On Tuesday I spent 16 hours in the car driving from Denver to Chicago to officially end a week and a half long journey that had me drinking in three different time zones, visiting six states and driving around 2400 total miles. I spent time seeing old friends, meeting and making new ones (and meeting some readers of this here little blog, which was very, very cool), watching music in incredible places and, in general, living life without a schedule. It was freeing, fulfilling and consistently exceptional. It felt right. It all felt right. It had been awhile since I felt that (you know, due to the soul crushing grind of adulthood).
The trip was built around going to Doe Bay Fest, but before heading out to the wonderful little island where it takes place I went ahead and took a little road trip. I spent time with one of my best friends in Des Moines, watching baseball while drinking tallboys of malt liquor (you can’t say no to such things when they are offered in the freaking ballpark). I made my way to Lawrence, KS and met Jeff Kuhr, the man behind Lawrence High School’s Room 125 Classroom Sessions, sharing a burger and some wonderful conversation on music, culture and life with him and his lovely wife. My last stop before Doe Bay was in Colorado Springs at the wonderful, welcoming home of Heather Browne (of Fuel/Friends), where I watched Tyler Lyle and Blind Pilot leave those lucky enough to be in the room absolutely speechless. So yeah, my trip could have ended there and it would have been a stellar trip. But it didn’t. Doe Bay followed, and Doe Bay is the best place on earth.
Am I sure, even after a second year, that Doe Bay Fest is a real thing that takes place on a real island in the real world? Nope, I’m still not. There’s something about the island, about the people that go there and the artists that play there, that makes it special in every way that everyday life isn’t. Everything was different this year for me- different people in the group I went with, different cabin location, different life circumstances for so many both in and attached to our group- but in its own way it was all even better than last year. I laughed until I cried countless times, ate what has to be the best breakfast burrito known to man each and every morning, watched shooting stars each night and again built relationships that take years to forge in the real world but only a few days to do so on the island.
Oh, and there was music everywhere, at every hour. There was the marching-type band that woke us all up on Friday after the late, Thursday night sing-alongs around the campfire (or, more precisely, the make-believe campfire we built out of flashlights). There were secret sets in the woods, impromptu sets on the beach by friends and a sing-along around a real campfire on the last official day of the festival. I didn’t catch every set (or even close to it), but I feel like what I did see was more than special.
(Pretty Broken Things around the campfire on Sunday night)
Friday I saw Pretty Broken Things blow an entire cove full of people away with their gorgeous, soaring songs, Adra Boo (of Fly Moon Royalty) and the Portland Cello Project bring people to tears during their Etta James tribute and Lemolo play a beautiful, moving set that left those in my campsite buzzing all weekend. There was Noah Gundersen’s spellbinding set to open Saturday, his and his sister’s voice perfectly echoing through the cove and deservedly garnering one of the few standing ovations of the weekend, I heard the magnificent, heartbreaking combination of Jake Hemming’s voice and slide guitar during the Big Sur set, and then later, as the sun began to set, the gentlemen of Kithkin unleashed a set full of energy and sweat, making good on their promise of producing ‘premium ass-shaking music.’
(Adra Boo and the Portland Cello Project covering Etta James’ ‘At Last’)
There were also a plethora of surprises, those ridiculous moments that just seem to happen at Doe Bay Fest as though they’re completely normal. Friday night found us hiking through some woods and brush to find John Roderick playing to a small, captivated crowd in a clearing. Saturday night brought a surprise headlining set from Pickwick, who, while filling in at the last minute for The Cave Singers, played their songs with an intensity and crispness I wasn’t expecting, leaving me (and, judging by all the ‘Holy shit!’ faces I saw, many others) absolutely blown away. Later that night we made our way back down to the main field to watch Noah Gundersen, Bobby Bare, Jr., John Roderick and Daniel Blue (from Motopony) play a midnight set lit only by tiki torches and shooting stars. And, finally, on Sunday I found myself on the beach watching my friends Matt and Aubrey (better known as The Local Strangers) play the last foot ferry of the day out of the cove, which promptly turned into a spontaneous hour-long (or so? I think) set for a massive crowd that had come racing down once they heard their songs ringing through the trees. That right there, watching two people I care about play to an adoring crowd, that was my favorite experience of the entire festival.
For the last week and a half I’ve enjoyed a life free of the constraints that time and distance typically put on building relationships. It was everything I needed and more than I could have ever hoped for. It felt right. It all felt right.
I took a whole mess of photos during the trip, the best of which I’ve posted over on Facebook. Take a look.