Review & Photos | Northwest String Summit | North Plains
Words by: Donovan Farley
Read Donovan’s thoughts on his weekend at the Northwest String Summit after the gallery.
The 2015 edition of the Northwest String Summit took place last weekend at beyond-idyllic Horning’s Hideout in North Plains, Oregon, and was once again a dreamlike success. The entire weekend had a wonderful reunion vibe, from the spirit of camaraderie and collaboration among the performers, to the laid-back, family-friendly vibe among the crowd out in the pine tree-covered grass area. The feeling of joy throughout the weekend was palpable.
Headliners Yonder Mountain String Band treated the audience to three epic performances filled with exciting covers (Talking Heads, Bruce Springsteen and Pink Floyd among them), some truly epic jams and more guest appearances than you can shake a hula hoop at. From new acts like The California Honeydrops and Crow & The Canyon playing impressive sets to new fans, to living legends teaming up in Del McCoury and David Grisman, to crazy late night sets from the likes of The Greyboy Allstars, Phish tribute act Shafty (a very nice appetizer for those headed to Bend later in the week) and The Infamous Stringdusters, the four day fest did not disappoint in any aspect all weekend.
The first thing you notice when arriving at Horning’s Hideout is how uniquely gorgeous the setup of the concert area is. Shade covers a great deal of the amphitheater, and the ease with which patrons can traverse the lovely wooded areas that the stages reside in is one of Northwest String Summit’s many strengths. Attendees could finish watching a set on the headlining stage, then literally just turn around and see another set on the Furthur Bus Stage, creating a constant stream of lovely music that kept the vibe going. Another is the fact that NWSS is one of the few festivals where most of the acts play two sets, allowing festival goers ample opportunity to see everyone play, which only adds to the incredibly laid-back vibe. Nearby festival Pickathon does this as well, and it really adds to the experience, here’s to hoping more fests follow suite in the future.
It was very cool to see three bands that have been a part of my Make Like A Shovel column at the same festival (Crow & The Canyon, Rising Appalachia and Elephant Revival), and all three played multiple well received sets. Crow & The Canyon’s set atop Furthur, Ken Kesey and the Merry Prankster’s old bus, was a particular highlight, as the young band definitely made the most of their time at the festival. As I said in my previous piece on the band, Crow & The Canyon have “it” in spades and I see a big future for the band.
”Getting to play on top of the Further bus was pretty unreal,” said Crow & The Canyon’s banjo player Austin Quattlebaum. “I’ve read about the bus for years and seen it at festivals around the Northwest for the last five. It was like standing on history as we rocked and swayed on that vibrant old bus. We attempted to channel our inner Merry Prankster by wearing bright colors and capes. Judging by all of the smiling faces and dancing feet in the crowd I’d like to think that we did the old girl justice. We hope to do it again next year!”
The late night sets were very well-curated as well, with Elephant Revival, Greensky Bluegrass, and Fruition (and others) joining the above mentioned bands in playing terrific sets into the wee hours. I hadn’t seen The Greyboy Allstars in years and my excitement for their set was rewarded as they had the dusty dance floor absolutely shaking the entire time. The late night shows at festivals often can make or break the weekend, and NWSS’s were all on point.
And the guest appearances! Seemingly everyone played with Yonder: The Del McCoury Band (who came on stage with the band to open Saturday night’s show with “Walking Shoes” and “Pain In My Heart”), Larry Keel and Darol Anger (“They”> ”Years With Rose”> ”Casualty”), Andy Falco, Andy Hall, Chris Pandolfi and Jeremy Garrett (“Traffic Jam”), Ronnie McCoury, Paul Hoffman, Anders Beck, and Mike Bont (“Black Sheep”, “Kentucky Mandolin”> “White Freightliner”) and Keel once more (“Winds Of Wyoming” and “Culpepper Woodchuck”). National treasure Del McCoury played with about half of the festival over the course of the weekend, with the spry 76-year-old bringing his A-game to each guest appearance and all three of his sets. Del was playing seemingly every time I turned around, as were the members of festival supergroup Sideboob, especially festival co-MVP (with Del) Allie Kral, who played with Yonder, Crow & The Canyon, Keller Williams’ Grateful Grass and Sideboob, and brought the house down each time.
