Summer Meltdown 8.10 - 8.13.17

Whitehorse Mountain Amphitheater
Darrington, WA

Words by Mitch Melheim
Photos by Coleman Schwartz Media

Progressive and constantly evolving, Summer Meltdown has blossomed from a backyard party with friends into one of the premier music festivals in the Pacific Northwest. The festival took their most significant leap toward contending with bigger name festivals in 2015 with a lineup that featured Tycho, Greensky Bluegrass, Galactic, and STS9’s first Pacific Northwest appearance in two years. It was also the year that they decided to set themselves apart from those same festivals by adding what they called “adventures” that included whitewater rafting, horseback riding, and even helicopter rides. Thus, Summer Meltdown was rebranded as a music, camping, and adventure festival, and it’s new identity was born.

The next year, they brought back STS9, added Griz, Gramatik, and Beats Antique into the equation, and gave most folks in the region their first glimpse at Twiddle. Now, here we are in 2017 with two nights of The String Cheese Incident, The Polish Ambassador, Nahko, and The Floozies; a far cry from 2014’s lineup of Allen Stone, Sir Mix-A-Lot, and Lord Huron.

It isn’t just the lineup that’s grown. A full-blown late night area, well, now two of them, have both played a huge part in the festival’s recent growth. The main late night area, which began in 2015, features mostly electronic music and is where the majority of the festival’s truly impressive art installations are held. The second late night area, new in 2017 and called the “Forest Stage,” is just that, a forest. Uneven ground and trees are everywhere, even between you and the stage, with plenty of glowing installations abound. This is where the jams were.

No review of Summer Meltdown is complete without a mention of the river. Just a short walk from your campsite and with plenty of room to either party or get away from everybody, the river takes up most of the attendees’ daytimes due to the music not starting until the afternoon. If you aren’t at the river, then you’re probably out on an adventure or doing who knows what in the almost completely wooded campgrounds.

By this point in the summer, I’ve become tired of the typical festival review format. I assume that most of you are also tired of reading the same ol’ cookie cutter review so I am going to change it up for this, my last festival of the summer. I’ve compiled ten award categories for what is the first edition of my Music Festival Awards.

Music Festival Awards: Summer Meltdown 2017

Best Stage Production: The String Cheese Incident (Lighting Designer, Andrew Cass)

The first award goes to the String Cheese Incident’s LD, Andrew Cass. The density of their light setup was the first thing both me and my photographer noticed and commented on. With these lights packed in so tightly, it created a complex effect that blended itself into new colors and designs. Cass opts to keep it fairly simple with no video screen or lasers, as opposed to The Floozies whose extravagant laser setup takes the runner-up spot in this category.

Most Impressive Artist (Vocals): Corey Frye (The Main Squeeze)

The Main Squeeze are a band that most have heard of by now, but are still new enough, especially in this area of the country, that you get the perk of watching people’s faces light up who have never seen them before. They’re loud and powerful, as much so as any funk band I think I’ve ever seen live. So is lead singer Corey Frye’s voice. The set-closing “Whiskey, Women, and Cocaine” let him flaunt himself a bit, going acapella near the end and leaving many awestruck until guitarist Max Newman picked it back up for one final, dance-inducing jam.

Most Impressive Artist (Instrumental): Isaac Teel (Tauk)

Isaac Teel is the most impressive young drummer in the jam scene right now. I say that with confidence. His power and tenacity are matched only by his speed and quickness, a deadly combination with any band, but particularly useful with Tauk’s heavy and dark brand of instrumental music. This was one of the few sets of the weekend that I chose to spend backstage and that was one hundred percent because I wanted to get a better view of Teel’s drumming.

Best Collaboration: Bonnie Paine (Elephant Revival) sitting in with The String Cheese Incident

This collaboration stuck out for one particular reason, Paine actually recorded the song (“My One and Only”) with the band, lending her noteworthy vocals to the Kyle Hollingsworth-penned tune. What made it even more special was the fact that it was the first time they had played the song together live, the way it was meant to be. It starts out as a typical love song, but eventually bursts into a blissfully cheesy ending that turns it into an enjoyable tune for me.

