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singer and songwriter ben bruce

blog > Summer Meltdown

Sep 5th, 2008

You’ve been keeping a secret! The secret’s out!” – Matt Butler, conductor of the Everyone Orchestra.

It’s not only the players and their music. It’s also the people, the place, the palpable vibe. I know, you’ve read all this before. Countless times. I know how hard it is to convince people about a festival – it’s a big investment of time and money. And in the interest of full disclosure, I’m biased – I worked on the festival this summer and my wife manages Flowmotion (co-​organizers and headliners). But, the simple fact is if you weren’t at the 8th Annual Summer Meltdown this year you missed something special.

The Players and Their Music

Tea Leaf Green played an inspired set on Friday night. I don’t know their music well but their fan forum was going ballistic over the setlist and what I heard was incredible. It was obvious Trevor Garrod and Josh Clark were fired up. At one point Clark was stomping around the stage cussing at the crowd (in a good way) while Garrod channeled soul. There is a marked duality to their music but both sides of the coin were at their finest.

Josh Clauson from Flowmotion joined TLG for “Criminal” and “Sex in the ’70s” to finish their set. He and Clark traded guitar solos before the two of them conferred at the back of the stage and then strode to the front like conquering heroes [see it here]. TLG will certainly be seeing more of me (and everyone else I spoke with) next time they visit the Northwest.

Buckethead was Saturday night before Flowmotion’s set, and to tell you the truth it’s not my thing. He (She? It? There’s no way to tell) swaggered back and forth across the stage like a beast in a cage. For me, the beast brought rain and dark energy, but the grounds were packed with people and they were digging it.

Flowmotion took that dark energy (and the rain) and crafted an organic, wide-​ranging set that felt to me historic. As one veteran music-​lover told me after, “This is the show you look back on years later as The Moment.” It was truly a rock spectacle, with lighting directory Gary Radakovich (who worked on Phish’s lighting crew) illuminating the gigantic stage from behind the curtain. Wicked guitar solos from Josh Clauson and RL Heyer (including one from Heyer in “Drops in the Flow,” where it seemed like some abstract fabric of the universe was being torn open), drums from the depths (by Scott Goodwin and Bob Rees) and a rotating cast of bass players (Erik Bryson and Jesse Kansanback alternated throughout, and both played on a rocking “Billy Pilgrim”) kept the music moving from mood to mood like a dangerous bird of prey, one moment soaring high in a hard rock throwdown and the next, as though it spotted prey (us!), diving into a deep funk groove.

They opened with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” into “With A Little Help From My Friends.” Later, they played a cover of Bowie’s “Fame” but turned it into a thunderous rocker with the help of That 1 Guy (if you’ve never seen That 1 Guy, he plays a homemade “magic pipe” – it’s like a washtub bass from some dystopian future). American Idol runner-​up Blake Lewis, Lee Oskar from War, Jakob Navarro from Spoonshine and the hip-​hop harbinger of happiness, Sonny Bonoho, helped Flowmotion cover Sonny’s “Get Down,” and Trevor Garrod sat in for a blazing “Please Don’t Forget.” When their set was over, it was that feeling of being worn out but jacked up. Just a perfect showing of the music this band is capable of making.

But the headliners weren’t the only ones at the top of their game – there were so many notable sets: Blake Lewis, Panda Conspiracy, Blue Turtle Seduction, On The One and the Dave Brogan Band, this was the first set ever by the new project from the ALO drummer with him as singer-​songwriter.

The late night jams – termed the “Backyard Barbecue” by the players – were “epic,” with the band constantly morphing. That 1 Guy impressed playing flawless (regular) bass, and the cover of “Low Rider” with Lee Oskar was a highlight, as was Trevor Garrod, RL Heyer and company on “Dear Prudence.” The Panda Conspiracy campground jam never ended. Literally. It never stopped. It was still going on when we finally left the site on Monday.

And then there was the Dream Science Circus, the belly dancers, the kids parade and the comedy/​music troupe Discs of Fury. Then there was the Everyone Orchestra. Matt Butler comes to festivals and cherry-​picks players from the bands that are playing. There’s a short meeting beforehand where he explains how he conducts – using handwritten placards, his stomping feet and his hands. And then they all just get up onstage (I’ve been told by numerous participants that this is nerve-​wracking).

At one point it was Glenn Stewart from Blue Turtle Seduction, Rob Covacevich from Delta Nove, Jesse Molloy from On The One, Dan Lebowitz from ALO, Steve Kimock (the only musician who came specifically to play in the EO), Dave Brogan from ALO, Andy Irvine from On the One, Steve Adams from ALO, Josh Clauson from Flowmotion, John Staten from On the One, Bob Rees from Flowmotion and Trevor Garrod from TLG all watching Butler’s every move. He pointed at different sections, letting the music tell him where to go, directing the musicians (and the crowd) up, down and around.

I’ve experienced the EO twice so I can say that at first it’s muddled and funny, and then something strange happens. All the musicians are so talented, and so focused on the conductor that everyone (or should I say Everyone) – the crowd, the musicians – synchronizes and makes this incredible patchwork music together. It’s crazy! Butler wrote “Big Finish!” on his sign and pointed it to the band, and then turned and held it up to the crowd, and we all cheered and cheered, and it was perfect. He yelled, “You all have been keeping a secret! The secret’s out! See you next year!”

The People

The Everyone Orchestra :: Summer Meltdown 2008
Northwesterners are a hardy breed. The rain on Saturday night had festival organizers on edge but the crowd just put on raincoats and got down. As so often happens, the weather contributed to the energy of the night. My theory is that the determination of the crowd to have fun somehow parlays itself into musical results. But, North, East, South, West – these were all good people. I met cool cats from Canada, reconnected with folks I’ve met at Meltdowns past and spent time with old friends who came all the way from Massachusetts. The crowd was really family friendly, but also freak friendly – you start to recognize them after you’ve been to a few Meltdowns. And there are smiles everywhere – it’s love all around.

Oh, did I mention the Bacon Cart? This roving barbecue cooked up bacon all day and night. Despite its non-​vegetarian-​friendliness, it’s surprisingly awesome to have free bacon being handed out at shows.

The Place

Whitehorse Mountain watched over us all, lending an immovable center to the proceedings. The festival site is nestled in the foothills, so there’s nothing but trees all around, which makes for shaded, cool and spacious camping. You can take a short walk through the trees to the river to cool off. The air is clean, especially this year because the Summer Meltdown was the first major music festival in Washington State to use 99-​percent recycled bio-​diesel fuel, joining other independently produced music festivals like Langerado in forcing the issue with the industry. Speaking of environmental efforts, the Meltdown recycled and composted waste, rewarding reusing the same drinking cups, encouraging sustainability with an exhibition booth on how to build using cob, a solar power booth and more. There are vegetarian food vendors (and a hamburger stand) and great craftspeople from all over selling clothing, drums, hemp products and more.

The Vibe

We talked about how at the Meltdown it’s one degree of separation. For instance, I became friends with a guy before we realized he was my other friend’s brother. That sense of connectedness – of sudden family – changes how you interact with each other and the way you experience the world. Everyone, I think, feels (consciously or unconsciously) that they were in a liminal space, somewhere beyond normal borders, on the edge of something unified.

You hear the term “meltdown” a lot. It means many things to many people but the general sense is that “meltdown” means a breaking down of forms, of rigidity. Sort of like the Phoenix rising from its ashes, festivalgoers here meltdown to their essence and begin again when the event is over. In that way, it’s like being reborn.

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