Sideboob, a supergroup formed for NWSS spearheaded by Allie Kral, Fruition’s Mimi Naja and The Shook Twins, with Jenny Keel, Kat Fountain and Gipsy Moon’s Mackenzie Page also sitting in, took the Furthur stage decked out for the occasion looking like they’d just come from the rowdiest Kentucky Derby party since Hunter S. Thompson and Ralph Steadman were there. Their set was the most flat-out fun I had all weekend, featuring a short set of amazing R&B and hip-hop covers by everyone from TLC, to The Fugees, to The Ying Yang Twins. Every face in the both the audience and on the bus was filled with an ear to ear grin, and these ladies absolutely need to find a way to get more Sideboob shows going, as their set was among the most fun I’ve seen all year.
Keller Williams’ Grateful Grass really stood out as a treat for me as well and was a great way to get the live Dead fix I’d been looking for since all the Fare Thee Well shows were beyond my reach. The ever-impressive Williams lead the band wonderfully through a bevy of Dead classics, with their playing enjoyably loose and fluid. I found myself wishing their slot was longer, as I did during Keller’s set with the McCoury’s. There were a few other Dead covers and nods throughout the weekend, and I had the feeling more than once that the ecstatic feeling from the Fare Thee Well shows was spilling over into the festival’s psyche.
A scene that pretty much sums up the amazing weekend for me surprisingly involves the only time I saw police all weekend. As I was walking between stages by the entrance to the festival, I noticed a sheriff’s cruiser pulling up next to the big, rainbow-colored NWSS 2015 sign. Wondering what was up, I watched as the sheriff’s deputies got out smiling and talked with dancing fans as they posed for pictures next to the sign. I made my way chuckling back to the main stage, only to see the same cops again 10 minutes or so later. Still smiling, the made their way through the crowd slowly and respectfully until a guy who was juggling offered one of the cops his batons. Amazingly, the officer took them and actually juggled them successfully for a couple of seconds eliciting a laughter-filled cheer from our section. It was a beautiful moment filled with the sort of respect, joy and kindness that makes Northwest String Summit such a special festival and Horning’s Hideout such a special place.
Yonder Mountain String Band Setlists
Friday, July 17
Set One: Around You > Fingerprint, All The Time > New Dusty Miller, I Know You Rider, Black Sheep* > Kentucky Mandolin* > White Freightliner*
Set Two: Only A Northern Song > Sidewalk Stars > Northern Song, Ever Fallen In Love, Sometimes I’ve Won, Up For Brinkley’s, C’est La Vie, Jail Song, Angel > Robots > Angel
Encore: Goodbye Blue Sky
* with Paul Hoffman, Mike Devol, Anders Beck and Ronnie McCoury
Saturday, July 18
Set One: My Walking Shoes*, Pain In My Heart*, On The Run > Pass This Way > EMD > Pass This Way > On The Run, Night Out, The End Is Not In Sight, Traffic Jam**
Set Two: Travelin Prayer, Eat In Go Deaf Eat Out Go Broke, It’s Hard to be a Saint in the City > Looking Back Over My Shoulder > I’m Lost > Looking Back Over My Shoulder > Nothing But A Breeze, Girlfriend Is Better > Drawing A Melody
Encore: Winds Of Wyoming^ > Culpepper Woodchuck^ > Winds Of Wyoming^
* with The Del McCoury Band
** with The Infamous Stringdusters
^ with Larry Keel
Sunday, July 19
Set One: Insult And An Elbow> Landfall, Love Before You Can’t, Anna Lee, Son of a Gun, A Father’s Arms, Finally Saw The Light> Had To Leave My Boots Behind> Torn and Frayed, Left Me in a Hole, Criminal> Son of a Preacher Man, Ripcord Blues, Don’t Cry Blue, Mental Breakdown, They* > Years With Rose* > Casualty*
Encore: Complicated, Amie, Another Day, Southern Flavor
*-with Darol Anger on fiddle & Larry Keel on guitar and vocals