As a rule, I don't particularly enjoy music festivals. I've learned to expect and anticipate the inconveniences and disappointments that inevitably accompany the process of amassing a shitload of faceplant drunks in the same place, while attempting to deal with shuffling a bunch of disparate bands and instruments around every 45 minutes on multiple stages. Though I still attend them, over the past ten years or so, I've learned to lower my expectations to account for:
- Sound quality that is inconsistent at best and intolerable at worst
- Mobs of tailgaters (i.e. people who are more interested in getting wasted than actually hearing music)
- Overpriced food and booze
- Getting injured, screamed at and/or vomited on
- Draconian re-entry rules designed to force you to buy the shitty food and expensive booze
- Overcrowding, which results in
- Trash strewn everywhere.Doe Bay Music Festival is the first festival I have ever attended which did not suffer from any of these issues. The bands all sounded great, the crowd was respectful and everyone got as wasted as usual and still managed to behave like adults, even in the absence of any real security presence. I mean, people actually picked up their cans and cigarette butts. It was goddamn revolutionary. And when I decided to shell out $10 for a pizza, it came in a size big enough for two people to share, was covered in sausage and was as good as anything I'd pay as much money for in Seattle. Best of all, the crowd showed real, tireless enthusiasm for the music, and the bands responded in kind with spontaneous sing-alongs and other impromptu performances that outshone the official, staged shows. Add in that you are observing all this while camping out in a woodland resort, on an island, in the sunshine, and it's easy to feel like the Ecotopia of Ernest Callenbach's novel is suddenly not such a remote possibility.
I showed up to the strains of the Portland Cello Project playing the Super Mario Brothers theme, which they followed up with Elliott Smith, Rihanna and my personal favorite, "Hey Ya," which was improved verily by the deadpan delivery of the spoken parts. Nothing like a pale, nerdy dude telling we ladies to shake it like a Polaroid picture. Better yet was when Justin Power got up there and did a few songs with the band. Hey Marseilles followed that up with a set was what I expected -- high-energy, Old-meets-New-World pop music -- and that was that for the main stage on Friday.
After 10 pm, noise rules forced us indoors to the cafe and the yoga studio. The cafe shows went well -- these were small, acoustic performances by individual songwriters, most of whom were involved in the other bands playing the fest -- but that's because there were windows and space to breathe. The yoga studio, on the other hand, was a sweltering Hades -- not that this stopped people from cramming in there. Alas, I couldn't take the twenty-degree temperature difference and a mist of other peoples' vaporized sweat, so I turned right back around and went outside to listen near the window, which actually provided me with pretty good sound, if not visuals. Toward the end of the set, someone wrote "SO FUCKING HOT" in the steam, backwards -- and yet, I'm pretty sure they stayed for the whole show. If the performances were more energetic than usual, it was due as much to the audience dedication as it was the idyllic surroundings.
Then, on Saturday, the band played an acoustic set on the porch of the (closed) general store during THEE Satisfaction's yoga studio show, and though I've seen them before, it was the set that made me truly fall in love with a band I'd merely liked before that weekend. During the set, Joe Brotherton, the owner of Doe Bay, interjected that the band will be on the mainstage of Doe Bay next year. The band accepted, and if I hadn't already been convinced ten million times over that I would be returning the following year, that surely did it. If you haven't seen them yet, they'll be at the Mural Amphitheater on August 27.
The Maldives, meanwhile, played a set of almost exclusively new songs and they are undoubtedly the band's best music to date -- both for the sort of metal sound that came through when Jesse Bonn and Tim Gadbois were dueling on the guitar and for Jason Dodson's lyricism, which has matured into something truly exceptional. This became even clearer when I observed Dodson play a brand-new tune for one of Sound on the Sound's outdoor forest recording sessions (most of which I had the privilege to watch, and I urge you to check out all of their Doe Bay videos as they appear on Sound on the Sound over the coming weeks) accompanied by Kevin Barrans on harmonies.
The highlight of the festival for me, though, was Drew Grow and the Pastors' Wives, who put on the heaviest, most compelling show of the festival in a line-up of bands who all offered up stellar performances. Grow is a rare frontman, howling into the microphone with the passionate conviction of a revivalist preacher (makes sense, I suppose, given his religious background) -- at the beginning of the set, everyone was seated, and by the end, it was almost difficult to get to the front of the crowd. The band's carved out a distinct, mutable folk rock sub-niche in which both stand-up bass and Seth Schaper's accomplished slide guitar have a place, where strumming and pretty, lilting, CSNY harmonies can give way to Grow's guttural, Corgan-esque howling. And I have never seen a person wield a stand-up bass in such a rock-and-roll fashion as Kris Doty (who also sings beautifully) does. I encourage anyone who's planning on attending their CD release party September 11 at Columbia City Theater to buy tickets for it well in advance.
On a whole, however, the best moments of the festival took place off-stage, around the campfire or on Sound on the Sound's picnic table. Widower's Kevin Large is a remarkable songwriter who could use a band to highlight his moving, sometimes painfully sorrowful lyrics. "Come Monday Morning," which you can listen to on MySpace, had me in tears. But not even his cover of Lisa Loeb's "Stay" could top the campfire singalong he hosted afterward. Everyone -- the musicians, the fans, me -- sang along and harmonized. I stayed through the three o'clock hour and "Cecilia," then stumbled off to my tent. This is a festival for people who really love music and respect the artists who do it, and the artists respond in kind by providing heartfelt musical responses to that energy that you just don't get at a festival like Sasquatch. This continued through Sunday night, even though the festival had come to its official conclusion -- and should I have done my job and convinced you to go next year, I highly recommend leaving Monday unless you want to spend eight hours of your Sunday at the Orcas Island ferry terminal.
Of course, all these words later, I haven't even begun to touch on all of the amusing, non-musical moments of the festival (homemade slip and slide sessions, for one). There are not enough words in the English language to express my appreciation for all of the wonderful music I heard and the sweet people I was fortunate enough to meet and spend time with over the past weekend. You've spoiled me, Doe Bay. I will never view music festivals the same way again.