The Tenth Anniversary of Northwest String Summit: Welcome Home

YMSB NWSS 2008 by Bill Ball

On July 21st, the tenth anniversary of Yonder Mountain String Band‘s Northwest String Summit will kick off at Horning’s Hideout, located in North Plains, Oregon, about 35 minutes outside of Portland. YMSB will be joined by a stellar lineup that includes Danny Barnes, Travelin’ McCourys, Emmitt-Nershi Band, Keller & the Keels, Cascadia Project, Todd Snider and Great American Taxi, Greensky Bluegrass, Railroad Earth, Cornmeal and Pert Near Sandstone. Old friends and up and comers alike will make appearences on the stage at Horning’s, in open door collaborations that will no doubt lead to many spontaneous, unforgettable musical moments.

But beyond the music, String Summit is a truly special festival you simply have to experience for yourself. There’s a real sense of home coming here, a spirit that embraces you from the first moments you set your travel-worn feet down on the soft Horning’s earth. Words don’t quite capture it, and will always fall short. As Pastor Tim Christensen, who has emceed the festival since 2003, says, “I try not to describe String Summit to people. Because I start to use superlatives.”

With his quick wit and big heart, Pastor Tim is the warm, fatherly – and endlessly quotable – voice that rallies the masses at String Summit, emphatically calling attendees to get down to the bowl, reminding them to alternate their beer and water, and helping return wander-some children back to their parents. We at the SPPS were stoked to chat to Pastor Tim, who, for those that don’t know, is indeed a Lutheran Pastor in Butte, Montana, about his thoughts on the tenth anniversary of the festival, his experience as the emcee, a special event planned for this year, and what happens late at night when you stick a Lutheran pastor and a dobro player on a golf cart.

Tell us how you came to be the emcee of String Summit.

Pastor Tim at NWSS by Bill Ball

In the first year of String Summit, 2002, my wife and son and I just came out for the festival. I was Yonder’s audio archivist, so I was just hanging out and recording the festival. There was a really nice guy, a DJ from KBOO in Portland who was the emcee. He had a great voice and a great presence and all that, but he didn’t really know the different bands. He hadn’t done the background [research] on them or knew about their music. He was a voice instead of a fan. So afterwards they asked me if I wanted to do it, and I was like, “How much do I have to pay you?.” [laughs]. So I started doing it the second year of String Summit and I’ve been doing it ever since.

My first year emceeing String Summit was the year I did it on crutches. I had horribly sprained my ankle three days before the festival started, so I was up and down the hills on crutches those three days of the festival. But on Sunday afternoon, the beginning of Yonder’s set, we did kind of a miracle healing. I’d actually been off the crutches for 12 hours, but I came on with my crutches, and the music “healed” me and I threw away my crutches. [laughs]. I’m a ham, I really am! I love doing this. I don’t get intimidated by crowds and I’m passionately in love with all of this music. I feel like String Summit is a member of my family. The whole thing is just such an important part of my life and I love getting to emcee there.

What are your feelings now that it’s coming on to the tenth year anniversary of the festival?

It doesn’t seem possible that we’ve been doing this for ten years already. It feels like we started doing this the day before yesterday. It still feels very new. There’s a lot of continuity in String Summit. Some festivals change a lot from year to year, but the only thing that changed for us from the very beginning was that in 2002 we had two stages. Afterwards we realized that that wasn’t necessary because every band that was playing on the second stage really deserved to be on the main stage. So that was part of the decision to put every band on the main stage. We started [the music] a little earlier, we typed up our set breaks and turnovers. We have a crack team on the stage. Our stage hands and our sound crew are phenomenal at working that stage in a manner of minutes. Sometimes we don’t even have time for tweeners because they are so good at turning the stage over and having everything ready.

But it is just great to put some smaller bands and lesser known bands up on that main stage with Yonder – or Grisman Quintet, or Old and In the Way – so they can say they played the main stage at String Summit. It’s gotten to where people say, “We played String Summit.” We’ve become a pretty big festival. It’s not something where you break a band because you played there, but when you’ve got a hard working band and you play String Summit, it actually means something when you go out and let people know that you played there, or that you’re going to be playing there. I think that a band like Fruition - who are a phenomenally talented band, I loved their first CD – I was really hoping that they were going to play String Summit. And when the schedule came out, it didn’t quite work out, but then the Cascadian Coffeehouse is going to be there. So Fruition is going to be playing in the coffeehouse at String Summit. This is going to be even better!

Horning’s really seems to bring out the best in people. Do you have any thoughts on why that is?

Camping at NWSS by Bill Ball

I had heard about Horning’s Hideout for years because I had really fallen in love with the music of String Cheese Incident back in the 90′s. So I had heard of this place out in Oregon, and the word that was always used to describe it was “magical.” I sort of took that as hype, until I got there. I got it as soon as I got there. I literally drove into the place and was like, “Holy goodness, I didn’t realize.” Anybody who is reading this may have that same feeling of, “Okay, that’s hype. I’ve heard this kind of stuff before.” But there truly is something magical about Horning’s Hideout. Beyond String Summit or any of the other events that go on there, it’s the place itself. It’s the rolling hills. It’s the separated campsites. It’s the beauty of the trees. It’s the peacocks. It’s Bob Horning and his family. It’s the pond and the trout. There are so many things there that make this place full of wonder and beauty.