Most Surprising Set of the Weekend: Polyrhythmics

Make no mistake about it, already well-established in the Pacific Northwest at this point, Seattle’s funk powerhouse, Polyrhythmics, have been on my radar for quite some time and I’m well aware of the tremendous talent they possess as a collective unit. With that being said, I’m still calling this the most surprisingly satisfying set of the weekend for me. Something about their sound I feel has clicked. If you’re unaware of this band or haven’t heard them yet, I urge you to check them out. Even better, go see them live.

Most Improved Act of the Weekend: Boombox

I had admittedly been bored by the majority of Boombox shows I had seen leading up to this set. That was not the case at Summer Meltdown. Their recent lineup change (DJ Harry replaced producer and founding member Russ Randolph) seems to have revitalized the group, at least for me. DJ Harry adds a bit more of a bounce into their sound that I used to find overwhelmingly monotonous.

Best Jam of the Weekend: Pirates (The String Cheese Incident - Saturday)

This Latin-inspired jazz instrumental has become quite the rarity, being played for only the fifth time since 2007. Often, I find that those “rare” songs that jam bands have and their fans long for tend to be a bit overrated, due to the novelty of hearing it live. That’s not the case with “Pirates.” It’s a great song and this particular version took off toward the middle of what became an eighteen minute jam of epic proportions. Keith Moseley’s bass and Kyle Hollingsworth’s synthesizer took things over after a brief portion led by Michael Kang’s soaring electric mandolin. Once the bass and synth took over, things got just down right filthy. The funk was muddy and blended perfectly with Hollingsworth’s synth pads and ample percussion from Michael Travis and Jason Hann, making for prime and tasteful electro-Cheese.

(Listen to “Pirates” from 8/12/17 here.)

Best Set of the Weekend (Late Nights): Yak Attack (Thursday - Forest Stage)

Everywhere this band goes, they make their presence felt. Well on their way to becoming the region’s go-to late night act, Yak Attack’s funky, jazzy, dubby, sometimes housey, but always groovy brand of organic livetronica has helped the group establish themselves as a sure thing amongst festival promoters looking to throw a dance party into the wee hours.

An opening segment of “Ion The Sky” > “Marian’s House” started things off proper and gave us what was probably the best segue of the night. Their unique take on the “Stranger Things” theme song and even more unique sounding “⅞ Tech” built the meat of the set before the often-jammed out “Kinetic Dub Station,” which did not disappoint. The crowd energy reached a peak near the end of their set when the band opted for an appropriately uptempo cover of The New Deal’s “Receiver.”

Best Set of the Weekend (Garden Stage): Tauk (Friday)

This could’ve also gone to Yak Attack for their Thursday night set, but for variety’s sake, the award goes to Tauk’s stage-closing set on Friday night. This band has an interesting sound that is still somewhat new to the Pacific Northwest aside from a tour with Umphrey’s McGee and one headlining tour last year. Both their drummer (Teel) and keyboardist, A.C. Carter, possess rare talent that is near impossible to overlook and add to their unique sound that is nearly impossible to narrow down. Are they a jam band? Are they livetronica? You’re best bet is just sticking with the label they’ve given themselves, “Heavy Instrumental Rock Fusion.” Even they don’t know what they play.

Best Set of the Weekend (Main Stage): The String Cheese Incident (Sunday - Set 2)

After a fantastic Saturday night set that featured the aforementioned “Pirates,” as well as great versions of both “Rollover” and “Search,” the first set of their Sunday show got off to a slow start until a wild “Lonesome Fiddle Blues” eventually got things rolling. After a set-closing “Texas,” the band took a short break and came back out for what proved to be the best set of the weekend.

Opening with “Shine,” the only true contender for the Jam of the Weekend award other than “Pirates,” things were weird and spacey from the get go. A rare cover of the Beatles’ “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” followed and also included a spacey jam which segued into “Piece of Mind.” After the other window song, “Hotel Window,” a thirty-plus minute segment of “Rivertrance” and “Just One Story” solidified the set as the best of the weekend, with “Rosie” and the encore cover of Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish” being the icing on the cake.

(Listen to Sunday’s second set here.)

Coleman's 8.10 - 8.11 Photo Gallery

Coleman's 8.12 - 8.13 Photo Gallery


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