NWSS – 2017
The 16th annual Northwest String Summit took place at Horning’s Hideout in North Plains, Oregon from July 13th – 16th, 2017. Upon approaching entry on an early Thursday afternoon, there were a few dust devils in fields surrounding the venue, assuring that there was much energy in the air. Once inside the gates and being directed to a parking spot, there is the first major choice on where to camp. There are a few ‘lots’ and camping into forested areas and when there are many kind-hearted people everywhere (and some louder areas into the night), location can be a great addition to the overall experience. There are many peacocks in the area near the main buildings, with one female having recently given birth and being followed around by about 6 younglings. In the morning hours, the peacocks can be heard cawing, sounding like something in between a cat and a monkey. The peacock family is a good representation of the festival and site overall. The event is full of beauty, uniqueness, family and community; with emphasis on visual and sound appeal.
The String Summit featured over 30 artists on 5 stages with music workshops, yoga, meditation and more. There were also more than 10 new performers at the festival ranging from funk, blues and folk and from areas such as the East Coast and Canada. The 2017 festival was live streamed on Jamgrass.tv and nugs.net. The venue has also been moving towards a green environment. Through the food and drink venues, much of the ‘plastic’ used is made from corn and other vegetable additives, making it compostable. The venue has used official metal cups for refills on drinks and near the main stage there has been a free filtered water refill station. There is also a reward for the ‘greenest’ campsite, which people can nominate fellow campers for.
Since the start of the annual festival in 2002, Yonder Mountain String Band has been the headliner multiple nights on the main stage with the second set on Saturday night being a full performance of Pink Floyd’s album Metal. In 2016, the band performed the album Animals in full. YMSB released the album Love. Ain’t Love on June 23rd, 2017 with Frog Pad Records. The music video “Bad Taste” was released about a month before the album. Audio and video performances of YMSB and many others from the String Summit can be found in the gallery at stringsummit.com.
The first band to take any stage on Thursday was the Slocan Ramblers from Canada. The band released the album Coffee Creek in 2015, produced by the band’s friend and mentor Chris Coole (The Foggy Hogtown Boys), a well-known banjo player and community leader in Toronto’s bluegrass and old-time scenes. Lead vocalist and instrumentalist Frank Evans had a stage presence of audience engagement in every aspect, including having a physical presence of inviting the audience to get deeper into the music and experience.
On Thursday, the Missoula, Montana based bluegrass band Lil’ Smokies opened the main stage around 3:30pm and had two more following sets at the Furthur Bus Stage later in the evening. The band won the 2013 String Summit band competition and was only at the 2017 gathering for one day due to tour dates around the U.S. the following days. They will be performing at more than 10 music festivals following the String Summit. The band currently has a live album out titled Live From The Top Hat (New Year’s 2013). The band also has two music videos released in 2017 (“California, “Kings and Queens”).
The Cascadia Stage opened around 4:30 with the Portland duo Kina Lyn & Matt Franzen. They have been performing together for over ten years and Kina recently had a daughter who was in attendance at the age of 6 months. Among many songs that had somewhat of an outlaw/wild side, there were also songs about family and community. One of the songs performed was about Kina’s daughter and was written before her birth, which came in a dream. The harmonies coming from the instruments and vocals showed their experience in bluegrass music.
The second band to take to the main stage was Shook Twins. The two front women are identical twins Katelyn and Laurie (born in 1984). They are both multi-instrumentalists and vocalists and use a somewhat non-traditional way of using instruments in their own ways. After releasing their first album You Can Have the Rest, the twin sisters moved to Portland where they released Window (featuring Bonnie Paine and Bridget Law of Elephant Revival). Both albums were recorded and produced in Santa Cruz, California, at InDigital Studios with Brody Bergholz and Mason Rothchild. Shook Twins recorded their third album, What We Do, with producer Ryan Hadlock at Bear Creek Studios. They are currently recording new music at Hallowed Halls in Portland, OR with Justin Phelps.
The man on the sound board on the Cascadia Stage, Pete Kartsounes, was part of the duo The Good Time Travelers (with Michael Kirkpatrick) that were the second performers at the Furthur Bus. The band recently released their self-titled debut album and has a very engaging performance style. Already with a handful of highly acclaimed CD’s under his belt; Pete continues to push the envelope of his craft and has recorded and performed for years with his own bands, along with members of the Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia Band, Pearl Jam, Blues Traveler, String Cheese Incident, Leftover Salmon, Yonder Mountain String Band, The Infamous Stringdusters, Greensky Bluegrass and many more. The Good Time Travelers have also released a handful of music videos on their YouTube channel in January of 2017.
The Portland based band Fruition arrived on stage around 6:30 on Thursday evening for their 6th straight year at the String Summit. The band was formed in 2008 and includes members Jay Cobb Anderson (vocals, lead guitar, harmonica), Kellen Asebroek (vocals, rhythm guitar, piano), Mimi Naja (vocals, mandolin, electric & acoustic guitar), Jeff Leonard (bass) and Tyler Thompson (drums, banjo). The members are from different areas in the United States and are currently signed with Randm Records. Their album Labor Of Love was released in April of 2016 and features the lead single “Labor Of Love”. The band is on a U.S. tour through 2017, visiting Mexico in early December and returning to Portland later in the month.
The closing band for the main stage on Thursday was Greensky Bluegrass with two sets and late night performers (11pm-2am) Ducky Pig, Split Lip Rayfield, Sideboob and Elephant Revival. A few bands that performed in the evening was their only appearance of the festival, giving the first evening more importance in catching everything the event has to offer.
On Friday the 14th, Sierra Hull appeared on the main stage following a five band competition. It was Sierra Hull’s first time at the String Summit. Based out of Nashville, TN, she is signed with Rounder Record Group and released the album Weighted Mind in January of 2016, with the music being produced by Béla Fleck. On her website sierrahull.com, she offers a free download of the track “Black River”. The music video for “Black River” can also be found on her official YouTube channel.
Following Sierra Hull and The California Honeydrops on the main stage was Elephant Revival. The folk music group was formed about ten years prior to the 2017 String Summit in Colorado, with members from around the U.S. Their 6th album Petals was released in 2016 with the label Itz Evolving. Following the String Summit, the band is set to perform at Folk Holidays in Náměšť nad Oslavou, Jihomoravský.
The act that closed the main stage on Saturday was Turkuaz, a nine piece funk band from Brooklyn, New York. Later in the evening was the band Horseshoes & Hand Grenades that absolutely had one of the most intense and energetic performances, considering they played until 3am on the Cascadia Stage.