THING! Festival Recap
August 26-28, 2022
Fort Worden, Port Townsend, Wash.
By Andy Bookwalter
Remember that time when the world ended? When huge music festivals went from “hedonistic happy fun time” to “disgusting disease vectors” overnight? That was awesome, unless you like getting into festivals for free, pitching snark and cracking wise about the old days. Big festivals took a couple of years off, and that’s probably not a bad thing, but now that the pandemic is definitely, totally, 100 percent over, never to return, it was time to get back to scenic Port Angeles, Washington last month for the second THING Festival.
When I went to the festival’s fantastic debut in 2019, I waited too long to find camping accommodations. Fortunately, my sketchy motorhome AKA Camper Van Bookwalter was able to serve as the old NadaMucho Media Action News Team HQ, so I was a pretty self-contained Media Action News Team HQ. Since then, CVB has gone to a farm upstate, and I was going to need a place to pitch a tent. I pulled into the Jefferson County Fairgrounds WAY later than I’d planned on Thursday night and I was directed right into what seemed like an alternative universe where only grandpas and little kids go to music festivals. (Turns out the guy in the orange vest either didn’t give a crap or assumed that I would be needing quiet accommodations, or I would be asking to speak to the manager.) Either way, I got put right into the middle of the RV section, where people pay a lot of money so they don’t have to watch old men trying to put up tents in the dark. The night was warm and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, so I opted to skip setting up the rain fly, because I like to sleep under the stars. (Cue foreshadowing music)
Several hours later, awakened by the pouring rain, I put up the fly.
Friday morning started out cold and drizzly, because it was August in Port Townsend. No big deal, the doughnuts were fresh and the coffee was strong. Because I was surrounded by old people and children, I wasn’t even the first person awake, which, after attending THING’s pre-cursor Sasquatch six times, felt weird. People cooked breakfast instead of squatting in the dirt smoking weed and eating Powerbars! (That was happening too but it was about 100 feet away.) At noon it was time to put on my reporter pants and get my press pass.
The first order of business is always getting that good sitting spot, but Thing is set up weird with two more or less “main” stages with little overlap between them time-wise. The event also features non ticketed areas in between the stages, which is great if you like going through 8000 bag checks per day. I originally planned on planting myself in the grass in a spot where the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio and Wet Leg would happen in front of me before I had to move to see Sparks on the other stage. Unfortunately, the day before I had heard Mdou Moctar on KEXP and developed a taste for him, so Delvon Lamarr had to go. (I’ll have to catch them in one of Seattle’s many music venues that are operating again in earnest post-pandemic.) The bios afor Moctar use phrases like “Nigerian Eddie Van Halen,” which is fair, but no one points out the small but obvious Rush influences. Definitely something Rushy in the Geddy-esque time changes and Lifesoney style solos. (Those are all accepted words in Canada, not made up at all.)
So I did have to walk a bit for Wet Leg, but it was worth it. I like what I’d heard from the British buzz band just fine, but you know when you hear a song once and think to yourself “I’ll bet KEXP is going to play the shit out of this for a very long time”? That’s Wet Leg for me. I was pleasantly surprised with the full set. In between being adorable and the undeniably great “Chaise Lounge” they packed a punch that I didn’t expect, and they’re clearly having a blast, so call me a full on WL bandwagon jumper.
I’ve recently become a bit of an elitist about Sparks. The more I dig into their catalog, the more I realize that you just don’t appreciate them as deeply as I do. Pretty annoying, I know. That said, they’re always great live, whether it’s just the Mael brothers playing alone or backed by a full band. I did notice the crowd skewing just a bit gray compared to Wet Leg, but they all knew enough words to show me I was in the presence of fans. A couple of observations: Sparks wins over crowds really fast whenever they play, but there are always a few people that just don’t get them, and that’s pretty funny to watch. Also, “My Baby’s Taking Me Home” is a surprisingly moving song considering that the song title is also virtually the only lyrics.
By the end of Sparks’ allotted time, the entire crowd seemed won over. I also realized that King County Executive Dow Constantine, who used to be a KCMU DJ and is a confirmed Who fanatic (and Sparks fan), was standing right next to me. Later on, I discovered that Sparks liked my Sparks tweet. I’m not totally new, I know that Sparks probably has a tweet liking agency and it’s not like Ron and Russell are sitting backstage waiting to see if NadaMucho liked their set, but I still chose to geek out just a little bit.
Full disclosure: I was stuffing my pizza hole instead of paying attention to Father John Misty. He was surprisingly great at the Sub Pop 25 party in Georgetown a few years back, and I’m sure he was great on Friday night, but I just wasn’t present for him. Next time, John.
Friday night was spent with a good book and snacks in the Action Media News HQ (tent), “Small World” by Jonathan Evison and grapes, respectively, if you’re curious.
Saturday was my wild card day. Lots of artists I was vaguely familiar with but none I had been dying to see. Pure festival potential, in other words. My winners ended up being bands I knew pretty much nothing about. Shaina Shepherd is everywhere lately, and for good reason. She took time out of being everywhere to be awesome in Port Townsend, and I appreciated it. Ms. Shepherd belted out a powerful set of rock and soul, perfect for a sunny summer day.
Reignwolf was what I would call “a Gorge band.” On a sunny day, they were jarring in a cool way and I think they should try to play exclusively with dark clouds and thunderstorms forming behind them from now on, with gusty winds blowing through their mustaches and bell bottom jeans. If they don’t have mustaches and bell bottoms (no Jumbotron screens at THING so I have no idea) they’ll need those too.
Illuminati Hotties went great with my barbecue beef sandwich. All indie rock and horseradish. I went through A LOT of napkins.
Jazz Is Dead turned out to be my surprise discovery of the day. A project aimed, among other things, at celebrating legendary jazz musicians before they keel over dead rather than buying flowers for their graves afterwards. I heard some truly kickass jazz flute solos, which is a sentence I’ve never been able to write before. Port Townsend probably has a deeper live jazz scene than Seattle, FWIW. (Do they? I don’t actually know)
So, Modest Mouse. How about those guys? Like me, Modest Mouse is from Issaquah. That’s pretty much where the comparisons end. I like them fine, and they’re great live most of the time, and Isaac Brock is respectively crotchety, which I can appreciate. I tend to like my rock a little less moody and melancholy, so I’m probably not the guy to be writing their promo materials. They played a good show and the illuminated paper lanterns that people were making all weekend made for a cool and colorful backdrop.
Sunday, as is often the case with this old old man, was a bit short, THING-wise. I had big plans for seeing The Dip, who I’ve seen several times. Their smooth blue eyed soul never fails to make me happy. Unfortunately for The Dip that would have gotten me home real late on a school night, and old men hate driving in the dark, so I made peace and hunkered down for Enumclaw. The band. I heard a little touch o’ Dinosaur Jr, but they were way better than I’m making them sound. One of the guys jumped into the crowd during what he probably thought was their finale showstopper last song, only to climb back up on stage, exhausted, to discover that they still had time left to play. So, they ended a little early and I chose hitting the road over driving into a ravine in the middle of the night.
I’m now 2 for 2 for THING Festivals, and while I perversely enjoyed the stench of youth and drunken hormone tornado that was Sasquatch, I find the THING vibe to be a huge relief. People are nice, the action is carefully curated, and you can’t not be mellow in Port Townsend. If they keep doing it I’ll keep going.