This year marked the tenth anniversary of the North West String Summit at Horning’s Hideout in North Plains, Oregon. And, for the first time, the event included music playing on the main stage on Thursday night. Thursday music, matched with a stellar line-up, made this Strummit one of the best ever. But, we can’t really talk about String Summit without first talking about Horning’s Hideout.
Horning’s Camping and Fishing Hideout is a magical place about 25 miles NW of Portland, but a world away. To get into the park, you must first traverse a curvy road where, at the bottom you are met with happy faces, colorful peacocks, and open fields carved into thick forest. There is a stocked trout pond behind the stage, which serves as the stage backdrop to the naturally formed amphitheater. In the middle of a hot July day, one can rent paddle boats and have water fights, or just float there listening to the sweet music. With all of this, the place is a festival wonderland, complete with tons of camping in the shady trees.
Fifteen bands played the main stage over four days and nights including six sets of Yonder Mountain String Band. The music started on Thursday night with Pete Kartsounes & Benny Galloway, who were joined by Vince Herman of Leftover Salmon on Bass. I was happy to see Vince back at Horning’s, especially when he belted out a “Woody Guthrie” that joyous drew cheers from the Salmon crowd. Next up was Cornmeal. This Chicago band has really been improving over the past few years, and they showed all of that talent for their first ever set at Horning’s bringing out old favorites, and tearing into some great jams. The highlight may have been the cover of Paul Simon’s “I Know What I Know” to finish their set with the crowd in a dancing frenzy. Greensky Bluegrass, out of Michigan, kept the feeling going with some fast paced bluegrass. During the chorus of “Dancing in the Dark”, all of the lights went black, sending cheers through the wildly dancing crowd. This first ever main stage Thursday line up was an incredible way to start off the Tenth Anniversary of String Summit, with three days of pickin’ to go.
Friday started out with the Band Contest. There were five bands competing for a spot on next year’s roster, and a set on Sunday. Their sounds ranged from folksie trio of women, to a full on jamgrass group from Arcata. The winners were a true bluegrass band named Windy Hill from Menlo Park, CA. They won by playing some fast, old-time grass tunes. Next on the stage was the Cascadia Project. Darol Anger, Scott Law, and Sam Grismon played some great music, with many guests making appearances, including Billy Nershi. Keller and the Keels came out next firing hot with “Freaker by the Speaker” to start off the set. Keller Williams is now playing with husband and wife duo Larry and Jenny Keel, throwing down on songs like “Portapotty”, along with a few other bluegrass and Keller favorites. It was great to hear them play “Breathe” at Horning’s, just a perfect place for that song. Then the main show came, what everyone had come for, the start of six sets of YMSB over three days.
Yonder came out gunning with “Ten” into a great “Ragdoll”. Then they went straight into “40 Miles from Denver”; always a crowd favorite. The intensity kept escalating, but the best part was the finish of the set. The last three songs were great, starting with “Left Me in a Hole”. Keller Williams came out to help finish the set with “New Horizons” into “Don’t Stop til you Get Enough”, back into “New Horizons”. The lights on the stage were going crazy, and the crowd was pumped. Everybody knew it was the Tenth Anniversary of this most special festival in these most stellar grounds, and we were going to dance our hearts out to celebrate. Yonder came out in the second set to the fan favorite “My Gal”, a funny and great dancing song. The cover of “Girlfriend’s Better” from the Talking Heads was a fantastic rendition. Other standouts from the night were “Criminal” and a set closing “Traffic Jam”, that had the crowd hopping and ready to head over to the late night stage in the woods.
The Cascadia Stage was a little stage set in the woods by the Cascadia Coffee House. A local Portland band named Fruition played the late night shows on both Friday and Saturday nights. Mimi Naja, Jay Cobb Anderson, Keef Simon, Kellen Asebroek, and Tyler Thompson make up this fun and very talented band. I saw them play outside of San Francisco's historic Fillmore Auditorium a couple of years ago on the street, and loved them. Now, only a couple years later, with the addition of a drummer, I only expect to see them on bigger stages very soon.
Saturday started off with Pert Near Sandstone, and fast playing bluegrass group out of Minneapolis, MN. They had the crowd dancing hard in the hot sun. They were followed by a band that was at the first Summit, Jackstraw. Jackstraw is a rocking string quartet out of Portland, OR, who played a killer set. Emmit Nershi was next, bringing out some old Leftover Salmon and String Cheese tunes that kept the fans jumping. They finished their set with a great “Texas”, leaving Cheese fans grinning with satisfaction. In between sets, there was a kid’s parade through the amphitheaters bowl, with kids in masks and face paint that they got or made at the children’s area. This is one of the great things about Summit, and Horning’s in general, it is a very family oriented festival and place. There are arts and crafts all day long, down near the music, so the whole family can enjoy the experience.
After the parade, The Traveling McCoury’s came on the stage sans their customary neckties. This was great, seeing one of the most proper bluegrass bands, people who always wear ties on stage, being relaxed and ready to get down to some dirty picking. These men can all play and sing with the best of them. They make Del McCoury, the boss, look very good, even when he’s not even at the show. It was great to hear Ronnie McCoury joke around with Billy Nershi, talking about a cape Billy gave him at 2010's String Cheese Incident event at Horning's.
When the McCoury’s were done, there was a ceremony for those inducted into the Kinfolk Hall of Fame, where Yonder fans vote on who have been the biggest and best supporters of the band over the years. This is why Yonder has such diehard fans, because they are such huge fans of their kinfolk. They give their fans all of the credit to their success, and want the community of their fans to be as strong as possible.
Todd Snyder with Great American Taxi was the next on, continuing the festivals strong list of bands. Great American Taxi played as the band behind Todd's songs which were smart, and funny, keeping the crowd dancing and laughing all at the same time. What I can say about Todd Snyder is that he’s a great story teller. Whether it was listening to the lyrics of his songs, or the stories he told as a prerequisite to some songs, the man can