Northwest String Summit - North Plains, OR (August 9-12, 2012)

written by Dorothy St.Claire

Oregon is so beautiful, and as Kinfolk, we get to spend a magical weekend in Oregon's Horning's Hideout every year for the amazing Northwest String Summit. Colin first went to String Summit in 2009, but I was unable to go.  We were both there for 2010 and 2011, but this year it was my turn to go without Colin.  It really stinks when we both can't do every single show, but the Kinfolk Celebration was right around the corner, and there was no way either of us were missing that.

My trip started days earlier, when Rick and Melissa picked me up in Des Moines for the drive out west.  I've always flown, so it was absolutely amazing to be able to drive across the country... and to actually be a passenger!  It was a fun road trip through Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, and finally Oregon - where we met up with Tim and Lori Wednesday night before heading to the festival together in the morning.

We got to Horning's fairly early to find an already large line of cars.  We found the shortest line, and as soon as we stepped out of our cars, we started seeing our friends.  It was a fun few hours in line.  Once inside the festival grounds, we found our space, set up camp, and relaxed as we all caught up.

The festival's music kicked off with the Pete Kartsounes Band providing an electric backdrop to many arrivals and reunions.  

The Kinfolk poured in and by now were fully pumped and ready for one of the most anticipated sets of the weekend - Jeff and Friends, playing an acoustic Jerry set. Wow.  This set completely lived up to the hype, with Jeff, Danny Barnes, and Larry and Jenny Keel playing some really amazing Jerry songs.  This was quite possibly one of the best sets at String Summit... ever.

Greensky Bluegrass played the final main stage set of the night, but the volume was definitely turned up to 11, because other than taking photos at the beginning, I had to stay in the back.  The bass was so ridiculously loud that I could feel my glasses vibrating on my face.  My teeth felt like they were buzzing.  Maybe this was because I had a pretty vicious headache (from lugging my gear in the sun), but no matter what effects I felt, it was still way too loud.  Other than that, it was a good set.  I think Greensky plays phenomenal shows when it's just their own show, but their festival sets usually leave something to be desired.  I thought the same way about this set, but their cover of Pink Floyd's "Time" for the encore really kicked ass.


Friday started with everyone waking up bright eyed, bushy tailed, and ready for the day.  Joel and Claude got out the instruments and led a bit of a camp jam, which got better and better as more folks joined in from surrounding camps.  We made a new friend who provided us with endless entertainment, talking about gargoyles and warlocks, while we stuffed ourselves with bacon.

We had a small Kinfolk Facebook group meet and greet during the band competition, where we were able to put some names and faces together.  We had a lot of laughs and listened to the first couple bands as we all hung out in the sun. It was nice, but it was also really hot.  Some of us found some shade for the rest of the band competition, but then it was time to head back to camp for some lunch and more hang time.

After a short break (where we missed Elephant Revival - hell, you can't see 'em all), we came back to the main stage just in time for a little BanjoKillers!  In my brain, I had mixed up this set and Danny Barnes' set (which would come on Sunday), but it didn't really matter, because I wanted to see both bands anyway. So, I walked down to the bowl, thinking I'd see Danny on stage, but instead I got Scott Law and Tony Furtado.  No complaints here.

This was a super fun show.  With Asher Fulero, Damian Erskine, and Mark Griffith, it was another killer Jerry set.  This weekend was starting out so great.

New Riders of the Purple Sage were fun, though lacking a lot of the energy that we're used to.  It was pretty cool to hear them play "Panama Red", though.  For sure.

Then... it was Yonder time.  As always, Pastor Tim's first Yonder intro of the weekend sent chills of anticipation through my entire body.  I was still getting used to the new photo pit as Yonder's first night began with "Out of the Blue", and I brought my camera to my eye.  Darol was playing with the band, as he would for the entire festival, and it was great to hear him with them again.  

