Timber! Music Festival
July 12-14, 2018
Words and Photos by Todd Terry
I have been to a lot of different music festivals over the years. What I am looking to get out of the experience has definitely changed over time.
When I went to Reading and slept in a sheet on the muddy ground for three nights, I thought it was a great adventure. When Lollapalooza was a touring festival and I had to remember to leave my wallet chain in the car, I was all into it. When you could sneak a six pack of beer in your backpack into Bumbershoot, I looked forward to it every year. Right now, Artist Home Presents‘ Timber! is exactly what I am looking for in a music festival.
The Carnation, Wash.-based yearly event is the most laid back festival I have ever been to, and that is a good thing. The lineup is almost exclusively local and regional artists, and it is as much about discovering new acts as it is about seeing ones that you already know and love.
Logistically, there are only two stages with no overlap in schedules, so you don’t have to worry about any conflicts. A lot of people are happy to watch from their blankets in the field, so it is always easy to get near the front of the stage. There is no obvious security staff at the stages, which is a real nice change of pace when you have spent a lot of time at shows trying to see a band between the gaps. The beer gardens have some great views of the stage, so you can also watch sets from there and not feel like you are missing out.
Kids under the age of 12 are free, so they are everywhere, and that should absolutely be a deal breaker for me, but somehow at Timber it all works. People are friendly and respectful. Everyone has a good time and no one seems worried about being cool. At all. Plus there is a river just steps from the campground that is perfect for cooling off in the middle of the day. Well played, Timber.
Thanks to Seattle traffic, my wife and I arrived in the infamous Camper Van Bookwalter we borrowed from Andy just before 9 p.m. on Thursday. We crossed the swaying 500-foot suspension bridge and got to the beautifully illuminated Campfire stage in time to catch the Sons of Rainier. Their old-timey folk sounds, soothing harmonies, and a much needed trip to the beer garden made us forget all of the worries of the road. In the mustache department, these guys were four for four. A clean sweep.
It was during their set that I had my first encounter with Timber organizer Kevin Sur. He was just about to go from the beer garden to the stage with a beer in hand, but caught himself just in time. He said that if anyone should be following the rules, it should probably be him. During the weekend he was everywhere. Catching parts of sets from almost all of the bands, making announcements from the stage, driving a golf cart, and seemingly pitching in wherever he could. I kind of wanted to give him a hug, but he seemed real hot so maybe in the winter.
Next up was 45th Street Brass Band who were bringing the horns. So much sousaphone. Their music played like the soundtrack to a movie I had never seen. They got the crowd dancing and closed out the evening on a great note. Pun most definitely intended.
After a morning trip to the river and a walk in to Carnation for lunch, the first band I caught on Friday was Misundvrstood and Gypsy Temple on the main stage. I saw them at Upstream in June and was excited to catch them in a new setting. Their high energy mix of rap, rock, and positivity sounded great, but it was tough for them to get the level of audience participation they were looking for the in the heat of the midday sun. Later in the day Gypsy Temple played an acoustic set on the lawn, and got to show their softer side.
One of my biggest discoveries of the festival has to be Petunia & the Vipers, who played top notch Canadian yodeling cowboy music. Petunia, with his dark hair, sequined jacket, and string tie, made me think of a mashup of Nick Cave and Chris Isaak. Their songs effortlessly touched on so many (Canadian) Americana styles, and sounded fantastic on a warm summer evening. And did I mention the yodeling? The band were consummate professionals, and did not even seem to notice when a large part of their audience consisted of long haired children running everywhere. Where exactly are they going? At one point Petunia said that his next project was a digital series called The Musicianer. “The Musicianer?” Could that be real? I kind of love them.
I have to admit that the music of Polyrhythmics is not exactly my thing, but they were a big hit with the Timber crowd. Their instrumental mix of funk, soul, rock, and other genres that I am less well versed in got the crowd moving like white people hearing John Mayer and his electric guitar in the classic Chappelle’s Show skit. To me it sounded like they were playing songs from my favorite 70s shows and that made a fine soundtrack for my wait in line at the Dumpling Tzar food truck.
