Dont Call It a Comeback: Redefining “Festival” at Doe Bay Fest

by juli boggs

Doe Bay Fest 2010- year of the flying ant, which was somewhat less critical than the oft hushed-up year of the flying squirrel which caused thousands of dollars worth of property damage and threatened to shut down the whole event about six years ago… Did you catch that? That was a lie because this year was just the event’s third recurrence among the secluded coves and forested outcroppings along the edge of Orcas Island. The festival that has quickly become a beacon of anti-Bumbershoot/ Coachella/ Sasquatch!/ overwhelming music festivals ad nauseam, pulled off yet another year that was as memorable for its impromptu sets and events as those carefully planned for the main stage.

Rather than contributing simply another summer bummer to the overcrowded NW scene, Doe Bay Fest has sought to be a refuge for artists and their appreciators seeking a more intimate musical experience. It’s like a big family camping trip, or Americana summer camp, or a weekend conference for cool new moms facing a battalion of three-year-olds. If there’s one outright characteristic of DB that must be mentioned, it’s the sheer number of babies everywhere. Touting itself as a family affair, that’s exactly what it’s become, and every year more and more individuals bud off and become parents, or A-sexually divide, I can’t really say because I’m not sure how it happens. Regardless, it’s kind proof that there is life after birth, as far as a rock and roll lifestyle goes, though it includes more arts and crafts, marshmallows, and sippy cups than you’d imagine.

Organized in part by the ever kind and present forces of Kevin Sur and Chad Clibborn with the wise-nod of resort overlord “Joe Bay” himself, the festival does a good job at bringing in a wide range of music within the fairly amorphous genre of “folk”. A special treat this year was the Portland Cello Project,  a small orchestral group who performed a selection of classical pieces along with interpretations of modern works by groups such as Outcast and Lady Gaga. While maintaining an onstage balance of spectacle and refined sophistication, the group’s real strength lies in their collaboration with other artists as they added their backing touch to other sets throughout the weekend alongside Drew Grow and The Pastors Wives, Shenandoah Davis, and Kaylee Cole.

Looking around the resort grounds, you notice that the lines between participant and audience is blurred. Everyone is enthusiastically photographing, documenting, blogging, collaborating, contributing;  which is exactly how it should be, because when everyone is taking an active role in what’s going on, they’re all getting so much more out of it. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a whole scene to make a festival.

With more than 25 artists performing, the talent is an equal mix of familiar names and curious new talents, primarily  recruited from the local NW scene.  While most acts wouldn’t necessarily ring a bell outside of the Seattle area, the music itself is really secondary to the why people come at all: the atmosphere. Those who managed to grab their tickets before they sold out in the first couple of weeks, did so to be involved in this special place. Where they’re not just an audience, but part of a community celebrating porch-side jams, sunshine, brunch, naked hot tubs, and late night singalongs in a stunning alcove of the Puget Sound- and all for next to nothing.

After a Sunday morning exodus by most of the crowd, those who choose to stick around were granted a lazy day, a slip ‘n’ slide, and spontaneous performances on the cafe’s Patio stage. A closing set by Indian Valley Line more or less “officially” wrapped up the festival with a perfect picture of what it is to celebrate Doe Bay: sun setting over the water, stragglers playing frisbee and kickball with toddlers, people drinking beer between boats rafted together in the bay, a chorus of voices from The Head and the Heart echoing in from the point. Had an actual Orca whale leaped over a rainbow with real pots of gold, I would say things couldn’t have been any better. But anyone could agree, it felt pretty good all the same.

Keep an eye out for the Doe Bay Sessions organized for Sound On The Sound as they’re released. The first of the batch is due out August 24th.

*Header photo from Seattle Subsonic