But that also brings to me something. I try not to describe String Summit to people. Because I start to use superlatives. And I always feel like people are like, “Yeah yeah yeah. It’s your favorite show, and your favorite band and your favorite venue.” We’re so cynical. But anybody who ever goes there – everybody gets it. You cannot go to that place, you cannot be at String Summit, and not be changed by the experience of it. So you can’t tell people, “You have to go! It’s so incredible! Its so fantastic. It’s so amazing!” You just have to just say, “Come and check it out.” They come out, and then they get it and they keep coming back. They are the ones saying, “That was so incredible! That was so fantastic! That was so amazing!” It’s like you can’t be the Chamber of Commerce for String Summit. It tends to sell itself.

Is there anything special planned for the tenth anniversary that you can talk about?

Yonder Mountain String Band

We are going to be doing the very first ever induction into the Yonder Hall of Fame. And for those who are reading this, the Yonder Hall of Fame inductee is someone in the community of Yonder’s fanbase who has made a big difference in the scene or the way we communicate as Kinfolk [editor's note: see a full list of inductees at the end of the article]. It’s all voted on by members of the Kinfolk community, our online community. So every year somebody gets voted into the Yonder Hall of Fame. This year the inductee is a little girl named Lilli Trippe. That was one of those things that caught us all off guard, that we’re inducting a three year old girl, well she’ll be four by the time String Summit comes. [laughs]. [editor’s note: read more about Lilli, who has been battling Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia since she was about 8 months old, here and donate to St. Baldrick’s here]. But we’re inducting a four year old girl who really has made a huge difference in our community. So we decided to do something special. We are inviting all of the past inductees into the Hall of Fame to come and be there. We are going to be doing an onstage event, and we have a plaque where all the Yonder Hall of Fame inductees are going to be inscribed, and where we can add new people every year. This is formalizing that there’s something about this Kinfolk community and this family vibe that we have that really does make a difference. The band has always recognized it, their management has always recognized it, and our online community has always recognized it. Everybody is a part of the family. We used to be on Yahoo groups, then we were on Phantasy Tour, then we were on the Yonder Forum and now we’re on Facebook. It keeps morphing and changing but everybody needs to be in touch. We thought that formalizing it with the Yonder Hall of Fame induction ceremony would be a cool way of marking the tenth anniversary of the festival.

Is the plaque going to hang at Horning’s?

I don’t know where it’s hang! We talked about making it like the Stanley Cup. You know, the latest inductee gets to keep it for a year [laughs]. I don’t know what we’re going to do with it, but I just think it’s cool that we’re finally going to have some place where this isn’t just something that’s passing. This is really a part of who we are as a fanbase, as a Kinfolk family.

Is there anything else you want to talk about with String Summit?

Of course there’s some diff bands and some different bands and some late night stuff. The other thing that is new is the Cascadian Coffeehouse. Voodoo Donuts is going to be in there.

[I make the Homer Simpson gurgle]

See, I don’t know about this yet! But a friend of mine Phil Peters has already asked me to make sure to get a maple bacon bar, and to get a picture of me with it, and then I have to inhale it. I would do this duty for my friend, just because he can’t be there this year.

But the Cascadian Coffeehouse is going to be running as a coffeehouse, and there’s going to be live music in there. It’s going to be acoustic sets and late night sets for the people who want to stay up late and hang out there. I think it’s a really cool space to have. We’ve never done this before, so its just another way of expanding the hours of music. I think last year we had something like 32 hours of music on the main stage. We’re adding a fourth night this year, now that our Thursday night has become a three band night, so that probably adds another 10 hours of music. So now we’re talking about 40 something hours of music at this festival, plus the late night coffeehouse -I can’t even add it all up. But it’s near constant music.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Well the only other thing that I would say I’m really looking forward to is the return of my brother-of-another-mother Anders Beck and Greensky Bluegrass. They were not there last year and I’m really excited they’re back. Mostly because it means late night Sunday golf cart shenanigans. I’m sworn to secrecy beyond that. That’s almost become a part of String Summit.

Yes, many Kinfolk know of the legendary golf cart shenanigans, just maybe not the insider details [laughs].

Like many people do not know that there was one year when Anders, Pete Kartsounes, Robert Greer from Town Mountain and I were all on a golf cart and we serenaded two very arms-folded security guards at about three o’clock in the morning with the Kansas song “Dust in the Wind.” That was one of those moments I will never forget about String Summit. Mostly because we couldn’t remember all the words to the second verse, so we just started cracking up and drove away.

NWSS 2010 by Bill Ball

Tickets are still available for the tenth anniversary of Northwest String Summit. Click here to purchase tickets and for more information.

Inductees into the Yonder Hall of Fame are:

2001 Benjamin Hines
2002 Pastor Tim Christensem
2003 Mark Burnell
2004 Brad Burleson
2005 Penny Zemp
2006 Bobby Ray
2007 Benny Galloway
2008 Sandy Alexander and Stella Fleming
2009 Jeffrey Smith
2010 Lilli Trippe

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July 3rd, 2011