For its fifteenth year anniversary, the Northwest String Summit brought plenty of incredible bluegrass, with a smattering of gospel, funk and a whole lot of love. Horning’s Hideout is one of the best kept secrets in the music scene, a nature preserve that can hold one or two small scale music events per year. Those lucky enough to attend one of these gatherings, such as the Yonder Mountain String Band-hosted Strummit, will quickly tell you that it’s a place like no other. From the scenic pine lined natural concert bowl with the lake so stocked with fish that osprey continually delight onlookers with their precision dives and daring catches, it is one of the most perfect blends of nature and function in the concert world.

Though the festival purposefully holds back attendance to keep the balance between man and environment, that doesn’t limit the experience at all. An inventive use of the touring edition of the famed Further bus doubles as a “Tweener” stage for smaller acts to play, while main stage production crews tear down and rebuild the headliners’ gear. The top of the bus shows a scenic view for the players and gives fans a colorful reason to look up in the sky.

The main stage took of running Friday with Cabinet, Della Mae and The Infamous Stringdusters going back to back to back and building in intensity, as if passing off an ever brightening torch.

Yonder Mountain String Band has become the institution it is for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, naturally, is the music. Playing a brand of take-no-prisoners aggression that followed in the likes of John Hartford, The New Grass Revival and of course, Leftover Salmon, won them a legion of adherents that saw them as a bridge between the staid bluegrass of the previous generations and the spirit of the new. But that wasn’t all that got them there. It takes a village it’s said, but it Yonder’s case it took Kinfolk.

“Kinfolk” is more than just a name for Yonder’s nation of fans, it’s a description of the relationship that has developed between the band and their fans. As important as any show, the chance to spend a few minutes mingling with their more diehard fans is a much anticipated part of every Summit with the annual “Kinfolk Meet And Greet.” The band works the crowd, sharing and listening to stories of shows past and future, listening to requests and posing for pictures sure to become cherished memories. Yonder is a band that clearly knows what is most important in life…the ties and love that binds.

That said… it is the music that is the reason for the season, and Friday night it was at last time for Yonder to get their hosting duties under way. The line up has long since moved past any fluctuations and has solidified into a formidable hydra. Perennial emcee Pastor Tim welcomed the band with his usual zeal, announcing that, according to not-so-scientific accounting, this was Yonder’s fiftieth set at a String Summit, an auspicious occasion if ever there was one. The table was set, the fans were hungry and the time was finally here to dig in.

Allie Kral soothes and seethes with each passing bow of her fiddle, while bassist Ben Kaufmann has never sounded punchier or more comfortable on the mic, be it in his often self-effacing banter and his singing. Banjo player Dave Johnston rolls and plucks with a sharp and kinetic style that punctuates and drives much like mandolin player Jake Jolliff. Jolliff shows a fret board dexterity that seems to grow with each passing day, matching his partner in crime, guitarist Adam Aijala, whose laconic demeanor belies his playing intensity.


As often happens when this many friends and like minded people gather, love can fill the air. Ali and Casey of Feather Flies were back., still crazy in love and ready for another memorable festival after their magical wedding ceremony last year. Check out our wedding present to the lovely couple, a fun video of the ceremony and their serenade by Elephant Revival, below:

This year, another love was taking the next step as an unsuspecting girlfriend was lured onstage only to be surprised with a proposal! The couple met at the Northwest String Summit five years ago, and after her immediate “YES!” they’ll have another reason to be thankful for the Summit’s existence!

The gentleman cheering in the back is Pastor Tim, who acts as festival emcee. Besides being genuinely happy for the couple, one can also assume he is looking forward to some potential clients for his hitchin’ services sometime at some future Summit.

Singer-songwriter Brad Parsons brought his collection of originals and a smattering of buds to the Troubadour Stage, including Fruition‘s Jay Cobb Anderson.

With a laid back atmosphere and a cap of three thousand attendees, the Northwest String Summit has made a name for itself as one of the most kid friendly festival in the country. A robust children’s area, in addition to the natural splendor, features a lake, paddle boats, numerous trails and fields to run wild in Horning’s Hideout. It is the perfect place for families to enjoy some fun in the sun and dancing in the dirt together. This year, the Kids Parade brought all the little ones in attendance together to come down and enjoy the set by MarchFourth!, quite possibly THE most perfect band to please all ages.

The gathered crowd was in for a true treat, a spectacle of sights and sounds tailor made to delight audiences from around the world. Perfectly merging the artistic spirit of Portland with the musical spectacle of New Orleans, MarchFourth! put on one of the most complete shows of any band on any stage. From rocking big band jam tunes, choreography and feats of strength that need to be seen to be believed, MarchFourth! entertains on every level every second they are on the stage.

