This summer has been one of the busiest summers of my life. Almost every weekend from the end of June through the beginning of August was spent at one music festival or another, either performing or documenting with fellow members of E.E. My journey began with What The Festival in Dufur, Oregon. I was blown away, but saturated with the bittersweet feeling that, while I’d experienced such an amazing music festival, nothing in the long line of event-filled weekends ahead of me would live up to it. And then I went to Summer Meltdown.
Meltdown was a different experience altogether for me. Instead of the usual big crew, I rolled up to Darrington, Washington with Miranda of Corevette, our Editor in Chief, Shontelle, and Shontelle’s 8-year-old daughter, Harmony. I’m not gonna lie, I was initially skeptical of a festival that allowed and even catered to familial vacationers, complete with a roped-off Kid’s Zone and everything. I mean, I love a good hootenanny complete with inebriation and debauchery as much as the next festival goer, but, taken to a certain extreme, I wouldn’t think it fit for children.
On the flip side, a place too fit for children might lack the “let’s get weird’ attitude and antics that festivals provide as an escape from society. Despite my own misgivings, Meltdown proved able to achieve that balance flawlessly, creating the most family-friendly festival I’ve ever been to and also enjoyed to a great degree.
Billing itself as the “largest locally-produced independent camping and music festival in the Pacific Northwest,” we visited Summer Meltdown in its 16th year, looking forward to a solid lineup that included Beats Antique, Blue Scholars, Keys n Krates, Gramatik, Griz, and STS9. The sold out event of 4,000 took place at the Whitehorse Mountain Amphitheater at the foot of a majestic mountain, from which the amphitheater derives its name.
The scenery was beautiful, and the stage setup was perfect. The main amphitheater stage was huge, and to the right of it was a smaller stage near a beer garden where more of the live bands setups would play. Organizers kept the action focused on either or, creating a festival schedule that was still engaging and largely without conflict–a tough feat.
We set up our tents a little further off the beaten path than we normally would for Harmony’s sake. This didn’t detract from the experience at all–in fact, it was fascinating to witness somebody so young encounter such a strange, foreign, and wonderful environment. All these grownups, camping in a makeshift little village for the weekend, congregating and reveling in the sound of music–not everybody is hip to letting children in on this world, fearing corruption of innocence, preferring to shelter children from these environments rather than guide them through them. I can respect that, and, in terms of other festivals I’ve been to this year, might agree. To that end, I think there’s something to be said about the attendees as well as the staff and artists who make Summer Meltdown what it is.
I noticed it on the first night, while we were watching and photographing Beats Antique, and reaffirmed my observations on the second night during Gramatik: this festival had a more down-to-earth vibe, with an attendee demographic that differed from the usual 20- to 30-somethings looking to go hard and dance their faces off. There seemed to be just as many chill folk sitting on the steps of the amphitheater, listening to funky tunes with their friends and family as there were young cats getting wild in the pit below.
This isn’t to say that the festival was “conservative” per-say, just defined by a wider representation of souls from various walks of life. For every totem-packing, painted-face, dance machine that I saw walking around, there was a plain clothed, humbly dressed festival-goer like myself–and both were enjoying the atmosphere as much as the other.
The one thing that really stuck out in my mind as the theme tying all of these people together, tying the whole festival together in fact, was familial care. You’d even catch it from many of the artists who ended their sets with advice for the crowds, “take care of each other.” It’s a bittersweet recognition. You generally don’t experience that same sense of communal care out there in the ‘real’ world, or even at some larger festivals. The fact that Summer Meltdown could embody such a positive facet of the human experience and provide the stellar lineup it did is its defining characteristic in my mind.
I’d hoped, between our talks about the dung beetle’s natural ability to navigate-by-star and the deadly mating ritual of the praying mantis (Harmony wants to be an entomologist when she grows up, she tells me), that my newfound 8-year-old buddy was also picking up on this sense of common care. She certainly wasn’t without souvenirs from that community after all was said and done–nearly every vendor we passed by gifted her something in the way of trinkets or other doo-dads.
Summer Meltdown’s late night stage deserves mention in this context as well. The likes of Michael Minert, Exmag, and a slew of other performers kept the party going til the early morning for those who weren’t taking care of children, further evidence of well-thought out festival design and the ability to preserve nightlife and entertainment aimed at adults without compromising an atmosphere of familial care.
With a solid late night lineup and amazing mainstage performances that words can’t begin capture, this festival repped artistry to be rivaled. Mix that with an amazing culture of staff, vendors, artists, and attendees, and you’ll achieve the perfect alignment that is Summer Meltdown.
Be sure to check out our video recap and gallery of Summer Meltdown 2016, and remember:
Take care of each other 🙂