Subdued Stringband Jamboree

Home sweet home


What: The Subdued Stringband Jamboree

When: 10 am Thu., Aug. 10 -13

Where: Deming Log Show grounds, 3295 Cedarville Road

Cost: $25-$135


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

It is the nature of music festivals to remain in constant flux. Even when their names and locations stay the same over time, they tend to want to grow and change in other ways, from booking bigger and greater numbers of acts, to offering activities beyond music, to adding or subtracting stages, to changing their musical bent, to any number of other alterations and modifications.

The Subdued Stringband Jamboree, not so much.

The homegrown, homemade, decidedly down-home music festival, now in its 17th year, did its fair share of evolving for the first decade or more of its existence. It decided pretty early on a formula of offering old-timey and Americana music during an August weekend—this year taking place Thurs.-Sun., Aug. 10-13—at the Deming Logging Show grounds, a general idea that was met with success almost immediately. From there, it has undergone myriad changes both minor and more extreme in its quest to fill its niche and find favor with its audience.

However, for the past several years, Stringband has settled into a comfortable, familiar groove. Its traditions have, over time, become institutions both beloved and eagerly anticipated. The weekend seldom has surprises in store—and that is part of the festival’s considerable charm. Each Jamboree blends seamlessly into the next, the same way that spending holidays with beloved relatives become part of one extended fond memory of home.

Much of this constancy is owed to Robert Sarazin Blake, Stringband’s founder and guiding light. From its inception, Blake intended for his event to be a labor of love, brought to life by his friends to showcase their music. He built it, and we came.

What keeps so many of us returning to Stringband time and again has as much to do with the sense of community to be found at the festival as it does the music. The endeavor that began with Blake enlisting his friends to build the stage, direct traffic, take tickets and provide hospitality remains just that—except these days those friends are joined by a veritable army of volunteers, boasting an amazing array of skills and abilities, filled with seemingly ceaseless energy and good cheer, taking their jobs just seriously enough to ensure that they and everyone else have an excellent time.

Meanwhile, when he’s not putting out proverbial fires or playing music, Blake can be found on his bicycle, probably wearing a straw hat of some sort, pedaling hither and yon, surveying the scene. A more accessible festival organizer you will not find anywhere.

All of this laboring and love come together to create an experience that is enjoyable precisely because it can be counted on to be predictable. When I go to Stringband—and I’ve been to most of them—I know that the day will give me an array of bands, musicians and entertainers I love, that I will listen to them with friends who attend the festival every year, that kids will wear themselves out whirling like dusty dervishes, that I will be surprised and delighted by the Band Scramble, and that I might even be enticed to square dance some. When night falls, I know that the Stringband stage will be lit with a warm glow even as the field grows increasingly dark, that when the stages go silent, the pickin’ parties among performers and amateur musicians alike will begin and that’s when the festival will fully cast its spell.

In terms of talent, Blake has assembled a roster of performers, many of which are local, and most of which will end up collaborating with one another before the weekend is through. Among them are Petunia & the Vipers (a band that I fell in love with at a past Subdued Stringband Jamboree), the Gallus Brothers, Chris Acker & the Growing Boys, Del Rey & Steve James, Hot Damn Scandal, Deakin Hicks, Marcel & Nakos, Broken Bow Stringband, the Living Arrows, the Reverie Machine, the Shadies, the Elopements, and others. As well, the Bellingham Circus Guild will delight you with feats of acrobatics and aerialism, you can swing dance with Hot House Jazz Band or square dance with the Shadies, suss out the songwriters in the round, and more. I would be remiss if I failed to mention that Blake will open the festival on the Slanted stage, and will play the penultimate set the final night on the Flat stage. I’m guessing he’ll probably manage to sneak onstage with another band or five—and will be quick to encourage other collaboration-minded musicians to join him.

In a world that can often feel like it is changing at breakneck speed, a festival that feels familiar and the sense of community it spawns become that much more important. It’s nice to know that, at least as far as the Subdued Stringband Jamboree is concerned, you can go home again.

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