..or off! As they finished their set the band came out and led the gathered masses on a rip roaring parade around the concert bowl and through the vending area to the delight of everyone.

After returning to the concert bowl all smiles and positive vibrations, the crowd was treated to a volatile set of spitfire bluegrass by the Steep Canyon Rangers, with fiddler Nicky Sanders leading the way with some fierce and fleet fingerings.

Onto this primed powder keg of party potential, a final match was tossed, transforming the weekend into a blazing inferno of the heart of festival spirits himself, Vince Herman and Leftover Salmon. Pastor Tim brought Salmon to the stage, rightly giving them their due as forerunners and trailblazers. Leftover played their usual high energy set, with the crackling ball of energy incarnate that is Vince Herman bouncing around the stage, and welcoming out Larry Keel and Steep Canyon’s Sander’s for a good old-fashioned pickin’ party.

Greensky Bluegrass took their second set on the main stage as an opportunity to focus on their newest material, with “Demons” and “Windshield” from their most recent album, as well as sharing two new songs from their forthcoming album…promised “Sometime soon.” If the Dave Bruzza and Paul Hoffman led new tunes are any indication, Greensky may have another classic on their hands.

Yonder posted video of their tour bus rehearsals online while festival attendees who were in the wi-fi free confines of the grounds were left to anxiously wait for the night to come and Yonder to take the stage, blissfully unaware of the insanity to come. Check out the rehearsal video below:

After a teasing intro about the uproar Bob Dylan touched off when he went electric, the band eased the crowd into the concept with some of their more traditional wares before slowly switching to new-fangled “Electrified Geetars” and bringing out guest keyboardist Asher Fulero and drummer Jay Elliott helped create an inspired set that featured a tribute to Pink Floyd’s classic album, Animals. If the shell shocked audience’s seemingly never ending cheers were any indication, it’s safe to say the electrical experiment was a rousing success.

Sunday got off to a slow moving start, with the late night festivities from Keller Williams and Shook Twins keeping folks going until sunrise. Social activist Ben Sollee brought his tongue in cheek message of hope and activism to the stage, his impressive chops firing up the early risers.

After that rousing call-to-arms, the crowd came out if force for Even Keel, a Larry Keel led super jam with Anders Beck from Greensky, Sanders and band-mate mandolin player Mike Guggino, along with Danny Barnes on banjo, Scott Law on guitar and of course, Larry’s wife and birthday weekend girl Jenny Keel on the bass. Any lingering aches were quickly shaken off, and the boots scooted up a mighty cloud of dust over the concert bowl. Larry made sure each player got a chance to shine and even remembered to come thundering in with his massive baritone and quake inducing flat picking virtuosity.

Though it seems a role slightly more suited to Pastor Tim, the emcee deferred to Keller Williams for the Sunday inspiration set. Keller brought out Stu Allen and lifted the spirits with his funky, soulful renditions of Grateful Dead songs and staples. It was the perfect way to spend a perfect, seventy degree day in the overcast but still breathtaking Pacific northwest.

Every year the festival raises money for the St.Baldricks Day Foundation and gets pink and “Frilli for Lilli” in honor of a young fan taken tragically early by the terrible disease. This year husband and wife Brian and Shari Band volunteered to not only get shaved, but to let their daughters Willow and River do the shaving. Brian joked that thanks to his always having his long hair and beard that the two had never really been face to face. While Dave Johnston provided some twangy trimming music, the couple got clean cut for a great cause and a cheering audience.

Though, as all festivals are, it was a little bittersweet to see the final act on the main stage begin. Fortunately, the final proceedings were a little more upbeat than usual, as it was Adam Aijala‘s birthday! He got a rousing cheer and an off-key “Happy Birthday” serenade from the fans, before the band gave their devout followers one last reason to tear up the grass carpet with their dancing moves and a perfect moon rise over the towering pines.

The remaining fans took a few moments to hug old friends and new as the last songs played, and made plans to go and catch the special late night party being hosted by Fruition. Memories made, magical music experienced and spirits recharged, physically weary but emotionally charged and dust covered fans went separate ways, promising to see each other next year. With the Northwest String Summit hitting its fifteenth year with no signs of stopping, it’s a safe bet that they’ll be repeating those words for many, many years to come.


For a full gallery of Rex Thomson’s photos from the Northwest String Summit, check out the gallery below: