A Portlander’s Guide to the Best NW Festivals in 2017

Vortex Music Magazine

From summer camp for adults to family-friendly campouts to city living, find wooded, immersive experiences as well as free, all-ages action during our favorite season in Portland and the greater Northwest.

A scene from Pickathon's square dance on August 4, 2016—click to see more photos by Beth OlsonA scene from Pickathon's square dance on August 4, 2016—click to see more photos by Beth OlsonThe season is upon us! Here we go off to either adult summer camp or, if we can’t shed the kiddos, our annual campout with fantastic music—or maybe both if you’re lucky! Some of our favorite local music festivals are highlighted below but you can find our complete Northwest Festival Directory here.

Summer Camp for Adults


A scene from What The Festival's Splash Stage in 2016—click to see more photos by Drew BandyA scene from What The Festival's Splash Stage in 2016—click to see more photos by Drew BandyThe best part about summer camp was just getting away from your parents, right? Now that you’re a grown-up, it’s just about damn near impossible to get away from all that adulting all the time. What The Festival (June 16-19 on the outskirts of the Mt. Hood National Forest) and Beloved Sacred Arts & Music Festival (Aug. 11-14 in the coastal forests near Newport) offer you a release. Let loose in the safe spaces each creates. Leave your phone in the car, surround yourself with like-minded individuals, get lost in the woods, explore art installations, and dance all night to an electronic backdrop. Maybe summer camp was so great because you found community amongst your peers outside of your everyday life. Do the same this summer—to a way better soundtrack than those campfire singalongs.

Bring The Whole Brood


The Brothers Comatose atop the Furthur Bus at Northwest String Summit at Horning's Hideout in 2016—click to see more photos by Jessie McCallThe Brothers Comatose atop the Furthur Bus at Northwest String Summit at Horning's Hideout in 2016—click to see more photos by Jessie McCallOkay, so it’s just not an option to leave the kids behind. Never fear, Oregon hosts three homemade fests of twangy origins that have steadily evolved while retaining very family-friendly atmospheres. In its sixth year, Willamina’s Wildwood MusicFest (July 21-23 on more than 50 rural acres) may be the youngest but it’s trajectory is promising—pushing community and affordability while sticking to its folk, country and Americana roots. For both musicians and Strummit attendees, the 16th annual Northwest String Summit (July 13-16 at the wooded oasis Horning's Hideout) is a homecoming. Hosted by Yonder Mountain String Band, many string ‘n grass bands play multiple sets and stay up till the wee hours pickin’ at camp, while by day, the wee ones get a parade and music workshops. From its folksy beginnings, the 19-year-old Pickathon (Aug. 3-6 at Pendarvis Farm just outside Portland) is a curatorial force to be reckoned with in the festival world—featuring pickers and pluckers alongside psych rock, soul, hip-hop and international sounds on unique and intimate stages. No matter where you lay your head at night, you’ll be in good company after a day of kicking up dust in the fields, barns, buses and backwoods of these musical grounds. Beyond the kinship, sustainability and works of art organically built into each fest, quite possibly the best part is: You’ll never feel overwhelmed by crowds; rather, you’ll find your own.

Hey Day Trippers!


Cage The Elephant at Edgefield on June 18, 2016—click to see more photos by Veronica RoseCage The Elephant at Edgefield on June 18, 2016—click to see more photos by Veronica RoseWhether you’re looking to get out of the city or head into the heart of it, both the Oregon Zoo (free zoo entry included with ticket!) and McMenamins’ Edgefield (there's a brewery, winery and distillery on-site!) have nice lawns and a steady supply of solid headliners to appease all musical tastes from June to September. For Fourth of July action, you’ll find fireworks at the Waterfront Blues Festival (June 30-July 4), Oregon’s largest festival (and the biggest blues fest west of the Mississippi as well as a fundraiser for the Oregon Food Bank). Or for a less crowded pyrotechnic display, head east to the Corbett Fun Fest (July 4), a small-town Independence Day featuring bands and tons of family-friendly games and activities. Make a day (or at least an evening) of it!