Holy shit. Kyle Craft was amazing. The set started with just him, a guitar and a harmonica and he played several newly-written songs about the current political climate and its impact on the people. His poignant, topical political songs made me rage at the state of the country and also nearly brought me to tears. “Land of the free, home of the depraved.” Preach! Billy Bragg meets Woodie Guthrie, with a young Bob Dylan also in the mix.
Then he brought out his band, and I sang along to songs that I didn’t know I knew. Maybe he is actually my Bruce Springsteen. Plus he did all of this while wearing some sweet red cowboy boots. He was pulling them off. Kyle Craft is for the children.
The evening closed out with Thao (of The Get Down Stay Down) at the Campfire stage. She was playing solo, but she played enough different instruments for an entire band. You could tell she was an inspiration and role model for all the young women in crowd who hung on her every word.
Beverly Crusher hit the main stage Saturday in the blazing midday sun. These guys were hard rockin’ and dressed for summer. Tank tops, shorts, and baseball caps were the required uniform of the day. The drummer looked like a young Steve Zahn in a Kurt Vonnegut Breakfast of Champions t-shirt. These guys were so committed to the look that they were all wearing the same outfits the next day at the river. The music was pummeling, but the vibe was anything but heavy. Beverly Crusher is some next generation shit. As the t-shirt I bought says “Beverly Crusher. Have a good day.”
Brothers from Another brought the summertime jams with their preppy style and some pretty sweet dance moves. I think this was the first show the group had played in quite a while, and damn they were having a good time at their self-declared “family reunion on stage.” Their songs about day drinking and hot sauce got people to move out of the shade and start jumping. “Sweet as Tampico, hot as Tapatio.” Their “DJ” had a laptop, a high hat cymbal, and Rainier tallboy, and was able to pay equal attention to all of them. It looked like that guy has a pretty sweet gig.
Ruler showed up in full Summer of George mode. Shorts and glasses were not optional. They played a solid set of indie rock that at times involved what seemed like an inordinate amount of tuning. They gave a shout out to the babies in the audience, and were occasionally reminiscent of Winnipeg’s favorite sons The Weakerthans.
Naked Giants played full on spazz rock, and called out “all of the South Lake Union Fuck Faces.” With their manic energy, rock poses, and stellar musicianship, you would have to be some kind of jerk to not like this band. There was hair flinging, they had ample high kicks, and they played their instruments behind their backs, so what’s not to like? Amazingly, their drummer seemed to be wandering around the stage the whole set, but somehow he never missed a beat.
The main stage closed out with a pretty amazing set from Car Seat Headrest. The touring version of the band now includes all three members of Naked Giants, so their set up involved two drummers and, at times, three guitarists. A full-on indie rock army, but in a completely non-militant kind of way. Would that make lead singer Will Toledo a super polite George S. Patton? They don’t really sound anything alike, but their set reminded me of seeing Modest Mouse in the Good News for People Who Love Bad News era. Sometimes indie rock bands decide that more is better and they end up being very right. Car Seat Headrest are the band for the coming nerdist revolution and they will not be “destroyed by hippie powers.”
Drink of Choice
Beer Garden: Rainier tallboys, cans of House wine
Campground: Rolling Rock, Ninkasi Prismatic IPA, and Strawberry Basil Punch
This has got to go to the woman in the main stage beer garden who said matter-of-factly to her friend, “I’m drunk Carol. I drank a can of wine.” Those $5 cans of House wine will definitely catch up with you. Runner up would have to go to the young girl whose shirtless father was really trying to get her to dance during Petunia & the Vipers. Her eyes sent daggers in his direction and I am pretty sure that I could hear her inner monologue screaming “Hey Dad, put on a shirt.”
Most Valuable Player
This one was easy. Petunia & the Vipers’ lap steel player Jimmy Roy looked like Green Mile-era Harry Dean Station and was completely comfortable in his cowboy hat and mandals. He had the aura of a guy who has been a professional musician since the ‘70s, knows that he has the chops, and is cool as fuck without even trying.