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A meeting of the musical minds

Northwest String Summit brings bluegrass to Horning's Hideout July 17-20


by: COURTESY OF JP CUTLER MEDIA - The Northwest String Summit rocked Hornings Hideout in North Plains last year, and it returns July 17 to 20.Horning’s Hideout in North Plains hosts one of the most popular summer roots music fests around, the 13th annual Northwest String Summit.

This year’s party features such groups as the Sam Bush Band, Steep Canyon Rangers, Danny Barnes, Wicked Messenger, Dave Johnston’s Banjo Strummit, Darol Anger, Dead Winter Carpenters, Grant Farm, Lil Smokies, Blackberry Bushes, Scott Law with Sam Grisman, Tyler Grant & Andy Thorn, Scott Law Bluegrass Dimension, Burle and the No Brainers, Allie Kral & Friends, Burle with Travis Book & Anders Beck, The Rumpke Mountain Boys, Gipsy Moon, Pete Kartsounes and Sugarcane.

The festival takes place Thursday through Sunday, July 17 through 20 (stringsummit.com), and originated with a festival begun by the Yonder Mountain String Band, a popular progressive bluegrass, or “newgrass” group from Colorado. Ben Kaufmann, the band’s bassist, notes his group considers Portland area fans among its most loyal.

“We always felt like we had a pretty big following there,” he says, adding he loves Horning’s Hideout, a private park located 35 miles west of Portland. “For that size of a festival it’s pretty much the best location that I’ve ever seen. It’s got that natural amphitheater — it’s just absolutely designed for music.”

by: COURTESY OF YONDER MOUNTAIN STRING BAND - Yonder Mountain String BandYonder Mountain plays the festival’s Main Stage at 9:45 p.m. July 18, 8 p.m. July 19 and 4:45 p.m. July 20. The band includes guitarist Adam Aijala, banjo player Dave Johnston and touring members fiddler Allie Kral as well as mandolinist Jacob Jolliff of Joy Kills Sorrow. Allie Kral will perform with a band at 8 p.m. July 20 on the Ninkasi Stage.

New leaves

Yonder Mountain recently witnessed the departure of founding member Jeff Austin, who left after he became a dad and decided to pursue his own project, The Here & Now. The parting was amicable, Kaufmann says.

“I’m excited to see what he comes up with and hope he has all kinds of success,” Kaufmann adds.

Meanwhile, the three remaining original members will continue to expand on Yonder Mountain’s improvisational mission, he says.

“Our M.O. has always been to play a different show every night,” Kaufmann says. “We’ve never had a massive radio hit, so we’ve never painted ourselves in that corner.”

The group has written a number of songs inspired by onstage jams, he adds, noting the band likes to walk a razor’s edge of jamming.

“It really encourages wide and active listening among the players.”

The band cut its teeth playing rock ‘n’ roll venues far more than country and bluegrass joints, he adds, which is why Yonder Mountain is not afraid to go on stage without a drummer.

“We can play shows and go toe to toe with any rock ‘n’ roll band you want, and you won’t miss for a second that we don’t have a drummer,” Kaufmann says. While he occasionally forays into more complex jazz and rock bass lines while Yonder Mountain jams, he generally keeps his note play simple.

“Because we don’t have a drummer, my ultimate responsibility is to have the rhythm completely solid,” he says. “The best bluegrass bass players are not going to win any hot licks competitions. ... The truth is that bluegrass bass has become a sort of meditation for me.”

Out on loan

Another outfit performing at NWSS is The Student Loan, a Portland group featuring Chad Kimbler on mandolin, Mark Gerolami on banjo, Julio Appling on bass and Liz Chibucos on guitar and fiddle. Together for almost a decade now, the group fuses elements of jazz, blues, rock and jam with traditional bluegrass. The group plays the Ninkasi Stage at 9:45 a.m. July 18, and the Furthur Stage at 1:15 a.m. later that night.

The Student Loan just released its fourth album “Moonlit Toasters,” which includes the instant island-sounding classic “The Beer Grows Sticky in the Morning,” and has played in 17 different countries, including Yemen, Algeria, Burma, Thailand, Bolivia, the Dominican Republic and Paraguay. The band hosts an online “Couch Covers” series, in which they re-work various popular songs with their acoustic alchemy, including the Grateful Dead’s “They Love Each Other” as well as — we kid you not — Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like a Wolf” (it actually sounds a lot rootsier than you might think).

A lightning fast ax picker, Chibucos says the band can safely float into genres outside of bluegrass because no matter how far they drift, they’re still tethered to tradition.

“Our instrumentation automatically grounds us,” she says. “I think we’re about solid songwriting, but allow a lot improvisation within that.”

by: COURTESY OF THE SHOOK TWINS - The Shook Twins

Seeing double

Katelyn Shook of the popular indie-folk band she founded with her sister, Laurie, The Shook Twins, says the siblings love the Northwest String Summit.

“The crowd at the String Summit is one of our favorites,” she says. “They just really kind of get it. They react exactly how they wish them to.”

Katelyn and her sister and their band will play the Ninkasi Stage at 1 a.m. Thursday night (technically Friday, July 18), and the Main Stage at 4:15 p.m. July 18. The group will play traditional music laced with hip hop and pop and other genres.

The women have a bit of a Lennon-McCartney songwriting relationship, Katelyn adds.

“In general, I’m more the lyricist, and Laurie is more the music,” she says. “We’re kind of born with this innate sense of fairness with each other. We have such a good balance, and it’s always been easy to work with each other.”

The sisters have recorded three albums, shared the stage with such acts as Indigo Girls and Carolina Chocolate Drops, and collaborated with Portland indie-jazz composer Ben Darwish. The Shook Twins hope to get their tunes on movie and TV soundtracks, but make most of their hay live at this point.

Other acts

• Kalamazoo, Mich.’s Greensky Bluegrass takes the Main Stage at 9:35 p.m. July 17 and the Ninkasi Stage at 1 a.m. Friday (technically Saturday, July 19). Coupling soulful vocals with aggressive picking to create folk music deeply rooted in the past, but easily accessible to contemporary crowds, this group has risen in recent years to become one of the nation’s most popular roots acts.

• New Jersey’s Railroad Earth has just released “Last of the Outlaws,” and can play slightly progressive roots music, exemplified by such cuts as “Grandfather Mountain,” as well as more straight-ahead material like the barrelhouse sounding “Monkey” and the honky tonkin’ “One More Night On The Road.” You can catch them at 5:40 p.m. July 19 on the Main Stage.

• Portland’s Fruition, who bundle folk, rock and country with vocal harmony twine, play the Main Stage at 6:15 p.m. July 17 and the Ninkasi Stage 1:30 a.m. Saturday (technically Sunday, July 20). Their 2013 album “Just One of Them Nights” straddles the line nicely between modern country and old school.

• The Grammy-nominated Infamous Stringdusters play bluegrass with train-on-time urgency that enables them to take a song like U2’s “In God’s Country” and make it their own, indeed, make it much better. Their latest record “Let It Go” combines roots, rock, ballads and country, and the title cut sounds not so much high and lonesome as high and happy, like if you found a Zen master not deep in mediation but deep in Del McCoury. They play at 7:40 p.m. July 18.

Other highlights

This year, the Further/Furthur bus, used by Ken Kesey and The Pranksters on their cross-country jaunts, turns 50 years old, and for the third consecutive year the current incarnation of the bus will be on site, along with bus owner Zane Kesey (son of Ken Kesey).