A strong and driven "Criminal" came next, after which Ben talked about how good it felt to be back.  He was right, and I think we all felt it.  There's nothing like being at Horning's, and we were all finally here again - and it was only the beginning.

"I've vowed, after listening to several - nearly one bootleg - be fair, I didn't listen to anything; but I know that we introduce each other a lot.  So I made a vow that I'm not gonna do that so much anymore." Ben went on, "On guitar is Adam Aijala, folks."  Adam pointed right back to Ben and replied, "On introduction, that's Ben Kaufmann, down there."

We were all having so much fun as we danced through "Idaho", then Ben came right back with "When I say 'Dave', you say 'Johnston'.  Dave!" And sure enough, the crowd roared back with "Johnston!" "See, introductions can be fun." It's a wonder any music even gets played at String Summit, because at this point Jeff took his turn expressing his excitement about being back at the festival with so many friends, before finally kicking off "Don't You Lean On Me".  Then Jeff dedicated "Fine Excuses" to his 9 year old friend Katie, who was having her very first concert experience.  What a way to begin!  

"It's hard to believe that it's been a year since we've done this.  But it has, trust me." Ben said with a laugh.  "A lot of things have happened.  Send this song out to my mother, she may be bothering some of you at some point over the weekend... bothering you with love.  This is a song called 'Mother's Only Son', it's only apropos."  He then sang a super-lengthy, jammed-out "Mother's Only Son" that really moved us all.  

Danny Barnes and Tony Furtado joined the band on stage for an even longer "No Expectations".  At one point, I looked at Adam and Jeff and saw the flash of amused panic on their faces as they looked from each other, to the clock, and back again.  But, time didn't really matter, and we all got caught up in the huge jam that came from this song.  "Tell me Ben, where did the man stand?" Dave's intro led to "On the Run"> "Kentucky Mandolin"> "On the Run".  With Darol, Danny, and Tony sitting in on these songs, we were really in for a treat with this sandwich.  However, the one thing that I don't like about guests, in general, is that sometimes the momentum suddenly drops; or no one knows who is going to solo next, so no one does, and the music becomes thinner.  Those things happened a bit during this chunk of music, but overall, it was pretty kick-ass.

The second set burst from the stage with "Ten".  By now, I have accepted, and even come to love Jeff's voice hitting the lower octaves while singing "Mountain high, and river wide", and I sang along with a smile on my face.  I love how a song will evolve over the years, but it's funny how hard it can be to accept those changes at first.  It sounded like they were going into a "Robots" jam, but instead went to a "Terrapin Station" jam before coming right back to the end of "Ten".

It was time for more guests (being String Summit, what else would you expect?), so Larry Keel and Anders Beck walked on stage and joined the band in "Pockets", "Casualty", "Ragdoll", and "Culpepper Woodchuck".  The "Pockets" had another super-long jam.  "Casualty" was extremely fast, reminding me of the one from Austin in 2011.  "Ragdoll" was great, considering I hadn't gotten one in quite a while, and was really jonesing to hear it; and then Larry sang the hell out of "Culpepper Woodchuck".  

With "Casualty" also came some crazy LED lights showing spinning skeletons on panels behind the band.  As soon as the LEDs started, I knew there was going to be an uproar.  Some people like the extreme lights, but some don't.  Overall, I like the lights.  A lot.  I enjoyed the colors and patterns more than the skeletons, pointing fingers, or dancing ladies, but I thought it was pretty cool.  Just like the guys in the band, Ted is a creative person and needs to do new things and take chances once in a while - and I'm all for it. Even though I think the light panels would have maybe looked better at an indoor show, as opposed to String Summit.  

Anders stuck around as Larry departed, but was joined by his band mates Paul Hoffman and Mike Bont, who proceeded to rage it through "Death Trip".  "Thanks so much folks." Adam said, as he started the rhythmic strum of "Oklahoma". "We're running out of time, so we're gonna play right up till the end.  See you tomorrow." It was nice to hear Adam saying goodnight to all of us, as this is usually Jeff's job. As "Oklahoma" pushed its way in and surrounded all of us, we danced harder than ever.  

