Somewhere outside of Portland, deep in the forest, there’s a magical place called Horning’s Hideout. There are amphitheaters, disc golf, and watering too. But most ethereal of all, is the music festival it hosts each summer. OK, enough with the fairy tale jibber jabber, because it’s not needed to get people excited about this festival. This year marks the 15th go around for Northwest String Summit in the luscious woods of Horning’s Hideout. With Yonder Mountain String Band on their side, the folks who birthed and nurtured this festival have built this gathering into one of the most anticipated events in the greater bluegrass community. Next weekend some of the biggest names like Railroad Earth, Greensky, the Infamous Stringdusters, Fruition, and Keller Williams will come together share stages, solos, and whiskey. Anytime a milestone is reached it’s only appropriate to look back on how the party started. Co-owner and promoter Skye McDonald gives on how String Summit came to be.
Has String Summit always taken place at Horning’s Hideout?
It started out as Dexter Lake Music Festival by Eugene and then morphed and rebranded in 2002 as String Summit.
Why this part of the country?
It’s always been a Yonder hosted event, and when they started out the Northwest always proved to be a stronghold in their touring schedule and eventually became a place where they could host.
What has been Yonder Mountain String Bands role?
They’ve been the musical host and anchor of the event since its inception. Through them, we’ve curated the talent we bring to the festival around their cast. Younger, Yonder influenced bands fill out the lineup each year. For instance, Greensky and even Fruition literally started playing the campground before they were a band. The band grew from impromptu sessions in the woods here, which is really cool to see.
Can you tell us about the very first String Summit?
Sure (laughs). The first three took place at the end of June. And if you’ve ever spent time in your part of the country during those weeks, you’ll know, it can rain. And it did. So two of the first three String Summits were sopping wet. There were about 1000 people at the first one, and it was raining cats and dogs. Everyone crammed into the merch booth for warmth and dryness, and it got so crowded in there people were stepping on all the merchandise. We ended up having to give away most of the shirts because they got so dirty.
What are the biggest differences in recent year?
The evolution of size and the evolution of the music and greater family community. We have near capacity crowds now and five stages. There’s the Kinfolk Revival tent that hosts late night performances. There is Cascadia stage which has a small foot print, but is a really cool stage. Also, we have the Further Bus as our tweener stage, for music in between bands and set breaks on the main stage. We’ve also added a band competition which has grown and is especially large this year.
What’s in store for year 15?
We’ve added a brand new stage, the Troubadour Stage. It’s a unique café or living room environment with couches. It’s all acoustic for singer songwriters, duos, and trios where people can listen and relax while they enjoy a coffee or beer.
Are there any acts you’re especially excited to see?
(laughs) don’t put me on the spot. This is our 15th anniversary and many of the contemporary acts, Leftover Salmon, the Stringdusters, and Keller in the past have been co-headliners and are all on the bill this year. There’s also bands like Cabinet and Horseshoes & Hand Grenades that come from the East and hopefully next time they come through the Northwest there will be a lot of String Summit faces. I always get excited for the band competition that had 62 entries from all over the world this year.