Friday, July 28, 2017

4Peaks 2017 Festival Report

Well, it's the middle of festival season, and I'm realizing that I hadn't summarized the 4 day music festival around the Summer Solstice yet. So, today is all about 4Peaks. I covered the getting there and getting home odyssey in 4Peaks 2017 Road Report.

Location Location Location
After having this festival hosted at the "Rockin' A Ranch" for the first 9 years, 4Peaks moved to the other side of Bend for it's 10 year anniversary event. The Rockin' A Ranch had been receiving noise complaints from neighbors, and the festival had started to outgrow the space in Tumalo. The new location is Stevens Ranch, on the SouthEast edge of Bend. This new location is at least twice the size, making for larger camping zones for everyone.

With the new location came some welcome new additions, like a map of the entire grounds where areas had names. This made is much easier to tell friends where to find you. In the old location, you had the RV area near the entrance, the valley and the far ridge to give general areas. Otherwise, you gave directions like "over by the van with the big flag". With a festival as small as 4Peaks had been, this worked okay. This year, telling folks we were at "The Junction" made it very easy.

Carabus Camping
As I mentioned, the overall festival space was probably twice the size available in prior years. This meant folks spread out a little bit more, and there were open grassy areas where no one was camped at all. As a result, kids had safe open places to group and simply play. The greater space between camp zones could have created more barriers between each other, but we found that we actually visited with more people than we had in prior years. Whether the space was a contributor, we can't really be sure, but I think our having parked across the road from the Furthur bus may have.

This year, Boo and I carabus'd with GratefulEd and his '73 Riviera poptop, so our camping spread was a little bigger. We parked in an "L" shape, placing our sliding doors on the inside, and our driver's sides pointing at "The Junction" intersection. This really helped keep the dust down as cars and foot-traffic moved through the intersection. Between the buses, GratefulEd erected his BusDepot exclusive canopy, while Boo and I put up our 1st edition version of that canopy. 10 years later, that canopy has about had it, but it held up for the weekend. Last, we put a 10x10 canopy between them, creating a relatively large covered space, keeping us dry for the 1st half of the festival and shaded for the second half. We brought a stack of rugs, so we covered the dust with them, scattered our camping chairs, coolers and new table (See Camping Table). Midway through the festival, after the rain moved on, we put up some wind breaks in the form of tie-dyed sheets to reduce the dust from the wind as well as improve the shade. Overall, it was a very comfortable and welcoming spot.

Friends and Friends of Friends
With each passing year, we seem to find a few friends from the years before, and make a few new ones along the way. We were greeted with appetizers by our neighbor to the north before we were completely set up, for example. Our neighbors to the west were ranch owners from near the old location, and we shared food, drinks and lots of conversation over the course of 4 days. Beyond our neighbors, we had old friends and VW-curious stopping by, sharing stories, whisky and appetizers. As much as we had started coming to this festival for a few bands, increasingly we go to 4Peaks for the festers.

One big new addition to the festival experience this year was the simulcasting of the music from the main and tent stages on Saturday. Since it was the first year for the community radio station, there were some technical difficulties as they shifted from stage to stage. That's to be expected, though I'd encourage them to borrow some technical help from Portland's KBOO, since they have been live broadcasting the waterfront blues festival in Portland for 25 years. Lots of experience, and also community radio. Most of the music performed on Saturday did make it to the air, though, and I sincerely hope they not only do it again, but broadcast all 4 days.. just don't talk while performers are.

The bands this year were arguably some of the biggest names yet. While we were first attracted to this festival for Melvin Seals and the JGB, this year's festival was co-headlined by moe and RailRoad Earth with the Infamous Stringdusters, Poor Man's Whisky and Karl Denson's Tiny Universe sharing the second level billing. We were treated to Achilles Wheel, MoonAlice, Warren G Hardings on the tent stage as well as the return of the Students of String Theory on Sunday morning. I had only heard of many of these bands so getting to see them (or hear the simulcast) was a real treat.

moe - I had heard of these guys for years, and somehow never heard anything they'd done. They played for 2 hours straight, and when they laid down a groove, it was real good. Unfortunately, they subscribe to the Phish kind of thinking where if the crowd is diggin on something, change the beat, rhythm and key without warning and decimate the vibe. Over the years, I've called this "Groove Assassin" and moe had this at an award winning level. They weren't as good as their hype, unfortunately, but the festival-goers showed them the love.