Even though we were warned that it was coming to an end, it seemed so abrupt. But, no worries, we had two more nights!


Saturday came, and so did a much needed hair wash under the solar shower.  I seriously don't think I've ever felt so gross at Horning's... but I've also never been there when it's been so hot.  We hung around our site until it was time to head to the bowl for the highly-anticipated VIP Kinfolk meet and greet; where a big handful of Kinfolk hung out with the band, had some beers, and some laughs.  We all made new friends and had a really fantastic time.

The next set of music that I saw was 7 Walkers.  It was cool to see these guys again, but I think their show would have been more fun as a late night set.  Not tonight's, by any means, because tonight was Karl Denson, who was really going to funk up the bowl later on.  I took photos for the beginning of the 7 Walkers set, but then sat back on the hill to watch the rest.  It really is fun to watch the crowd in the bowl at String Summit.

We found our usual spots just in time for Yonder: night 2.  Pastor Tim came to the stage, as happy as can be, "I love my job, because I get to say the next 4 words: Yonder Mountain String Band!"  As the band tuned up, Jeff started the show by saying, "We've been playing this next song a long time, and it's always about hanging out and having fun with your friends; and a Saturday night as the sun starts to set at Horning's Hideout doesn't sound like a bad place to have fun with your friends, you know?  Wellllllllll!!!!..." And it was a good, old fashioned "Rambler" opener.  Todd brought out the "Jagermeister" shots, and Jeff toasted to "Each and every one of you." 

Adam started picking as Jeff and Dave finished their shots and got tuned up, and it was clear that "Northern Song" was coming up next.  I love me some Beatles - no matter what song Yonder chooses to cover.  Jeff had fun with his solo, but he cut it really short to make room for the extra member of the band.  Adam took his usual spot after Jeff, and brought us his usual tight solo.  Then it was Darol's turn.  He started playing slow and soft, but as the song went on, he brought more speed and tension between his bow and strings, until it was time to hand it over to Dave.  He started off nice and easy as well.  But then all of a sudden, he was thrashing through his strings, and spraying the air with notes.  This was one of those times when fireworks shooting out of the head of his banjo would have been appropriate. He was playing on and on, harder and harder, and after over a minute of soloing, Jeff tried to bring them to the end of the song, but Dave wasn't ready.  Over and over, when it came to the end of the musical phrase, Jeff and his mandolin tried to end it, but not until almost two full minutes of soloing was Dave ready to hand it over and let the song end.  It was a great time be Dave side.  Once he had control of the reigns again, Jeff took us right back into "Rambler" to finish our opening portion of the show.

Next, Ben sang "Straight Line", a new song to the festival.  Then the smiles grew huge all around as "Polka on the Banjo" filled the air and our hearts.  Jeff pointed out the bad-ass robot costume walking around the bowl, before Adam kicked off "Corona" - which was hardcore and awesome, as usual.  Right when the song ended, Darol went into "Polly Put the Kettle On".  Man oh man, what a treat.  I love this song when Yonder does it alone, but then bring in the amazing Darol, the writer of the song, and it feels totally different.

Jeff looked into the sky, "You know, this has happened more than once here, and I think they like us at the international space station." Their timing was perfect.  The song had just ended, Ted lowered the stage lights, and there it was - a blip of light passing through the sky, right above our heads.  Incredible.

We watched it pass over the festival, and then Jeff came up to the microphone, "I have an idea..." And BAM! "Snow on the Pines" slapped us in the face.  Thank you thank you thank you!  I never get tired of hearing "Snow", but I hadn't heard it in a few shows.  "Shake Me Up" came on in the middle, which I honestly could have done without.  I have just gotten this song way too much lately, and Jeff seems to like to stick it in the middle of "Snow" or "Ten", and I think it can kind of mess up the groove of either of those songs.  "Shake Me Up" also brought some entertaining lights on the LED panels.  Rick called them the Cinemax lights - silhouettes of booty-dancing ladies - and really got a kick out of it.  "Snow on the Pines" came back with a vengeance for the end of the set - but wait!  It wasn't the end!  "Bolton Stretch" slid right in and capped off a pretty great set.

