It’s a bit difficult to accurately convey in words the many factors big and small that contribute to making Timber! Outdoor Music Festival a weekend unlike any other. As cliche as it might seem, Timber really is one of those things that has to be experienced in person to be fully appreciated. Now in its third year, the festival brought three days and nights of music, swimming, mountain biking, skydivers dropping in to a game of bubble futból, good food and beer, outdoor diversions, great community, and so much more to the banks of the Snoqualmie River at Carnation’s Tolt-MacDonald Park.
The folks at Artist Home, the production company behind Timberrr (its winter sister held in Leavenworth each January), and the beloved Doe Bay Fest held each August on Orcas Island, describe Timber as “summer camp for adults.” That motto holds true in more ways than one.
Unlike many other festivals, with their bevy of overlapping stages, Timber had just two, plus some other secret venues. Bands are not booked on top of each other, so fans are never faced with tough decisions of which show to watch. This lessens the FOMO stress, and allows people to just go with the flow. The main stage ran all day long and into the evening, and once darkness fell it was time for the crowd to make their way to the intimate campfire stage, tucked into a clearing in the woods. On Thursday evening an “after party” show was held at Pete’s Bar and Grill in town with, a bit of a treat for locals and early attendees alike.
The camp grounds remained clean and uncrowded throughout the weekend, and there were no late night thumping sound systems. This was a festival where you could wake up and go mountain biking on the park’s trails, swim and float all day in the river (or take a free paddle with REI), enjoy music into the night, go stargazing with an astronomer for an after party, then catch a good night’s sleep so you could be rested and ready to do it all over again the next day. And it was all just 45 minutes from the city, so plenty of people chose to make the drive each day and spend the night home in their own beds. Kids and families made up a good portion of the friendly audience.
The festival kicked off on Thursday afternoon, with 2015 EMP Sound Off winner Emma Lee Toyoda first to play the Campfire Stage. She and was one of several young and talented acts to grace the festival, which has made it a point to introduce audiences to new sounds. The first day was filled with mostly local/northwest musicians like the beautifully-voiced Tomo Nakayama, and a comedy hour from Derek Sheen, Bri Pruett, and Evan Morrison. Rootsy rockers Bigfoot Wallace & His Wicked Sons and Lonesome Shack played those later night shows in Carnation at Pete’s.
Highlights of Friday included soul star on-the-rise Grace Love & The True Loves, and the infectiously poppy, fun dance party of Seattle’s Beat Connection, which really got the crowd moving. The night culminated in an intimate acoustic performance from Jon, Josiah, and Charity of The Head and The Heart. This group got their start busking at Pike Place Market, and have grown in popularity to stadium-filling fame. To see them back on their home turf, playing for a smaller, attentive audience was a special moment indeed.
Saturday was a blazing hot day in the 90s, and the river offered a much needed respite from the heat. Still, plenty of people enjoyed a more rock oriented day of music from bands like Naked Giants, Tacocat, and La Luz. The headliner, 80s Philadelphia jokesters The Dead Milkmen, continued the punk rock energy. This sarcastic, profane, hilarious band was a bit of a departure from much of the earnest fare of Timber’s past acts. Yet the crowd seemed ready to rock, and laugh, and a flip flop mini mosh pit kicked up dust with abandon.
David Bazan, former leader of Pedro The Lion, closed out the festival back on the campfire stage with an emotionally raw set of songs. He kicked off with the more electro synth sounds off his decade old album Headphones, then switched to acoustic guitar to regale the audience with bittersweet songs and often funny banter.
For many, the festival ended there, on a definite musical high note. But for those who had followed a trail of digital breadcrumbs in the form of geocached clues, there was one more secret show in store. Seattle’s The Maldives played a stripped down, completely unamplified set for a lucky 50 or so people huddled under the stars. Jason Dodson led the band through a complete performance of their as-of-yet unreleased new album. Folks listened in rapt attention, straining to catch every note.
Timber is a special festival. It is a perfect balance of relaxation and excitement, fun party and mellower moments. The setting is top notch, yet easy to get to. This is one of those events for people who have sworn off other festivals. It draws a wonderfully tight knit community, yet feels as though it has room to grow and welcome newcomers without losing its unique appeal.
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