For bluegrass lovers in the great North woods, there is nothing quite like the annual Northwest String Summit. This year marked the 6th year of this amazing festival, and if you like intense collaborations of talented musicians who pick and pluck gorgeous music anywhere from the stage to the campground, then this is the place for you.
Other than just the music, there are lots of perks hidden within this festival. First of all there is the incredible venue which houses this event (Horning’s Hideout), which is one of the most beautiful and magical spaces in the country. From a beautiful lake that is the stage’s backdrop; to the lush forest that surrounds the entire grounds, to the brightly plumed peacocks that roam around freely, this place is an experience to behold in its own right. Then there is the perfect festival weather, which during a temperate Oregon summer isn’t too shabby. But what makes this festival stand out is the spirit of community, which is something to behold. It is like a family reunion picnic of your closest 3000 (met and yet to be met) relatives.
But with all of that it still always comes back to the music. As far as the Yonder Mountain String Band sets go there were countless highlights on all three nights, but there were two that particularly stuck out. One was the Sunday afternoon "Raleigh & Spencer"> "Follow Me Down To The Riverside"> "Raleigh & Spencer." It was such a hot jam that I was literally left gasping for air, and the dust storm that was kicked up was a testament to its intensity.
There was also the musical “war” of the second set Sunday night that Jeff Austin instigated. This was where the musicians on the stage were divided into two camps (stage left and stage right), and they had to out rock the other side by covering snippets of classic rock tunes to win the jam off and the fan’s adoration.
Jeff’s team (stage left) started out by throwing down some heavy licks from "In-Da-Gadda-Da-Vida," but then it was Drew Emmett’s stage right crew’s time to shine, and they brought the heat with the raging peak to Freebird. Mind you these heavy classic rock tunes were done bluegrass style. Jeff then tried to reclaim the mantle with a powerful "Terrapin Station" tease, but that is not a song that you can cut short, as Jeff learned from the crowd’s audible groan when they stopped prematurely. This may have been his team’s downfall. Darol Anger (who sat in all weekend with the Yonder boys, and seemed to be a special guest with almost all of the other bands on stage at some point) took the charge with a tasty Beatle cover of "Norwegian Wood," but by that time the war was already clearly over, Jeff had admitted defeat and Drew’s crew had won.
The fun of the festival doesn’t end with Y.M.S.B. As far as special guests go this year’s festival brought along some living legends. The New Riders of the Purple Sage have seen and done it all through the years, and it was an absolute treat seeing Buddy Cage and David Nelson on stage together again. And when they sat in with Yonder, they added some tempered wisdom to the boy’s youthful exuberance, and the balance of it all was quite beautiful.
Another special guest, Drew Emmitt of Leftover Salmon fame, was an absolute musical all-star throughout the weekend. Not only did he host his own Drew Emmitt band show (which rocked), and sat in with the Yonder boys for some incredible picking. He also was the conductor of the super-jam that at times had more than 15 musicians on stage. The Super jam was one of the best to date, and he really chose some quality covers to allow all of those musicians jam out ("Tangled up in Blue," "Whipping Post").
There are moments within moments at this festival that can make you drop your jaw in awe, can warm your heart, or can cause you to shake your bootie. All I can say, is the only way to know how these moments of magic will effect you, is to do your best to make it to next year’s festival. And according to Pastor Tim (the terrific emcee for the weekend) it will fall somewhere in the