After a hot and muggy Thursday, the sun started to set behind the trees surrounding the main stage at Yonder Mountain String Band’s 16th annual Northwest String Summit in North Plains, Ore., on July 13 to 16. A cool breeze swept across the lake and onto the dance floor as Fruition kicked off the evening with their rip-roaring “I Don’t Mind,” a fusion of screaming guitar solos overlaying their backbone of Americana and folk.
Featuring four stages, a lake, a children’s village, food and clothing vendors, and a mindfulness and yoga workshop space, there was something for everyone to enjoy at this year's Strummit. The abundance of children running about and the families who attended the festival helped create a light atmosphere all around, and it was apparent that the curators of the festival had gone the extra mile to make sure people of all ages felt welcome. The magic of the festival went hand in hand with the venue, Horning's Hideout. Horning's is also widely known in the bluegrass and jam scene for its infamous String Cheese Incident shows, which featured elaborate theatrical performances. The spirit of the music and the energy of the culture invested in Northwest String Summit and Cheese at Horning's has contributed immensely to the mystical quality of the forest and the land that Horning's Hideout is located on.
Predominantly a traditional bluegrass festival, Northwest String Summit boasted three nights of Yonder Mountain String Band, multiple sets by Greensky Bluegrass and Elephant Revival, and performances by countless other bluegrass bands. That being said, tastes of other genres were stirred into the mix throughout the weekend including a special project called Sideboob (featuring members of Shook Twins, Fruition, Yonder, harmonica player Kat Fountain and more), whose all-female lineup covered ‘90s throwbacks such as Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody?” and Alanis Morissette's "You Learn" on Thursday. For their peak second set on Saturday, Yonder covered Pink Floyd’s album Meddle in its entirety, accentuated by a psychedelic light show bouncing off giant white balloons above the dance floor as patterns sprawled across the trees around the amphitheater. Southern blues legend JJ Grey & Mofro also played on Saturday afternoon, and nine-piece funk band Turkuaz closed out the main stage on Saturday night. But the evening was far from over as The California Honeydrops heated up the Kinfolk Revival Tent and continued the party on into the night.
Throughout the weekend there was an onslaught of guest performances, such as Brad Parsons with Fruition, Sierra Hull with Yonder Mountain String Band, Steveland Swatkins sitting in with Turkuaz, Asher Fulero with Shook Twins, and a host of others along with every set in the Troubadour Lounge. These collaborations gave insight into the camaraderie between bands and artists at the festival, as well as providing the audience with a completely special and one-of-a-kind musical experience that will never be replicated elsewhere—unless, maybe, all these talented folks return to the same festival and stages next year! —Patrick Harris