November 10-13, 2022 in Seattle
By Frida Ray
Photos by Alton and Kelly Fleek
Sweet goddamn Seattle —where to begin this musical love note? How about with my choice of clothing for the festival: mini skirt, half shirt, vintage vibe high heel boots and sparkly leg warmers. Not the best of ideas on a cold-ass PNW night, stomping around the tenth annual Freakout! Truth be told, I had completely spaced on the fact that many of the bands I love would be playing outdoors: thank the gods for the wee fire pits. Curses to the turkey that filled them with stinky Presto logs —still grateful, even though those fuckers gave me asthma.
Traffic had me arriving nearly an hour late but not too late to catch the hummingbird soft pop of La Fonda on the outdoor stage, already drawing a nice crowd for a cold, earlier slot at the fest. My heart always flutters for this band —powerful sisters who dip and sway together as their harmonic voices mingle with guitars and reverb. I felt fortunate to see half of their set and have plenty of time to catch up with folks before I headed into the Salmon Bay Lo Stage to see Asterhouse.
Asterhouse have been elevating locally for quite some time, enjoying excellent festival placement, a KEXP in-studio session and more. Front magician John Thornburg treated the growing crowd to some excellent dad jokes and general hilarious schtick —suddenly diving into the bands’ first song without warning. It was brilliant. By their second song, the crowd was growing steadily, but honestly, Asterhouse don’t appear to care if there are 14 or 400 fans in front of them. They play hard and passionately regardless —something I love and admire about this pop-rock trio.
After warming my buns indoors for Asterhouse, Biblioteka was just getting underway as my thighs felt the cold damp sting of the night while I hustled back to the outdoor stage. Easily one of the most fun, energetic and sexy bands in town right now, Biblioteka not only brought their pop driven post punk to the icy offerings, they rocked a quality Venus in Furs aesthetic from head to toe. Front-goddess Mary Robins mesmerized with her usual flair — voice and intention on lock: Tilda Swinton as a vampire as a rock goddess as a guitar god in my heart. See them. Dance to them. ‘Nuff said.
My thighs began to feel like Smithfield Hams hanging in a deli window just in time for me to hear the dulcet sounds of a woodland succubus drifting down the hall and out an open door behind me. Bewitched, I nearly ran to the top of the Salmon Bay Hi Stage stairs for Olympia’s Oh, Rose. I could go on and on and on and on about how this band quickens my pulse. Olivia Rose —temptress, poet, dream weaver, howler of pain, song maven, witch. The liquid light show behind her, the poise and prose, the wall of sound she weaves in and out of. It’s true love for me and a perfect treat for a Sunday night in autumn. My soul was warmed from the inside out, and thankfully, so were my thighs. Back out into the cold-ass night…
Shaina. Pretty sure that beautiful name, with or without the fullness of saying Shaina Shepherd, conjures tremendous power. This is a person on the move —full of manifestations and her own self-built empire. Her soundcheck was deliberate. She wouldn’t begin until her world was dialed in just right. Her choice of attire always gives me a little hint at where she might be placing her power for the night —her silky black and gold shawl really said it all: she was here to say something into the wind, and we’d better listen. Shaina’s voice rang high and full of vibrato over the shimmering keys under her fingers, melting the chill from my bones long enough to lose myself in her aura —satisfied and smiling from that experience, it was time for a whiskey, and more warmth.
I toddled off to the Tractor to catch my beloved Smokey Brights —darlings of grand proportion and an amazing local act: their honey-soaked love rock never disappoints. Whiskey in hand, I was greeted with hugs and smiles at the stage. Not only are these pop-rock beauties talented, but they are also some of the kindest, most genuine folks you’ll ever meet. The crowd streamed in consistently as Kim and Ryan’s voices collided in rainbows above us —belying the neuron twisting nature of the liquid light show and bathing the crowd in that ‘everything is gonna be alright’ comfy couch of snuggle-pop. I always feel like I’ve just left the happiest wedding every time I catch a set. If the legacy of Smokey Brights is pure love and lust for life, I’m here for it.
Acid Tongue, oh Acid Tongue, your psych-pop-jangle-rock thrills me. Guy Keltner and Ian Cunningham, co-creators of the festival, Freakout Records label, and all-around elevators of our local sonic landscape brought every goddamn ounce of tour polish to the Salmon Bay Hi Stage. Backed by a glorious entourage of power talent: Shaun Crawford, Faith Stankevich, Alyssa Martini and more —it’s an all-star band with a rotating cast of some of the most admired folks in town. Ian now hails from L.A. yet graces us all with his presence for nights like these and never ceases to set the visual aesthetic for the band —he waltzed into Salmon Bay in a leather jacket, white tank, handle bar mustache and laughing eyes. Think: Freddie Mercury meets Magnum P.I. —go ahead and swoon a bit. I did.
The set was pure celebration —celebration of ten incredibly successful years in creating one of the best festivals on the West Coast, and I’ll venture, also celebrating the final show of a whirlwind European tour. Keltner and Cunningham have voices that have a timelessness I adore —like a brisk walk down a Chicago Street, en route to a party in the 70’s. The entire venue bounced with happy bodies, fists in the air as Keltner yelled ‘The world is going to Fuck us!’ over and over and over for the bands’ finale. Suddenly, band member Faith Stankevich is hoisted into the air with Keltner reminding us that the apocalypse is underway, but we’ll all go down in a sinking ship of sweaty fools and that’s okay. Thigh check: warm, toasty, and well exercised.
The final set I caught was Christian Bland & the Revelators. I’m a big Black Angels fan, so it’s easy to follow anything Christian is up to. His incarnation with the Revelators is a mushroom-wall of reverb and delay that soaks me from the bones outward. I had the fine pleasure of meeting Christian at SXSW in 2019 after my own band had rocked that festival. I chose to not reintroduce myself at the Freakout, but sat down on the steps of the stage, watching his every move: he was forever twiddling knobs on his pedal board without missing a note while smiling down at the crowd in between lyrics sung. Overall, he exudes “guy who always has a guitar in his hand and a hug waiting for you at the same time” —100% pure unadulterated musician. I was starving during his set and my partner had surprised me by arriving with a fat slice of Big Mario’s. I danced to the dreamy-slinky-cool psychedelia surrounding me and noshed on my pizza in tandem. That was a true first for me, but my thighs were going to need fuel to walk the distance back to my car post show. Christian Bland & the Revelators were the perfect soundtrack to my dancing and noshing and a perfect night cap to an incredible festival experience. Well done, Freakout, and here’s to many more.