The second set started with a drum kid rolled behind Dave.  With the 7 Walkers playing earlier, we figured we were due for a Bill Kreutzman appearance.  We were right, but never would have guessed their opening song, "Shakedown Street" - with Ben on vocals.  Oh my word, this was fantastic!  The end of the song kind of came out of nowhere, but then, after a little band discussion, they welcomed to the stage Matt Hubbard on harmonica, and played "They Love Each Other" (instead of the "Althea" that was on the set list).  After Bill and Matt left the stage, "Southern Flavor" came in.  "That song was called 'Moth Armageddon'," Jeff said. "At least they're basically focusing on the face and the crotch."

And with Adam's next opening notes, I found myself jumping with joy.  It was "Pass This Way", Dave's newest gem.  It was followed by Adam's wonderful "All the Time".  Hell yes.  Then, believe it or not, "To See You Coming Round the Bend" came next.  The last time I heard this song was with Colin at our 10 year anniversary Yonder show in San Francisco last Spring.  Man, I really missed Colin. "Crow Black Chicken" was next, and Sam Grisman came out for just a minute to do the 4-armed bass monster with Ben.

As the band tuned up, it felt like a big juicy sandwich was coming our way.  Well, maybe it wasn't quite a sandwich, but it whatever it was, it was juicy.  "Traffic Jam" started it off, and also brought the giant space frog out into the middle of the bowl. "See me sittin' on a space frog..." Ben sang.  I didn't have a good view from the rail, but there are videos out there.  Check em out.  A really long Jeff scat/rant came in the middle of "Traffic Jam".  I'm not sure what it was, but something distracted Ben, because "Traffic Jam" came back without the guys halting their instruments and harmonizing the end of the song back in.  Oh well.  It was still great.  Then a bizarre, yet all-too-familiar guitar riff started.  The whole band joined in, playing "The Eleven".  I seriously never even considered the possibility that they'd play it again after 11/11/11, but this was the 11th String Summit, after all. Dave walked to his end table, picked up a couple sheets of paper, cleared his throat, and gave us his rendition of "The Eleven", with a bit of his own added flair at the end, after he threw the papers to the ground.  It was pretty kick-ass. "Sideshow Blues" broke out of "The Eleven", and closed out the set.

"Rag Mama" and "Red Rocking Chair" were our encore songs for tonight, and I thought "Red Rocking Chair" was a great song to end it on.  We gathered our wits and our belongings, and headed to the hill and our blanket for some late night Karl D.  I had told Nilima how muscly Karl D is, and when the band came out to the stage, we were pretty far away, but Nilima was shocked as she turned to me, "I can see his muscles from here!"  The band was super funky and fun, but we had to head back to camp about half way through.  Festivals are marathons, and I'm no athlete.


We all woke up pretty late on Sunday, and I remembered Jeff's words from the night before: "Sunday comes way too fast here."  So so true.  We didn't have much hang out time, and before we knew it, it was time to get back down to the bowl for one last day of music, starting with Darol Anger and the Furies.  I love pretty much anything Darol does.  With Darol, Emy Phelps, Maeve Gilchrist, Sharon Gilchrist, Samson Grisman, Dominick Leslie, Rushad Eggleston, and Nic Gareiss, this band was great.  

"Welcome to worship!" Pastor Tim called out, as we all gathered back at the stage for Danny Barnes' set. "Please take a pew, please come down to the front, take a pew - you don't have to give as big an offering if you stand in the front.  This man has been doing all kinds of amazing things on this stage for years and years, he has never failed to surprise us.  But when I asked him before the set, what he was gonna do today, I said 'What are we gonna do Danny?' he says, 'We're gonna call down thunder, we're gonna rebuke sinners, we're gonna raise the dead!' So would you please give a very warm welcome to the String Summit stage, to our presiding minister today, the oh so very right reverend of String Summit, Danny Barnes and the Scratch Track Gospel Show!"