Your Local Scene, For Free


A scene from PDX Pop Now! at AudioCinema in 2016—click to see more photos by Corey TerrillA scene from PDX Pop Now! at AudioCinema in 2016—click to see more photos by Corey TerrillBesides the wide variety of genres represented at the city-sponsored Concerts in the Park (July-Sept.) in green spaces all over town or downtown’s Music on Main Street (July-Sept.), you can hear many of Jumptown’s greats at the 37th annual Cathedral Park Jazz Festival (July 14-16)—the longest-running free jazz festival west of the Mississippi—and at PDX Pop Now!’s (July 21-23) 14th annual, all-ages, volunteer-run fest, which’ll showcase diverse sounds of the scene’s youngest, fastest-rising acts. Best part? All are free and open to all ages.

Anti-Fests

Our louder brethren (and sistren?) congregate on the blacktop and in bars at the apex of summer. While NE PDX’s guitar shop-hosted Centaurpalooza will not return for its 11th year, organizers will take the party to SE Powell, dubbing it Twilight Fest (July 28-30), with plans to book some 30 bands and (hopefully) all-ages action. Then August 12 brings This Is Portland Not Portlandia and plenty of punky energy to venerated FoPo dives (thanks to Volume Bomb).

The Mainstream


Tame Impala at MusicfestNW presents Project Pabst on August 28, 2016—click to see more photos by Veronica Rose (and Sam Gehrke) from last year's festTame Impala at MusicfestNW presents Project Pabst on August 28, 2016—click to see more photos by Veronica Rose (and Sam Gehrke) from last year's festYou know, the corporate stuff: popular music sprinkled with the requisite diversity to round out the bill. Don’t take that as a slight—even the hipsters show up for these ‘cos the lineups are solid, they’re conveniently located, and the beer flows freely. Start with Seattle’s take on SXSW (and its newest festival): the Upstream Music Fest + Summit (May 11-13) featuring a conference-style affair and tons of Northwest talent. Follow that with the festival season’s cheapest brewskis and Iggy Pop on Portland’s waterfront at MusicfestNW presents Project Pabst (Aug. 26-27) before hightailing it back up north for the 47th consecutive year of Bumbershoot (Sept. 1-3) beneath the Space Needle.

Roses on the Waterfront


Vortex II Weekend on the Waterfront is two days of Rose Festival action over Memorial Day weekendVortex II Weekend on the Waterfront is two days of Rose Festival action over Memorial Day weekendOur city’s original outdoor festival stacks up some solid musical offerings over Memorial Day weekend at the more than century-old Portland Rose Festival (May 26-June 11). Partnering with local radio mainstay KINK (which has been broadcasting in PDX for almost 50 years!), we will be at the Vortex II Weekend on the Waterfront featuring Sub Rosa Curation’s What Was Sound on May 27 with rockers DIIV, Woods and El Ten Eleven, plus homegrown acts Fruit Bats, Small Leaks Sink Ships, Bed., JUJUBA and Sunbathe. Then on May 28, KINK and Vortex will bring an all-local offering including Patrick Lamb, Haley Johnsen, Tyler Conti and maybe even a surprise guest!

BEST OF THE REST


The Gorge Amphitheatre in WashingtonThe Gorge Amphitheatre in WashingtonMay 13: St. Johns Bizarre, Portland, OR
May 26-28: Sasquatch! Music Festival at Gorge Amphitheatre, George, WA

June 17: Vans Warped Tour at Oregon State Fairgrounds, Salem, OR
June 23-24: Paradiso Festival at Gorge Amphitheatre, George, WA

July 7-9: Oregon Country Fair, Veneta, OR
July 8: Mississippi Street Fair, Portland, OR
July 13-15: Timber! Outdoor Music Festival, Carnation, WA
July 14-15: Harefest 7, Canby, OR
July 21-23: Capitol Hill Block Party, Seattle, WA

August 4-6: Oregon Jamboree, Sweet Home, OR
August 10-13: Summer Meltdown, Darrington, WA
August 11-12: Bronze Blues & Brews, Joseph, OR
August 12: Alberta Street Fair, Portland, OR
August 17-20: Willamette Country Music Festival, Brownsville, OR
August 17-23: Oregon Eclipse at Big Summit Prairie, Crook County, OR

Sept. 8-10: Sisters Folk Festival, Sisters, OR
Sept. 10: Portland Black Music Festival, Portland, OR

See everything that's happening this fest season in our complete Northwest Festival Directory. Plus, read our previous cover story on The Road to the Perfect Music Festival. And happy festival!

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