Subdued Stringband Jamboree

Suffering is optional

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

It is true to say that I grieve each and every event, concert series and festival canceled due to COVID-19. However, in the interest of honesty, it is not accurate to say I mourn them equally, as some own a larger piece of my heart and experience than others.

One of the losses I’ve felt most keenly has been the Subdued Stringband Jamboree. When the live music was turned off a few months ago, I knew festival founder Robert Sarazin Blake would have to call this year’s Jamboree off, and yet when it happened, I still felt it deeply. While I don’t attend the festival every single year as I used to, the Jamboree and its community is an integral part of my own growth within the music community as a whole, and having it not happen stung.

But Stringband has always been, at its core, as much about that community as it has been about the music itself. And that community, at its core, is about figuring shit out. It is adept in the art of navigating and troubleshooting any and all obstacles, and though Blake might’ve felt at first that they only thing to do was take go on hiatus for 2020, others nudged him in a different direction.

“For a moment back in March, at the prospect of postponing the 2020 Jamboree, I felt a sigh of relief,” Blake says. “After 19 summers of organizing a jamboree, I started to imagine an alternate pace to my summer. First up, I planned on finishing War and Peace, which I theoretically read in high school but abandoned somewhere after 1,100 pages. The momentum of the crew quickly derailed my plans for Tolstoy, and we’ve scratching at the plan since mid April.”

“The plan” has taken form, the 2020 festival has been rechristened the “Tin Can Jamboree,” and the details are now fleshed out. This year’s Stringband is not just a showcase of the music we’ve all come to expect and love, but is also living, breathing proof of the power of ingenuity and adaptability in trying times.

It’ll work like this: On the original Stringband dates—Aug. 7-8—a safety-minded skeleton crew will film and record the lineup of musicians, and those performances will be beamed out into our ears, eyes and hearts via Facebook, YouTube, and the Jamboree’s website, as well as broadcast live on KMRE 102.3 FM.

“We’ve been guided by three principles,” Blake says. “1. In the state of Washington, by order of the governor under the stay-at-home order, artist and musician livestreaming is an essential service. 2. All plans need to be flexible to meet COVID safety needs. 3. Physical distancing is mandatory, but suffering is optional—lets have some fun.”

Fun shall be had and it’ll come courtesy of Blake himself (of course), Devin Champlin (who contributed a video as part of Stringband’s cocktail series about how to make a Luker Duker that I have watched a lot of times), Sweetheart of the Rodeo, Cumulus, Baby Gramps, Sweater Weather String Band, Tango Cowboys, Meg Yates and the Kindred, Hot Damn Scandal, the Sweet Goodbyes, Strangely, and more.

As I type, a carefully chosen crew of Jamboree volunteers is setting up a backyard stage in accordance with CDC and state guidelines and hammering out the final details about how to present the event while keeping everyone involved safe. While it would certainly be easier for musicians to perform at home or in their own backyards, Blake says that’s not in keeping with the spirit of the thing.

“It’s important to me that all the musicians perform from the same stage live for the at-home audience,” he says. “We’ll be presenting a consistency of sound, space and subdued charm. The at-home audience will be able to watch the shade on the set shift throughout the day. A livestream isn’t as good as the real thing but it’s still live. We know as viewers we’re sharing a moment with the performer.”

This extra-subdued Subdued Stringband Jamboree isn’t exactly what Blake had envisioned for the 20th anniversary of the event. However, he’s able to appreciate that it’s very much a return to the festival’s roots.

“This 20th annual ‘Tin Can’ Jamboree has been scaled down from three days to two days, from 40 performers to 14, from international performers to a hyper-local lineup,” he says, “but it’s still the Jamboree and—just like the first annual—it’s being held in a backyard.”

Sometimes, you really can go home again.

Information about the Subdued Stringband Jamboree—including how to buy merch and donate in support of the event—can be found at

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