4 Peaks Music Festival 6.21 - 6.24.18

Stevenson Ranch
Bend, OR

Words by Erica Garvey (Funk Fiend)
Photos by Jason Charme (Jason Charme Photography)

No matter which direction you come from, the journey to 4 Peaks Music Festival leads you through the rolling hills and dignified mountains of Central Oregon. As you drive through Bend, you are greeted with the charms of a small (but growing) town, which quickly give way to the bare appeal of the Stevenson Ranch, 4 Peaks’ home for the past two years.

From there, the festival continues the same streak of simple beauty. It is an authentic gathering of a tight-knit community, whether you have been a part of the 4 Peaks family for years or just hours. At the 2018 festival, the crowd was courteous, the staff was smiley, the vendors were attentive, and many times the bands brought other musicians on as guests. The artists themselves were each other’s biggest fans. I cannot think of one performance from which Scott Pemberton (of Scott Pemberton Band) was absent from the audience.

There were several notable collaborations: Josh Clark of Tea Leaf Green played with both Particle and Scott Pemberton, Sam Lax of Acorn Project added saxophone on multiple tunes with Poor Man’s Whiskey, Maxwell Friedman sat in with The New Mastersounds and Jupiter Holiday, Tyler Grant of Grant Farm joined Greensky Bluegrass for “Mr. Charlie,” and Scott Pemberton lent his sound to The Brothers Comatose.

Many people brought their children, and a few musicians took it a step further and put their kids to work on stage: Steve Kimock was joined by his son John Morgan Kimock on drums, and Hattie Craven sang with her dad’s group Joe Craven & The Sometimers, including a memorable version of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?”. (Fourteen-year-old keys phenom Maxwell Friedman had his own set on Sunday.)

4 Peaks is a four-day festival, though most of the action is packed into Friday and Saturday. There are only two stages, plus the child-centric venue “Kidlandia.” The Cascade Mountain Stage was set up like a main stage typical of a large outdoor festival, with giant sunshades set up to shield the audience from the heat. The smaller tent-enclosed venue, the Lava Rock Stage, lent itself to intimate moments, from “4 Peaks house band” Poor Man’s Whiskey closing a nighttime show from the middle of the crowd with an acoustic “I Shall Be Released,” to a raging afternoon dance party with multi-colored laser lights hosted by Portland’s Yak Attack.

Only one band plays at a time, so you do not have to miss anything. The only choices you have to make are which of the diverse array of food vendors to sample, which craft beer (or wine, or kombucha cocktail) to sip, and which color of Silipint will be holding said beverage. Speaking of Silipints, the festival is committed to eliminating waste, encouraging attendees to purchase this reusable silicone pint glass, which doubles as a souvenir you will actually use again offsite. All food vendors are required to use compostable service products, and the noticeable lack of litter on the ground was another small touch of 4 Peaks’ civil atmosphere.

4 Peaks is incredibly easy to navigate. Upon first arrival at the festival, we were checked in without delay and directed toward our temporary residence. My camping companions had used the festival’s new reservation system to hold a spot large enough for our group of 27 attendees, arriving in about 15 waves. Even though we were near the back edge of the camping area, it only took seven minutes to walk from tent to stage. When I say this festival is ‘manageable,’ I mean that with the highest compliments: if you need a satisfying alternative to the Bonnaroos and the Coachellas of the world once in a while, 4 Peaks may be your answer.

Friday’s highlights included a sunny afternoon guitar shredding from the always lively Scott Pemberton Band; driving southern blues-rock from North Mississippi Allstars; the dreamy yet somehow still rooted-in-reality sounds of Steve Kimock Band; the unifying horn-tinged performance of Nahko and Medicine for the People; and rock-grass outfit Poor Man’s Whiskey, who always shows up on stage with all of everyone’s favorite instruments and then some (melodica, anyone?).

On Friday night, back at the campsite when our whole group of campers was fully assembled, we took a break after our crawfish boil to climb up a small nearby embankment covered in lava rocks and desert sage bushes, looking through the juniper trees and beyond the mountains to watch the sunset (a backdrop that partially inspired Poor Man’s Whiskey’s latest album, Juniper Mountain). Once darkness started to fall, it was all about the music again. After the bands had finished for the day, I arrived at the Silent Disco too late to participate, but our camping group ended the evening by hosting a somewhat hushed performance by some friends of friends, who happen to be the band Cascade Crescendo.

Saturday morning started with a contrasting amplified Cascade Crescendo show on the Lava Rock Stage (except for those true morning people among us who started even earlier with the daily 9:00 a.m. yoga class). My favorite acts that day were Joe Craven & The Sometimers, the instantly impressive funk group Mojo Green, the Mother Hips flanked by their devoted fanbase, the aforementioned party that is Yak Attack, The New Mastersounds ripping through impossibly fine-tuned funk, and bluegrass superstars Greensky Bluegrass closing out the mainstage.

My vote for the best set of the festival goes to the Saturday evening Poor Man’s Whiskey mainstage show, during which the power went out. With barely a pause in the music, the band lined up at the front of the stage while the audience gathered closer in, and PMW switched to an impromptu acoustic set. After a few minutes, the members of The Brothers Comatose came to the stage with their instruments to help fill out the sound, and not far behind them came Greensky’s Anders Beck with his dobro. This unplugged 4 Peaks supergroup neatly plowed through crowd-pleasing classics like “Rocky Top,” “Ooh La La,” and “Wish You Were Here.”

Though I was a little tired from a night spent on a sleeping pad, I left Stevenson Ranch feeling rejuvenated. I do not know if I can name all four individual peaks for which the festival is named, but the whole 4 Peaks Music Festival experience burned a vivid, beautiful memory in my mind.

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