Summer Meltdown

Where the music meets the mountains

Thursday, July 30, 2015

As always happens this time of year, thousands of people from Bellingham and beyond are anticipating, making plans and otherwise getting excited and gearing up for our local summer festival season.

Yes, the fact that we have more than one homegrown festival from which to choose is enough for me to characterize it as a “festival season,” never mind that “multiple festivals” is code for “two events that happen during the same weekend.”

Just like every year save for one, the Summer Meltdown Festival and the Subdued Stringband Jamboree take place at exactly the same time, which means that the music lovers among us must make a decision about their entertainment that is akin to Sophie’s Choice.

That might be an extreme comparison, as picking a preference about a single weekend’s worth of entertainment is hardly akin to deciding between one’s children, but for anyone who has the time, disposable income and inclination to attend both festivals, the choice is tough nonetheless.

This ongoing scheduling conflict often prompts a line of inquiry among music fans that goes something like this: “Why do they do that?” “Does each festival know the other exists?” “Do they do it on purpose?” “Why can’t they plan their festivals for different weekends?” “Do they hate us?”

The answers, near as I can discern, are as follows: “The similar scheduling arises out of availability of the venues in question, rather than intent on the part of the organizers of both festivals.” “Yes, Meltdown organizers are fully aware of Stringband and vice versa.” “I believe there to be no ill will between the two festivals, and, as such, they would never purposefully try and limit people’s participation in the events in a way that is both antithetical to their ethos and screws their fans out of the opportunity to take part in both events.” “They have consistently tried and consistently failed to book different weekends for the festivals.” “Don’t be silly: They love you. To the ends of the earth, no matter what festival you attend.”

Now that we’ve dispensed with those pertinent questions (please refer to this next year, and the year after that, and the year that follows that one as I don’t see this particular issue being resolved), it’s time to talk about Summer Meltdown (see next week’s issue for the lowdown on the hoedown that is the Subdued Stringband Jamboree).

In its 15th year, Meltdown has gone from being a smallish grassroots affair with big ideas and even bigger enthusiasm fueling them to being a Pretty Big Deal—albeit one that still steadfastly clings to its grassroots origins and is only fueled by bigger ideas and greater enthusiasm as time goes on. In other words, it has managed to avoid falling victim to the growing pains that can so often plague efforts such as these while remaining true to the spirit in which it was created and fostering growth that feels more organic than contrived.

And it’s still, hands down, the best time you can have during an August weekend in Darrington.

Although Meltdown has always stood for much that is good—inclusivity, environmental stewardship, the notion that people coming together for a good time is powerful in its own way—after last year’s devastating landslide in the area, in which 43 people lost their lives and which for a time blocked the highway leading to the festival site at the Whitehorse Mountain Amphitheater, Meltdown came to symbolize something more: revitalization of the still-scarred area and a commitment to a place that has become so very personal to festival organizers and attendees.

That, and Meltdown’s aforementioned 15th anniversary, have prompted this year’s iteration to be the biggest one yet.

The 2015 Summer Meltdown Festival kicks off on Thursday night (Aug. 6), but only for those in possession of a full weekend pass. That elite crew gets first crack at all the good camping spots (although its digs right on the Whitehorse River means scenic camping is abundant), a Mainstage performance by the Motet, as well as Fruition, Theoretics, and the Wooden Sky in the Beer Garden.

Come Friday, when the masses will truly begin to assemble, the Mainstage will host Greensky Bluegrass, Nahko and Medicine for the People, and the Brothers Comatose. In the Beer Garden, the lineup includes (but is not limited to) Polecat, Delhi to Dublin, Jon Wayne & the Pain, and more, while the Late Night Tent features Minnesota, Phutureprimitive, Willdabeast, and Surrealized for all those who have enough stamina to stay up way past my bedtime.

Saturday’s Mainstage lineup is the definition of a doozy, with STS9, Tycho, and Tubaluba on the roster. However, with performances by festival founders Flowmotion, along with Sol, the Dip, Heels to the Hardwood, and others, the Beer Garden has charms of its own. Late-night action can be found in the tent that bears that name, courtesy of Slow Magic, Yppah, Fear and Loathing, and Goodbye Heart.

Most festivals would probably use Sunday as an opportunity to either wind down or clean up before the start of the workweek, but Meltdown instead responds with “Pfft, what’s Monday?” and a full schedule of killer music by Galactic, Iration, and Eldridge Gravy & the Court Supreme on the Mainstage, and Current Swell, Lyrics Born, Acorn Project, the Hooky’s, and more in the Beer Garden. In perhaps its only concession to the encroaching of the Real World and Adult Life, the Late Night Tent will go silent Sunday night—but the party figures to go into the wee hours nonetheless.

As always, Meltdown is a festival that relies on the hard work and goodwill of a veritable army of volunteers. While the event preaches and practices a philosophy of laid-back good times, this can only happen as long as participants help make it so. Meltdown’s website is a wealth of good info about what to expect (yes, your car will be searched) and what to bring (and leave at home), so familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations (they’re minimal, I swear) and get ready to dance yourself into bliss in the place where the music meets the mountains.

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