The beatboxing started right away, with the banjo falling in behind it, and I was completely entranced.  I had had no idea what to expect from this show, but just a minute in I knew this would be my favorite set from the weekend.  They started with "Old Time Religion", following with "This World is Not My Home", "I'll Fly Away", "Victory In Jesus", and "Down By the Riverside".  I just don't even know what to say... it was all so great.  "I'll Fly Away"?  Come on!  Dave, Ben, and Jeff joined the band for the last couple numbers, "I Saw the Light", "Jesus on the Mainline", and "Call".  

Seriously, it was one of those sets of music that will stay with me forever.  Pastor Tim said it simply and correctly, "That's my way of going to church."  He made a few announcements before leading the traditional String Summit beer and water chant.  

And then there we were.  Dressed in pink for Lilli, waiting for the final Yonder show of the festival.  How did it get here so fast?  Pastor Tim came back on stage to introduce the band one last time, and as they joined him we noticed Ben's lovely earrings, but then all eyes went to Jeff - in all of his frilly for Lilli glory.  "Well it's Sunday, so don't blink, cause suddenly it's gonna be over..." Pastor Tim said, "BUT IT'S NOT OVER YET!!!"

They opened with "Blue Collar Blues", and even though it's a sarcastic song, I couldn't help but think to myself just how much I love my job, as I bounced through the photo pit, taking pictures of my favorite band.  I enjoyed having the ease of the photo pit, but overall, I really missed being right up against the stage.  The pit really changed the feeling of the rail, and put us so far away from the band.  But I got some good shots.  

"Left Me in a Hole" came next, and the whole crowd sang along.  "It happens every year, we just can't believe it's Sunday so fast." Jeff said before plowing into "What the Night Brings".  This song didn't do much for me at first, but I sure do love it now.  Darol went nuts during this one, and with the line "gets a little easier on me, as I'm reminded of the man I used to be" all of Jeff's emotions tumbled out over the crowd.

"Adam and I scratched out this next one in my garage amidst the tickings of the mice, and the crawling crawling spiders." Dave informed us before singing "Little Lover".  I love this song so much, and by the looks of the crowd, so does everyone else.  Ben talked about delicious maple donuts before dedicating the next chunk of songs to Danny Barnes.  "Troubled Mind"> "20 Eyes"> "Troubled Mind" made a lot of folks happy.  Then Dave singing "Winds of Wyoming" made me really happy. The whole song is great, but when the solos come, and Jeff and Adam (and in this case, Darol as well) go back and forth and back and forth before Dave comes in and rips it all to shreds, I feel like there's nothing else in this world that I need besides the music.

They brought Danny Barnes and Dominick Leslie out for a couple tunes, which Jeff dedicated to his friend Katie and his girls Devlyn and Lily Rose - "What a fun thing life has become."  How sweet.  "Cuckoo's Nest", and a mega-powerful "Dawn's Early Light" into "Over the Waterfall" finished the set, and ushered us into the set break.  

But, this was no ordinary set break.  This was the moment Ryan Smith had been working towards for many months... he would be shaving his head to raise money for the St.Baldrick's Foundation - an organization that helps raise money for childhood cancer research.  This has become a Yonder tradition, with multiple head shaves happening over the past couple years at their events.  It's a pretty cool thing, I think.  They have brought so much awareness to the organization, and allowed us to do something really good while at the same time rocking out really hard.

Ryan got set up as Danny and Jeff started playing the background music.  A few empty water jugs were sent out into the crowd as Ryan's hair started coming off. Faces lit up as the hair hit the ground and we saw more and more of Ryan's face. Finally, that was it, and he was bald.  Tears flowed from every corner of the bowl as hands shoved crumpled bills into the water jugs.