RailRoad Earth - Boo and I had first heard of RREarth at the last NYE show by a Dead affiliate on our honeymoon going on 5 years ago (See HNY) from our neighbors on the mezzanine. We hadn't ever heard them, nor seen them, but they were awesome. Closing out the first full day of the festival is a tough slot, especially knowing fest-favorite Poor Man's Whisky is following them in the tent stage afterwards. They crushed it. One of their players was not with them, and they had a guest on the organ, but that guy was killin' it. Billed as more of a bluegrass band, they sounded more Americana... with an organ. So good. Seriously. Definite must see.

Infamous Stringdusters - Most folks from the PacNW or even the western end of the US knows of the Infamous Stringdusters. They are regulars on the festival circuit, though we hadn't seen nor heard them before and they'd hadn't been to 4Peaks at least as long as we've been going. As the last band on the main stage before RREarth, they were kind of the warm-up band for the first night finale, but they brought it, and raised the bar. I'm not usually a big fan of the banjo, and while they had banjo representation on pretty much everything, it didn't dominate like the Death-by-Banjo experience we had at NorthWest String Summit in the Summer of '15. I just realized I never posted on that. Drat. Regardless, the Stringdusters were great.

Karl Denson's Tiny Universe - At the start of the festival, a new stage schedule was released and the Universe had been moved to the main stage, shifting festival favorite Poor Man's Whisky to the tent. When I saw that, I figured there would be a revolt -OR- the Tiny Universe was just that good. Either way, we had to be there. It was so good. These guys completely stole the festival.If you haven't seen them, go. You can't help yourself from dancing once they get started. Karl was the sax player for The Rolling Stones, and he surrounds himself with young talented players. Their energy is contagious and execution fantastic. Mid-set, they brought a young guy, probably 15 or so, up on stage to sit in on one of the keyboards. Even he ripped it up. After their show, they were the only artists I saw walking the festival grounds, in the camping areas, just hanging out. I'm a huge fan and will go out of my way to see them again. I wholeheartedly encourage you to do the same.

The rest of the bands on the list above I heard bits and pieces of. MoonAlice, I've since seen on internet streams, and they sound pretty good. I regret not hearing more of them at 4Peaks. Achilles Wheel, I heard the first song. They played the tent between the Stringdusters and RR Earth, so a sacrifice for food was needed. Unfortunately, they were sacrificed. That one song sounded really good though. Rocked a bit.

Students of String Theory - This is a loose collection of students at the String Theory studio in Bend. Over the years, a few of the students have really grown, and their presence on the tent stage on Sunday morning has become one of our favorite parts of the festival. It's quiet, everyone is a little blurry, and these kids make some great music. This year, they were pre-empted by Pitchfork Revolution (who were really really good), playing acoustic instruments around a single old-skool mic. The first String Theory student, whose name I or course now can't remember, has been playing this stage for as long as we've been coming to 4Peaks. Her teenaged voice is hauntingly mature, bringing tears to the eye as she shares her song of an also-young friend who recently passed of cancer. She will be playing big stages one day.

I think that's it for the festival review. It seems like it gets better every year, and unlike most festivals, 4Peaks doesn't seem to have identity problems. They are small, and like being small. They aren't trying to get bigger name acts which require more money which means more festival attendees which bring more security, etc etc etc. Instead, 4Peaks has figured out how to deliver a great festival with a few small national acts mixed in with regional bands at a price that works. As always, thanks for following along-
1.. 2.. 3.. 4Peaks!

No comments: