Review & Photos | Northwest String Summit 2013 | Oregon

Words and Images by: Lizzy Justesen

Northwest String Summit :: 7.18-21.13 :: Northwest String Summit :: North Plains, OR

Attending Yonder Mountain String Band’s 12th annual Northwest String Summit is akin to watching a kickass lineup of music in your best friend’s backyard.

Located only 30 minutes north of Portland, the lush oasis is Bob Horning’s private property. Aside from the occasional summer music festival (SCI and STS9 are among the bands that have thrown festivals here before), the land is primarily used for fishing and camping. After going through security and the usual festival checkpoints, you lose cell phone service as you drive down a crooked, steep dirt road. Alas, you see your first (of many) free roaming peacock and immediately know that these grounds are the epitome of festival location perfection.

Everywhere you look you see green -huge pines tower on either side of dirt paths leading fans from their campsites to the main stage (dubbed “the bowl”). In recent years, organizers have also added two other stages to the festival experience: the smaller Cascadia Stage is nestled down a small hill in the middle of the woods, and also the “Tweener” Stage which is atop the original Ken Kesey and the Pranksters’ Further bus. All three stages create different environments and peak at different parts of the day, ensuring each fan can find their niche -whether it be front row at the bowl or kicking’ it with Zane Kesey, who is selling off 1960’s memorabilia.

Musically, the highlights of the weekend were plentiful and started immediately with the first set on Thursday evening by Portland’s Shook Twins. The identical twins and their full band captivated an attentive audience during their short hour-long set which showcased their funky folk and angelic powerhouse voices. In contrast, The Shook Twins revealed a more rogue side of themselves as part of a late-night set on Friday, as they stepped outside the realm of folk and played bluegrass-rock with a side of pirate jug band music, in which the raucous crowd all joined together to send out a group “ARGH!!”

The Deadly Gentlemen attracted a large crowd on Saturday afternoon and were one of the best acts of the weekend. The moment that most stood out from their near 90-minute set was a magnetic, danceable rendition of the Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers” that showcased the technical skills of these young bluegrass pickers.

The Leftover Salmon set on Saturday was another premier moment of the festival. Vince Herman and the crew came to Horning’s to party, and there were barely any fans sitting on the steep hill that surrounds the bowl during their cajun-style rendition of John Hartford’s’ “Up on the Hill” which featured Scott Law on guitar. Following this, Salmon ended their time at Horning’s by inviting Darol Anger, Jeff Austin and Dave Johnston onto the stage for the last three songs including a short but sweet cover of “I Know You Rider.”

All six Yonder Mountain String Band sets played throughout the weekend were packed with explosive energy and crowd favorites including the Grateful Dead’s “Jack-a-Roe” on Friday, a set opener of “Illinois Rain” and a soulful, speedy rendition of Bob Dylan’s’ “Spanish Harlem Incident” on Saturday. Danny Barnes (banjo) joined the band during almost every set as well as Darol Anger (fiddle), which brought Yonder to higher musical heights and enabled them to take their jams in new and extended directions.

The only shortcoming of the entire festival would have to be the last Yonder Mountain set of the weekend. In the middle of “Traffic Jam,” a generator blew and the crowd was left alone singing the words as the crew tried to regain power. Twenty or so minutes later, the band proceeded to finish the jam pseudo-acoustically, then busted into a far-too-quiet version of the Talking Heads’ “Girlfriend is Better” before segueing back into “Traffic Jam” and bidding the crowd adieu.

The combination of the overall aesthetics of Horning’s Hideout and the exemplary talent of the musicians that took the stage created the ultimate summer festival experience. With little kids on paddle boats, free roaming peacocks, temperate Oregon weather and some of the best bluegrass musicians around -there is not else much like it.

For more info on NWSS you can check out the official documentary on the festival titled Turn Left At The Peacock.