Photos by Jakob Baker
After a long summer of tours and festivals, partying hard, and exerting one’s self, heading back to Oregon’s Horning’s Hideout for String Summit is like taking a deep breath of fresh air.
Not that you’ll be doing much relaxing, however.
The whole atmosphere of the late summer four-day weekend is familial, with a much larger presence of small children and older people than can normally be found at music festivals. The mad rush to reserve a campsite is less mad at String Summit than, say, the String Cheese Incident festival, and neighborly relations are lighthearted and tension-free.
The Northwest String Summit, in its 11th year, is the fruit of the Northwest’s strong and often obsessive affinity for bluegrass and other associated music that can be played on stringed instruments. Nearly every musical act during the weekend was comprised predominantly of string instruments, save the exception of Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, the psychedelic funk joint that rounded out the main stage lineup on Saturday night.
This year, the festival happened to begin on what is a loaded date for many: August 9, the anniversary of Jerry Garcia’s death. As one of the most famous players of stringed instruments ever to walk the planet, Garcia’s banjo and guitar work helped shape many of the styles of the musicians at this festival.
As a tribute to the late musical legend, there was a bit of a Garcia “theme” to the weekend, with one of Thursday night’s sets being an acoustic Jerry set featuring Yonder Mountain String Band’s Jeff Austin, Northwest banjo phenomenon Danny Barnes, and the duo of Larry and Jenny Keel.
Sandwiching the majority of the set with two halves of “Dark Star,” other songs played included “Crazy Fingers,” “Cats Under the Stars,” and “Eyes of the World.” The last song played in the set was a favorite night-ender, “And We Bid You Goodnight,” and the encore was “My Sisters and Brothers.”
The Jerry tribute was followed by a set from Thursday night headliners Greensky Bluegrass, who (as promised) left much
of the crowd without their voices from all the hootin’ and hollerin’. [NOTE: See our video interview with two members of Greensky Bluegrass from the Northwest String Summit.] They debuted several new songs, using the crowd as guinea pigs, included their own nod to Jerry Garcia with a short “Cryptical Envelopment,” and finished up the night with a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Time.”
After the night’s fun at the main stage, concertgoers turned to the Cascadia stage for the Thursday night slightly-early “late night” shows. First up on the small, secluded and tree-enveloped stage were the Portland folk duo the Shook Twins who: a) Really are twins; b) Really look exactly alike; and c) Really sound exactly alike. It’s quite a trip.
Next up were the Dead Winter Carpenters, who have played at so many festivals throughout the western United States this summer that one must be living under a rock to have avoided them. They’re just… everywhere. As usual, they got things a bit rowdy.
Friday was an excellent opportunity for everyone to recover from the amount of whiskey consumed at the late night stage — music on the main stage didn’t start until after 4 p.m., when Colorado natives Elephant Revival took the stage. Their set was chock full of special guests, and by the time the show was over, the stage had already been graced by Jeff Austin, the Shook Twins, Jay Cobb Anderson and Mimi Naja of Portland’s Fruition String Band and Allie Kral of Cornmeal.
Next was part two of the great Jerry Garcia tribute, this time an electric set from Banjo Killers!, composed of local virtuosos Scott Law and Tony Furtado, along with keyboardist Asher Fulero, bassist Damian Erskine and drummer Mark Griffith. The set, while including many favorites from the Grateful Dead repertoire, definitely was a departure from the Jerry Garcia theme, including many songs that were not written by him. A highlight of the set, however, was a song combination that made many of us wonder why we hadn’t thought of it first: Iko Iko, played straight through into Women Are Smarter. (NOTE: For those readers who are not as familiar with the repertoire of the Grateful Dead, the two covers as played by the band share a chord structure and beat. They’re essentially the same song with different lyrics.)
String Summit then got an old-school treat from the New Riders of the Purple Sage, who, yes, are still around. For being one of the longest-running bands still playing today, the New Riders sound surprisingly fresh and on their game. Still recording new songs (many of which have lyrics penned by Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter), many of their sets include songs unfamiliar to the audience. As always, though, the New Riders played several of their classics, including Panama Red and Louisiana Lady. A couple of Dead covers were thrown in for good measure, including Peggy-O (which, ironically, was also played only minutes earlier by the Banjo Killers!) and Deep Elem Blues.
Finally, it was time for the real reason that the Northwest String Summit even exists: the first of three shows by Yonder Mountain String Band, the festival’s hosts. As one of the most well-known bluegrass bands of our time, Yonder Mountain
Keeping the familial vibe of the festival going strong, Yonder Mountain invited loads upon loads of their friends up on stage with them all three nights. They also added to the band’s lineup master fiddle player Darol Anger, who played with the band through every show of the weekend.
