Subdued Stringband Jamboree
The more things change
What: Subdued Stringband Jamboree
When: 9 am Thu., Aug. 8 -10
Where: Deming Log Show Grounds, 3295 Cedarville Road
Wednesday, July 31, 2019
I don’t like change.
I understand it’s inevitable. I accept that it is often necessary.
Change happens. I get it.
But understanding and acceptance do not equal enjoyment, and it must be said that I do not enjoy change.
I do, however, very much enjoy the Subdued Stringband Jamboree. While it has certainly experienced the amount of evolution that nearly 20 years of existence brings, instead of transforming into something barely recognizable, it has simply continued to become more of what it has always been.
I should know. I’ve either been to or written about—or both—every single one of them. I no longer attend the Jamboree every year, but when I do venture out to the wilds of Deming to see what the festival has in store for me, it’s like I never took any time off at all.
Turns out, you can go home again, if only for a weekend.
Stringband’s remarkable consistency and familial vibe comes in no small part from the fact that, from the start, it has been stewarded by the same person, its founder, Robert Sarazin Blake. I used to live next door to the longtime local musician and saw firsthand that he loves nothing more than to gather his friends together, needs little or no excuse to do so, is able to rope people into helping him out with whatever he dreams up, and is not opposed to shenanigans. At its most basic level, the Subdued Stringband Jamboree has a lot in common with his backyard dinner parties—only on a slightly larger scale.
While Blake is Stringband’s creator and guiding light, the event would not exist without the literal hundreds of volunteers it takes to pull off a three-day music festival complete with multiple stages, overnight camping, hospitality for performers, first aid and so much more. Nearly the entire infrastructure of the Jamboree is built and operated by people being paid in music, food and a robust sense of community, many of which have been with the festival almost as long as Blake.
But this it-takes-a-village ethos does more than just make for an event that benefits from big DIY energy. It also keeps ticket prices low, which makes Stringband accessible to a broader swath of people. Indeed, it’s one of the better festival deals going. For instance, tickets to Coachella will cost you a hefty $429. A weekend pass to the Jamboree will set you back a mere $110. And you can bring your kids for free (as long as they’re 14 or younger).
But no one goes to the Subdued Stringband Jamboree just because it’s a bargain. The music is what draws folks to the Deming Log Show Grounds year in and year out, and the lineup also reflects Blake’s sense of how things should be. His idea was always to build a festival around his friends and though his life as a traveling musician has resulted friends from far-flung pockets of the globe, the majority of talent that appears on the Stringband stages is from Whatcom and Skagit counties. Many of these bands and musicians cross-pollinate, and it is commonplace to see guest musicians wander onstage for a song or two during another band’s set, and at some point during each iteration of Stringband, the stage inevitably swells with as many musicians as it can hold, all united in making a joyful noise.
It is a thing to behold, each and every time it happens.
Like everything else about the event, many of the faces that will appear onstage from Thurs., Aug. 8 through Sat., Aug. 10 will be familiar. To wit, kicking off Thursday’s entertainment will be festival founder Blake, who will take to the smaller Slanted Stage with his Happy Hour Band. Over on the main Flat Stage, a square dance named for the only man who got me to allemande and like it, Lucas Hicks, will get things started accompanied by Ava Honey and the Shadies. Gus Clark will reign over the Slanted Stage with the Least of His Problems in tow, while Giant’s Causeway and Frog and Henry will cycle through the Flat Stage. Polecat, the Bellingham band most likely to be cursed by weather, will headline the opening-night proceedings.
The next two days are far too overstuffed with music to comprehensively list, but some of Friday’s highlights include Flat Stage performances by the pancake-loving Sons of Rainier, Tamar Ilana and Ventanas, Kristin Allen-Zito, and the first of two songwriters in the round shows, this one featuring Sam Doores, Stone Jones, and Alex Deacon. Meanwhile, on the Slanted Stage, Three For Silver, Crooked Constellation, the Dovetails, Karen Kunkel, and more will provide between-set entertainment.
Come Saturday, festival (and personal) favorites Petunia and the Vipers will close out the Flat Stage after a day that will include Meg Yates, Hot Damn Scandal, Uncle Bonsai, the Lonesome Town Painters, Robert Sarazin Blake (it’s his festival and he’ll play when he wants to), another square dance with the Ava Honey and the Shadies, and the final songwriters in the round, this time with Dean Johnson, Kristin Allen-Zito, the Queen of Victoria, and the Bellingham Circus Guild in some mysterious but no doubt exciting capacity. Holding down the Slanted Stage you’ll find Sweater Weather Stringband, Intuitive Compass, the Devillies, and my favorite not-so-recent addition to the festivities, the band scramble.
All that, and in some ways, we’ve only just begun.
While the heart of Stringband can be found on its stages, the late-night pickin’ parties that have sprung up since its start is where its soul dwells. For the first few years, these impromptu jams—incidentally, the only time typing the word “jam” doesn’t make me cringe is in reference to Stringband—took place around campfires and happened organically. These days, there are two late-night spots on the grounds—the Corner Cabaret and Midnight Serenade Tent—for this kind of action, with the likes of Hot Damn Scandal, Kristin Allen-Zito, Strangely and others acting as tour guides through the after-hours musical landscape.
If all of this feels familiar, well, that’s because it is. Sure, some of the performers are new and an additional late-night stage has been added. Yes, for the first time, organizers are discouraging people from riding their bikes on the festival grounds—purely for safety reasons, mind you. And yes, it is true that Stringband has added a charitable element to the mix, with a pledge to collect donations for HomesNow, but all it takes is one glimpse of a straw-hatted Blake ambling across the field, calling out greetings and welcoming people to his festival like they’re in his backyard to know that the more things change, the more the Subdued Stringband Jamboree remains the same.
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