We tried our best to dry our eyes before the second set started - with a "Pretty Daughter" that brought the energy right back up.  "Jail Song" and a fantastic "Don't Worry Happy Birthday" followed.  In between songs, Jeff talked about how wonderful it is to get to play earlier on Sunday, since it's such a beautiful time of day.  I would have to agree, because I absolutely love shooting them during the day.  But, that was it for my Yonder photos.  My camera was safely tucked away for the rest of the show, because after carrying my camera for 5 Yonder sets, this last one was just for me.  

We danced with no inhibitions as "Damned if the Right One" scrambled into our earholes and down through our feet.  Adam kicked it off, but at the end of the song I could see him say "That was fast!".  Well, you did it to yourself, Adam... and we thank you for it.  Before the next song could start, a loud voice from behind me screamed "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun!!!".  "You again?" Ben said as he looked over the crowd. "That 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun' guy, he shows up a lot.  It's like our 'Freebird' all of a sudden."  After hearing this request at so many shows, and all over the interwebs, it would be pretty entertaining to hear them cover that song... but it'll never happen.  Rushad joined the band on stage, and Jeff talked about how they have met some of the most amazing people through Darol Anger. Dave followed up by saying "Seriously, Darol is the keeper of the keys to awesomeness."  I would have to agree, Dave.

"My Gal" came in and brought Darol and Rushad together for an on-the-spot duet after Jeff and Adam's intros.  Weird and awesome things happened before the song kicked into full gear, and Ben told us all about 'his gal'.  Rushad stayed on for "I Am the Slime", but then passed the baton to Scott Law who "will clear the hurdle", according to Adam.  I appreciated the Olympics reference, since I was full of Olympic fever before disappearing into the woods with no TV for String Summit. Scott played with them for "This Train is Bound For Glory" and "Raleigh and Spencer", adding his own flavor to each song.

"Thank you so much for being so good to each other over a 4 day weekend, we appreciate you guys very very much.  This place means a lot to us, so thanks for coming out and celebrating what a beautiful spot it is with us.  Cheers to our friend Ryan, our newly shorn friend... I don't even think I'd recognize him."  With these kind and thoughtful words, it was clear that the end was near.  But I had to push that from my mind, because Ben started singing "Part 1", and we weren't at the end yet.  "Years With Rose" came in like a hug from an old friend, and we all swayed and bounced with the music and with each other.  "Rose" started deconstructing, and we all wondered what was going to come out of it.  It was only the most perfect song choice that they could have made for this point in the show... "Peace of Mind".  You and I.  Side by side.  

It was encore time, and I just couldn't believe it was that time already.  "We have another party in 2 weeks, too, if you wanna come to Colorado." Adam reminded everyone. "Come to Lyon's, Colorado!  Come on!"  Oh don't worry, Adam... we wouldn't miss it for the world!  Our last couple songs were there all too soon, but we enjoyed them as much as humanly possible.  "Sharecropper's Son" gave us a last taste of bluegrass and "2 Hits" gave us a last attempt to fill the bowl with smoke.

The end of Yonder's show was the end of the festival for many, so it was time to start saying goodbye.  It's always hard to do, but this time the pain was eased by the fact that we'd be seeing a good deal of the same people in just a couple weeks in Colorado.  

If you have read this far, thank you for sticking with me and my many many many photographs.  I had so much fun at String Summit, and I hope I was able to successfully share with you what my weekend was all about.  Everyone's experience is different, but this one is mine... and there's a good chance that you were a part of it, so thank you.

Written by Dorothy St.Claire

Yonder Mountain String Band
8/10/12 Northwest String Summit, North Plains, OR

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Yonder Mountain String Band
8/11/12 Northwest String Summit, North Plains, OR

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Yonder Mountain String Band
8/12/12 Northwest String Summit, North Plains, OR

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1 comment:

  1. This is fantastic! It definitely brought me back just like I was there again! Thanks Dorothy!!


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