, ramming it upright, running that engine hotter and hotter, sparks shooting from the wheels, pushing the iron horse to the brink before riding her down into the set break station. Safe for a few moments, I found myself lounging in the grass and listening to sound engineer Ben Hines play Todd Snider’s “America’s Favorite Pastime” through the speakers.
Earlier in the evening, Austin said someone told him that the space station, with the shuttle docked to it, would be flying over at 10:57 p.m. The time was approaching, and as the music surged, the crowd lost in their dances, their own stories, Austin shouted to Atwell to kill the lights. We all stared up into the sky as Atwell brought the lights down, the last remaining notes of “No Expectations” filtering into the night, leaving us all in darkness. “Can you see it?!? Can you feel it?!?!” Austin cried. All that was visible was a clear star field framed by the jagged tops of pines, and below, amongst the lustrous festival flair, thousands of hands pointing to the same corner of the sky. I ran from behind the sound booth where I was standing to fix my own gaze skyward. Then, I caught it, like a fast moving plane, as Austin yelled, “This is brought to you by NASA!”
I saw Strings for Industry last year on Friday afternoon and they threw quite a party, but I wasn’t quite prepared for what they would unleash late night. After a day of bluegrass goodness, this was the electric trip we needed. Anger’s collective draws on a variety of musical pieces, from soul to psychedelic, all heavily steeped in a booty-shaking groove. Ten-minute opener “Burnitarus” dealt out the insanity, especially with Scott Law‘s bouncing guitar lines and Anger’s distorted, slicing fiddle reminding me a little bit of moe., with its lethal combination of poppy side swipes, darkly metallic jams, and eerie noise breakdowns. As drummer Carlton Jackson got the crowd revved to some high RPMs during “Soul Power,” everyone’s arms were moving, and under the lights it looked like some great flesh anemone squiggling on the seabed. Guest vocalist Beth Quist came out for the final song and the unmistakable introductory guitar notes of “Layla” hit, Anger’s wailing fiddle tearing apart the lead, and we were burning rubber. For some reason, I have never been a huge fan of the song (unless I’m watching Goodfellas), but this cover had me rethinking my position as the crowd whistled zealously. Keyboardist Asher Fulero‘s piano lead, combined with Anger and Law’s playing, coalesced into a stadium-worthy cup-raiser to propel us into party liquor and picking circle time.
Continue reading for Sunday’s coverage of the NWSS 2009…
After an early service (hey, 11 a.m. is early for a festival!) with CBW, it was time to be received in the church of Burle. Hickster‘s lineup this year proved to be somewhat of a Superjam warm-up with Beck (dobro) Book (bass, Infamous Stringdusters) and Law (guitar) rounding out the band, and Kartsounes (guitar) and Hoffman (mando, Greensky) jumping in on a few tunes. Benny “Burle” Galloway’s work has found its way into many bands’ catalogues over the years but he himself is a perpetual spotlight shunner. He’s got a little Townes and Woody in him, as his songs saunter in straight from the oil fields, production lines and bar room floors, unwashed and dressed in simple clothes, rumbling with hunger but with no appetite for bullshit or pretension. But, there’s a tenderness in that leather and songs like “Me and You,” which he wrote for his daughter, and “Years with Rose” can’t help but nestle in your heart. He kept bringing good company to that table, too. Julie Stratton joined the band, an arresting storm with her gutsy guitar and raw, passionate vocals on “Revival.” I don’t know where she came from, but damn, I got to investigate more. “That’s my kind of religion,” Burle happily growled at the end.
The second band to represent Sweden this weekend was Abalone Dots. These heart-flutterers posses a divine timbre, with killer four-part harmonies, luscious instrumentation and a darkness that lurks beyond their northern lights, full of tales about shooting husbands and surviving elevator breakdowns. Whether running barefoot and folkie or adding some drums to the mix, their unique view on Americana is absorbing. Absolutely humbled and charmed at the scene unfolding in the dust before them, they mused how they never had “rock rings,” the Swedish term for hula-hoops, at their shows before (I have been calling them “rock rings” ever since). Warmly welcomed, they brought down the house with a “Man of Constant Sorrow” encore, closing a set that left a few heads reeling.
Before Yonder’s last show of the festival, Pastor Tim took a minute to thank Bob Horning and his family. They have taken great care with their home, and the patrons return the favor, keeping the grounds amazingly clean, with our MC even thanking the crowd at one point, saying the volunteer crews were impressed with how little they had to do. There is just an overall sense of consideration here, and when you receive it you want to give it back. It’s not lost on the musicians who play this festival, and although Sunday afternoon means the music is almost over, Yonder wasn’t through with us yet.
“Keep On Going” drew me closer into the bowl for set two, carrying me on its reservoir of resilience, telling me, “Hold your head up high, and just keep moving.” We got plenty of tread as Rubin nefariously annihilated the rhythmic drive and Barnes and Johnston yucked it up with a “Dueling Banjos” tease. Moving into the spacious daydream of “Winds on Fire,” a moment of cooling respite for our feet, the bass groan seemed to reverberate under the topsoil of the bowl. But, that peace wouldn’t last long. Our daydreams turned to nightmares as we found ourselves in a hellacious “Follow Me Down to the Riverside.” We grabbed our butcher’s smocks, as things got bloody. Austin snarled and barked, throwing out tips for the sketchier uses of a pickaxe. Barnes was dialed into that psychosis with him, proffering pure banjer terror. Dangling over an empty grave with an indiscernible, stomach-clenching bottom, gradually the hand pulled us back and “KOG” placed us back on solid ground. “I had the weirdest dream,” Austin said. “I took a pickaxe to my lover. But now,” he said, lifting his face, shaking off his possession, “the sun is shining!”
As Yonder returned for an encore of traditional “Darling Alalee,” a rare treat, and “Troubled Mind,” (with Austin commenting, “At least it’s a fast one so it will hurt!”), they expressed their gratitude to us for coming for another year, taking a well deserved bow.
On the plane ride home, I twirled my peacock feather in my seat as I stared out the window at Mount Hood shrinking in the distance. At one point, Kaufmann had discussed cultivating appreciation versus seeking out moments of delight. Spiritually speaking, it seemed a bit heavy while I was raging in the dust, but ruminating over it later it spoke to how I was feeling. We chase down moments of ecstatic sunshine, cathartic punches and jaw drops. As one card aptly said this year, “The upside of the land beyond, the music kicks,” and, man, did it kick this year. But overall, what I left with from Summit this time was a sense of deep appreciation, for not only the music but also the conversations by the lake, the laughs in the beer garden, the living room wake-up calls at Camp Turtle, the late night astro jack lessons, and the moments where we just shut up and danced. It’s what I’ll keep rooted in the solid soil of my heart as I count down the days until I can go back home.
Continue reading for more pics of NWSS 2009…
|Yonder Mountain String Band & Friends|
|Pete Kartsounes & Benny Galloway|
|Danny Barnes – Bad Livers|
|Bad Livers with Jeff Austin|
|Danny Barnes with YMSB|
|YMSB celebrating Adam Aijala’s Birthday|
|Strings for Industry|
|Jessica Kilroy & Benny Galloway|
|Del McCoury & The Travelin’ McCourys|
|Benny “Burle” Galloway|
|YMSB & Friends|
JamBase | Ramblin’ Home
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