Subdued Stringband Jamboree

Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen


What: Subdued Stringband Jamboree

When: Thu., Aug. 11 -14

Where: Deming Log Show Fairgrounds, Deming

Cost: $25-$120


Wednesday, August 3, 2016

I first met singer/songwriter Robert Sarazin Blake not long after I moved to Bellingham, now half of my life ago. For a few memorable years, he was my next-door neighbor and I would see him on a near-daily basis, which was a little weird for both of us. I have made more jokes in print at his expense than I have anyone else in Bellingham—and he has taken every last one of them in stride, a quality that can be hard to come by in local musicians.

I have also watched him grow the Subdued Stringband Jamboree, the festival he founded 16 years ago, from a harebrained scheme cobbled together by Blake and a few of his friends who had more ideas than knowhow into the mostly well-oiled machine it is today.

Although it has grown in size and proficiency of execution over the years, much of Stringband remains as it ever was—a steadfastly local, stubbornly grassroots affair that is steeped in goodwill and staffed by the cheeriest crew of committed volunteers you’ll find anywhere.

Blake has added days, stages and other elements to his festival as it has evolved, but not because he needs Stringband to be the biggest thing around—quite the contrary, in fact. The changes he’s made exist to serve the music—and the people who make the journey, year after year, to the expansive field of the Deming Log Show Fairgrounds to kick up a little dust and allemande left, all in the name of a down-home good time.

Blake has also tinkered with the lineup over the past decade-and-a-half, some years trying on bigger headliners, some years increasing or scaling back the regional footprint from which he draws musicians, and has settled on a roster that is mostly local, familiar faces with a smattering of carefully chosen bands and musicians from farther-flung locales. Blake then rounds out the proceedings with a daily square dance, workshops, late-night stages, a gospel sing-along and my favorite piece of the Stringband puzzle, the band scramble, in which bands are formed by plucking names out of a hat, only to take the stage and play a set a short time later.

After the horde of Jamboree volunteers descends upon the Deming Log Show Fairgrounds to build the main Flat stage and the smaller Slanted stage, get the backstage area squared away, test the sound, set up boundaries and barriers, and generally do all the other pre-festival behind-the-scenes work we take for granted, musicians will begin to show up, and the man himself, Robert Sarazin Blake, will kick off the festival at 5pm Thurs., Aug. 11 with his Family Band. From there, music will alternate between the two stages, but you can expect to see Yogoman, Willie Reavis & His Weary Boys, and the Crying Shame before Lache Cercel & the Roma Swing Ensemble close out the first night of the 2016 Jamboree.

The next day, Fri., Aug. 12, Stone Jones & the Stage Crew Band will start things off on the Slanted stage, where you’ll also see Meghan Yates, the Free Range Reveleers, the Stephen Nikleva Band, and more as the day goes on. The Flat stage will play host to Grace Love, Peadar MacMahon & Friends, Pete Irving & the Best Intentions, Lone Pinon, Sierra Ferrell, Hamell on Trial (one of Blake’s favorites), and Petunia and the Vipers (one of my favorites).

Same goes for Sat., Aug. 13, except the Slanted stage music begins bright and early, at 9am, with Robert T. MacDonald III, who will hand the reins off to everyone from the Bellingham Circus Guild and Peter Blake & Mountain Thyme to Marcel & Nakos and the Sweet Goodbyes before the day is done. Commanding your attention on the Flat stage will be Louis Ledford & the Little Shots, Robert Sarazin Blake (you didn’t think he’d relegate himself to just one set on the Slanted stage, did you?) the Jacob Joliff Trio, Three for Silver, the Dusty 45s, the Crow Quill Night Owls, and others before the night ends with the much-beloved and always-entertaining All-Star Jamboree, where anything can—and generally does—happen.

As mentioned, each day features a 6pm square dance (if you don’t know how, don’t worry—you’ll find ample opportunity to pick up the necessary skill set), and after the last notes of the day ring out from the Flat stage, late-night festivities featuring the likes of Sarah Goodin, Sierra Ferrell, Devin Champlin, Jefferson Hamer, Strangely, and more will provide you with a soundtrack to dance to under the stars.

By the time the 2016 Subdued Stringband Jamboree winds down on Sun., Aug. 14 with a gospel sing-along led by Meghan Yates, Louis Ledford, and Grace Love, you’ll be thoroughly entertained, your itch to square dance will be scratched, you’ll be glowing with Stringband’s particular brand of public goodwill, and you’ll probably be at least a little dirty but content in the knowledge that you are living just right.

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