Oregon’s 4 Peaks Festival Balances Gorgeous Scenery Laid Back Jams (FESTIVAL REVIEW/PHOTOS)

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The DM Stevenson Ranch just outside of Bend, Oregon came alive over the past weekend as more than two thousand people gathered to help the 4 Peaks Music Festival celebrate its tenth year.

The music was a blend of national touring groups (moe., Railroad Earth, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Infamous Stringdusters) along with local and regional acts that stepped up to the plate and delivered sets that made it hard to take a break and walk away from the music. A tent stage was set up in close proximity to the main stage, and alternating sets meant no musical downtime and also no conflicts of musical interest.

Highly regarded as a family-friendly affair, 4 Peaks proves that being family friendly doesn’t somehow require unfriendliness to other segments of the festival population. There was a separate family camping area and a kid’s activity zone was tucked neatly into a corner of the stage area, away from main traffic corridors. Plenty of elbowroom meant that instead of kids pushing their way up front to get a glimpse of an artist, they simply pranced by, making you wonder why you weren’t using the ample space to shake your own hips a bit. The headlining sets were full, but not uncomfortably so.

The weekend also served as metaphor for spring turning to summer, with the wind and rain of Thursday evening relenting and turning to sunshine and a clear, Milky Way-laden sky by Saturday night.

Those who arrived Thursday got a jumpstart on the weekend with three bands performing. The Asher Fulero Band out of Portland was sandwiched between two local Bend bands, The Cutmen and Company Grand. Fulero and band had to work around some issues at the start of their set, with the sound and lights going down, but they persisted and were successful in delivering a good dose of their “Bruce Hornsby collides with Phish” sound. Company Grand kept spirits up as some rain came down. A shout out must be given to Company Grand keyboardist/vocalist Lucas James. Not only was he charismatic on stage, but was also right up front in the audience at the majority of other artists’ sets, dancing and just generally loving the heck out of everything and everyone all weekend.

Friday was cloudy and cool but the rain stayed away. Portland’s roots-funk band Far Out West opened the main stage for the weekend, followed by a raging tent set by The Quick & Easy Boys, who started with “Beam of Light,” the first track from their first album back in 2008, and kept the energy level high throughout their hour-long set.

Friday afternoon flowed nicely. Liz Vice offered her powerful voice and peaceful message, Coral Creek and Achilles Wheel delivered rollicking sets of Americana Roots/Rock, and string bands were well represented in the Warren G. Hardings and the Infamous Stringdusters. Railroad Earth headlined the main stage, and pleased fans with a mix of new and old songs, including “Mighty River,” “Head,” and “Lone Croft Farewell.” Multi-instrumentalist Andy Goessling was unfortunately not able to attend the show, but Matt Slocum filled in on keyboards to round things out. ALO’s Dan “Lebo” Lebowitz came out to add guitar on “The Hunting Song” halfway through the set and returned for a set-closing “Addin’ My Voice,” along with the “Elko” encore.

Poor Man’s Whiskey has played every year of the festival and was enthusiastically welcomed for their tent stage closing set on Friday night. Their high-energy delivery connected with the audience and the acoustic set-ending “Wish You Were Here” was a special treat.

Saturday, the weather continued to get better while the music remained engaging. Early sets by David Luning, Sierra Hull, and the Kate Gaffney Band offered solid songwriting and musicianship.

An afternoon tent set by Ron Artiss II & The Truth proved to be a breakout performance that gained the artist lots of new fans. The eldest of 11 children born to Hawaii artist Ron Artiss, Ron II brought his brother Stevon along to play drums, as well as bassist Antonio Burruso. The talented guitarist and singer delivered a set of heartfelt R&B, soul, and blues tunes. His positive, disarming demeanor won the hearts of the audience.

Later, Moonalice brought lots of people out of the woodwork and into the tent. The reason people show up for Moonalice is clear, as the group’s collective resume reads like a who’s-who of legendary roots-rock bands, and they can jam with the best of them.

Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe was a big draw on the main stage. Visually, it was obvious that they had some monitor issues on stage at the start of their set, as almost every member was trying to communicate with the sound person to get it figured out. If you were just listening from the audience however, you probably didn’t notice anything was amiss. It shows just how talented and professional these musicians are that they can work through sound issues and deliver musically at the same time. The Tiny Universe never disappoints, and they had the audience in the palm of their hand throughout their performance. They also brought out local keyboard prodigy Maxwell Friedman to play toward the end, who received smiles and praise from the audience and band members alike.

moe. headlined the main stage Saturday night. Bassist Rob Derhak commented on the beauty of the venue and said he might semi-retire there. Then moe. launched into a near two-hour set that never let up, segueing from song to song though expanded improvisational segments, sometimes coming back to a song that was played earlier before launching into another theme. The majority of the set was a big “Tubing The River Styx” sandwich that included “Happy Hour Hero,” “Seat Of My Pants,” and “The Pit.” “Brent Black” closed out their set on a high note.

The final set of the night was Lebo’s Summer of Love Jam. Lebo put together a core band and invited several special guests to interpret songs from 50 years ago. Ron Artiss II joined the band for a performance of Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” that proved to be a highlight of the entire weekend for many fans. Artiss expressed his appreciation at having met a lot of amazing, welcoming artists over the weekend, and, pointing to Lebo, said, “This guy is blowing my mind.”

Well, Artiss wasn’t the only one getting his mind blown. Festival-wide, people commented on Lebo’s sit-ins with his amped up Takamine acoustic guitar. Lebo, a beloved West Coast musical hitman, and guitarist for California’s ALO, was brought in as an artist-at-large and to put together this final Saturday night jam. Lebo lets it all hang out and is a very expressive player, making it seem as if the guitar is playing him, rather than the other way around. Unfortunately, he ran out of time before he ran out of songs, and the show ended somewhat abruptly, before the crowd got to hear Jimmy Cliff’s “The Harder They Come” and the Grateful Dead’s “Bertha,” which were next on the setlist.

As fans walked out of the tent, they were greeted with a beautiful central Oregon sky, thousands of stars and the Milky Way shining brightly overhead. A silent disco and camp jams gave night owls reason to stay awake.

A warm and sunny Sunday morning greeted campers. A few more sets in the tent gave folks respite from the sun as they packed up camp. The Students of String Theory featured young music students playing songs and getting some quality stage time, and was a great showcase of young talent. The Pitchfork Revolution did “tweener” sets of acoustic string music throughout the day. 4 Peaks ended with the familiar tunes of The Band, The Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers as Oregon’s own Watkins Glen drew the musical curtain on the event.

4 Peaks was at a new venue this year, and by the end of the weekend, most veteran Peakers were giving their approval of the new grounds. Growing pains from moving to a new, slightly larger venue were minimal, and there was plenty of elbow room for everyone, both in the campgrounds and in the stage area. Some planned water kiosks never materialized, so some campers had to search for water. But it was available and, like everything else at 4 Peaks, never too far away. Other than that, a few lengthy beer lines and a few sound issues at the beginning of a couple of sets were about the only concerns, and those things are common to every festival. After a highly successful weekend, organizers should feel pretty certain that next year’s 4 Peaks Music Festival will be well attended.

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