Head out yonder for String Summit
What: 18th annual Northwest String Summit, a fan- and family friendly string music-oriented festival
When: Thursday-Sunday, July 18-21
Where: Horning's Hideout, 21277 N.W. Brunswick Canyon Road, North Plains
Tickets: $229.99 (three day), $269.99 (four day), $84.99 (Sunday only)
At last year's Northwest String Summit, a regular attendee of the annual festival was caught off guard when a gloriously gritty voice — eerily resembling that of soul legend Otis Redding — backed by a band sounding like Booker T. and the MGs wafted up from the gully below.
When curiosity drew the fan closer to the stage area, he was shocked to find not a soul revue in matching suits from the Deep South, but a denim-clad quartet of 20-somethings from Australia called The Teskey Bros.
Erroneous assumptions aside, why, he wondered, was an R&B quartet from Melbourne playing in the woods at a "jamgrass" festival in Oregon?
"With that band," says Gregg Friedman, co-owner and promoter of the Northwest String Summit, "we knew the agent and he asked if we could route them. We said 'Absolutely' ... We're not gonna turn 'em down because they don't fit in a particular genre."
"That's an example of us not wanting to be pigeonholed in a genre like jamgrass," Friedman adds. "We're very conscious of that — wanting to mix it up, so people don't get bored during the day."
Although the Teskeys won't be available for the 18th annual String Summit, held at Horning's Hideout near North Plains Thursday-Sunday, July 18-21, variety and eclecticism continue to color the enduringly popular summer music showcase.
In addition to host Yonder Mountain String Band, who will perform two nights, this year's String Summit features festival stalwarts and like-minded virtuoso pickers and singers including Trampled By Turtles, the Infamous String Dusters, Fruition, the Lil Smokies, Shook Twins, and Danny Barnes.
Mixing things up from there in the 46-act lineup will be the Louisiana-bred funk-and-jazz influenced Galactic, Portland's ultra-funky Quick 'N Easy Boys, Baltimore, Maryland-based Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, and premiere Grateful Dead tribute ensemble Dark Star Orchestra (DSO).
While the growing number and popularity of summer music festivals always presents a scheduling challenge, Friedman, who co-produces String Summit with fellow Boulder, Colorado, resident Skye McDonald, is confident the 2019 summit lineup is a winner.
"We have so many good bands this year, it's unbelievable," Friedman says. "Some of the smaller bands on the smaller stages are really talented. Ghostlight, an electric band, is more on the rock and roll end of things. Trampled By Turtles we've never had and looking forward to. ... Galactic has a front man, but now have added a woman. It will be a total funk dance party Saturday night."
Given the overlap between fans of modern bluegrass and the Grateful Dead — the unofficial mother of all improvisation, or "jam"-oriented bands — Dark Star Orchestra is sure to receive a warm festival embrace. At String Summit, the Chicago-based DSO, which specializes in re-creating specific Dead shows via set lists, arrangements and even musical equipment, will perform "In the Spirit of 8/27/1972."
"We've never had Dark Star Orchestra before," Friedman says. "That will be a treat."
Describing Saskatchewan, Canada's The Dead South as "hillbilly acoustic kinda guys," Friedman marvels over the digital frenzy the relatively new band has created.
"On YouTube, they've gotten some insane number of views, something like 500 million. The numbers they report are so gigantic," he says.
A special treat for Yonder Mountain String Band fans will be an electric Saturday night set based on favorite selections from the five band members' "mix tape" years.
"They're doing another set where I don't know what they're (playing)," Friedman adds.
Changes to this year's festival, held in the hilly, sublimely wooded environs of Horning's Hideout, include eliminating the Kinfolk Stage at the far end of the food cart/vendor promenade and offering two Peacock Club VIP Experience packages that include amenities like enhanced camping or "glamping," golf cart taxi service, full-service bars and backstage access.
Instead of at the Kinfolk Stage, workshops will be held in a smaller-scale "honey dome" stage that also serves as the "tweener" performance site in between Main Stage acts. The change accommodates added programming to the Main Stage, Friedman says, as well as the smaller, woods-nestled Cascadia Stage, which will provide live music till the wee hours.
"That (Kinfolk) thing started when we had bigger bands we wanted to have on multiple stages. That concept we're not doing as much now. Also it's a matter of keeping ourselves fresh as a festival," he says. "We don't want String Summit fans saying, 'Oh, it's the same thing this time next year.' We're always thinking about changing the patron experience."
String Summit plans to honor Jeff Austin, Yonder Mountain String Band's former frontman and mandolinist who died unexpectedly on June 24, prior to the Sunday morning gospel set at the Cascadia Stage.
"Jeff was a big part of it," Friedman says of creating String Summit 18 years ago. "We started it with Yonder, and it became an extended family."
The week following Austin's death, Friedman admits, was "extremely tough for us.
"It's shocking and numbing. There's no script for that," he admits. "You can't see that coming."
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