Neoteny West String Summit: Featured Column
“NEOTENY, NEOTENY, NEOT— Oh how the Remington SL3 enjoys that word! Unrestrained, it would fill the page up with neotenyneotenyneotenyneoteny. Of course, the bothers the SL3 not a comma’s worth that very few readers know what the word means.”
- Tom Robbins, Still Life With Woodpecker
If it’s July, it must be time to go back to Horning’s Hideout. Some years for String Cheese, others for NWSS, it’s always good to have a weekend spent there. Alas the realities of the Great Recession meant that SCI was completely out, but two day passes for the Northwest String Summit were sanely priced. Members of the Grateful Dead at Horning’s Hideout? How could we not go?
Certain things in life will always remain true: the length of a side of a triangle will be shorter than the sum of the other two sides, people believe that their team never gets calls from the refs, the left lane is for passing except for in Seattle where it’s for driving no faster than 10 miles under the speed limit. A new postulate to that list should be that the first few hours at Horning’s Hideout are always going to be difficult.
Yes the place is amazing, but there’s always something. This year, our first private campsite was apparently still private because Bob Horning asked people to not camp there for some reason. We wandered around for a while before finding a spot. Finally, we saw the perfect location. Mel went to get some supplies while I examined a few stickery weeds that might give our tent some problem. When she returned, she looked at what I was doing, appalled. “Leaves of three, let them be,” is a cliché that I should know but it somehow slipped my mind as I messed around with a whole pile of 3 leaved plants. Poison Ivy? Poison Oak? Who knows what it was. We set up our tent, hoping that we wouldn’t break out in rashes.
One of the great things about Horning’s Hideout is that there are experts on pretty much everything disguised as hippies. One year I learned that strawberries are neither fruits nor berries, but rather fleshy receptacles. This year’s botanical lesson was different. As we continued to argue over how I might have infected myself, a woman walked by. She overheard our conversation and then examined the plants. She then leaned down, caressed the plant, and said, “This is thimbleberry.” I looked it up afterwards and sure enough… It’s amazing what random passers by know.
Psychosomatic crisis averted, it was time to go to the main field and see some music. We arrived in time for the Infamous Stringdusters. This was the one real bluegrass set of the day for us. Horning’s was already in full force. There are many venues that make music sound better. Most of them come from pure natural beauty – the Gorge, Red Rocks – but with Horning’s it’s a different source. Yes, the setting is pastoral with tall trees and a lake behind the stage, but what really is striking about the venue is the sense of relaxation.
“No More to Leave You Behind” would be a beautiful song anywhere, but when you have serious hoopers and people wearing trampoline shoes and kids running around and people shooting streams of water at each other from the paddleboat guns on the lake, it adds a layer of serenity. The beauty might be people at peace with themselves instead of giant red cliffs, but it has the same effect of amplifying the power of the music.
The one question we had about the schedule is why the Rhythm Devils weren’t the headliners. It would logical to have your Grateful Dead tribute be in the late night slot instead of in the middle of the afternoon. The answer came as the band was introduced. It was about taking the music that we grew up with and exposing it to a new generation. Playing earlier meant that the kids could attend.
While he’s not playing for the whole tour, one still has to assume that this is a peak moment in the life of Keller Williams. He’s built an entire career around being a Deadhead. He usually throws in one or two GD songs in a set. He wrote an obscenity laden tune about the 1995 Deer Creek gatecrash. So to be on stage and be able to play Grateful Dead songs with the rhythm section of the band, how could he not be loving that? Answer: he obviously is.
While the whole set was good, the highlight was probably the “Bird Song.” It was a mellow version, apropos for the event. The crowd and the band synched and for a few minutes it felt like something more important than a cover band. Good call on the invite String Summit.