Friday night’s show was a solid lead-in to the weekend’s festivities, with a well-rounded setlist that featured several of the musicians who had already made appearances at the festival. The first set’s highlights came toward the end, with Yonder being joined onstage for the last four songs by Danny Barnes and Tony Furtado, beginning with a cover of the Rolling Stones tune “No Expectations,” and ending with an “On the Run” > “Kentucky Mandolin” > “On the Run” sandwich.
Set two opened with what has been agreed as one of the best performances of the weekend: “Ten,” which segued into and back out of “At a Siding.” [NOTE: Again, for you Grateful Dead newbs, “At a Siding” is only one movement of the Grateful Dead’s seminal suite “Terrapin Station.” It’s spooky and sexy, and may very well be the nugget of the song in which the true meaning of Terrapin Station lies.]
The rest of Yonder’s second set was spiced up by even more special guests, with the band bringing out Larry Keel and Greensky Bluegrass dobro player Anders Beck for “Pockets,” “Casualty,” “Rag Doll” and “Culpepper Woodchuck.”
To finish out the set, Yonder was joined by two more members of Greensky Bluegrass, adding mandolin player Paul Hoffman and banjo player Mike Bont.
Down at the Cascadia stage, yet another late-night show kept the party going until the wee hours of the morning (and this being Friday night, the show actually went late)! First up on the late lineup were the Deadly Gentlemen, a band comprised, essentially, of young former child prodigies, most notably Sam Grisman, the son of legendary mandolin player and Garcia collaborator David Grisman. The boys were then followed deep into the morning hours by Pete Kartsounes and friends.
Saturday already??? But we just got here! As everyone was lackadaisically milling about their campsites in the late morning, many were surprised and extremely amused by a costumed parade of, well, hippies that were gallivanting throughout the property, rousing followers to come celebrate Portland favorites Fruition (on the Horning’s main stage
Fruition is always a solid band. For a band still in its youth, their friends and fans have become a grassroots hype powerhouse, recruiting new listeners to check them out and loudly singing along with every song. What can be guaranteed from a Fruition show is a consistent good time, and you’ll most likely find at least one of their songs stuck in your head a few days later.
The rest of the afternoon was occupied by sets from the Deadly Gentlemen and Joy Kills Sorrow, before evening fell and a wham-bam-thank you ma’am awesome lineup completed the night on the main stage.
Bringing yet more Grateful Dead flair to the stage was 7 Walkers, a relatively new project from drummer Bill Kreutzmann, guitarist Papa Mali, bassist George Porter Jr. and multi-instrumentalist Matt Hubbard. The band together has created a new sound entirely different from any of the members’ backgrounds, with a bluesy and southern sounding almost-country vibe. While many of us had been wondering how 7 Walkers would fit in to the String Summit lineup, their set made it entirely clear.
The Saturday night Yonder Mountain show was probably the best of them all, opening with “Ramblin’ in the Rambler” played into the Beatles tune “Only a Northern Song” and back into “Ramblin’ in the Rambler.” Later in the set was another song sandwich, with “Snow on the Pines” > “Shake Me Up” > “Snow on the Pines.”
For the beginning of the second set, the band invited out Bill Kreutzmann and Matt Hubbard of 7 Walkers to join them, opening with even more Grateful Dead: “Shakedown Street” and “They Love Each Other.”
Later on in the set, Sam Grisman made his triumphant return to the stage, helping out on “Crow Black Chicken.” The band then played “Traffic Jam” into the Grateful Dead’s “The Eleven,” marking the third Dead cover of the night.
For Saturday’s late night show on the Cascadia stage, Fruiton reappeared, playing al
Sunday at String Summit may have been an earlier day with slightly less music, but was by no means any less fun. After afternoon sets from Darol Anger and the Furies and Danny Barnes, Yonder Mountain took the stage for their third and final show of the weekend.
A great highlight of the first set was “Troubled Mind,” which led into a cover of the Misfits song “20 Eyes” and back into “Troubled Mind.” Later, the band played the bluegrass standard “Cuckoo’s Nest” with special guests Danny Barnes on banjo and Dominick Leslie of the Deadly Gentlemen on the bouzouki.
The special guests stayed on for the rest of the set, playing through “Dawn’s Early Light” and “Over the Waterfall.”
The second set of the night (and final set of the weekend) brought more guests, with Rushad Eggleston joining the band on cello for an energetic “My Gal” and a cover of Frank Zappa’s “I am the Slime.”
Eggleston was then replaced by Scott Law, who played “This Train is Bound for Glory” and “Raleigh and Spencer.”
Soon enough, the whole shebang was over, with Yonder leaving us with “Two Hits and the Joint Turned Brown.”
After eleven years running, String Summit appears to be here for the long run. With the vibe of a small, local festival, it consistently brings world-class string musicians to the hills of Oregon and draws patrons from all over the country and world. This year was so much fun, we all can’t wait to come back year after year.