DARRINGTON — The place is packed.
The Summer Meltdown music festival continues today at the local Bluegrass Association’s amphitheater and music park west of town.
No doubt the crowd includes a lot of people from out of state. The headliner tonight and Sunday is the String Cheese Incident, which has a huge national following, many of whom chase the Colorado-based band around on its summer tour.
Cheese plays a mix of bluegrass, Americana, rock, country, folk, jazz, reggae, salsa and many other musical genres. The band — the headliner at the very first Sasquatch! music festival in 2002 at the Gorge — doesn’t travel as much as it did when it started out nearly 25 years ago. So Meltdown producer Josh Clauson considers the String Cheese Incident’s appearance here quite an honor.
Michael Kang, the Cheese mandolinist, likes to say that the band is paid to travel and that it performs for free.
Some members of the band have been to Darrington before and are looking forward to returning to the beautiful rural setting. The forest fire smoke has cleared a bit up in the upper Stillaguamish River Valley, allowing for a nice sunset against Whitehorse Mountain on Thursday, the first evening of the festival.
That night the crowd was wowed by the talents of the Infamous Stringdusters from Virginia. The band was impressed that the Darrington amphitheater was built by bluegrass musicians, and the Stringdusters made a point to perform a number of classic bluegrass tunes.
The band is guitarist Andy Falco, Chris Pandolfi on banjo, bassist Travis Book, Andy Hall on dobro and fiddler Jeremy Garrett.
It’s obvious that the group thinks of itself as a bluegrass band. And this made me wish that the Summer Meltdown and the Darrington Bluegrass Festival could merge for a special event some time in the future.
Bluegrass music is often defined in narrow terms, and it’s been the Infamous Stringdusters’ goal to broaden their music to fit who they are — guys who like to jam.
The band played a few songs off its new album, “Laws of Gravity,” including “Gravity” and “Back Home.” At some point the members jammed directly into a fine rendition of the Buddy Holly classic “Not Fade Away.”
Garrett, the fiddle player, ended the Stringdusters’ set with a rippin’ jam that had people on their feet.
We walked into and out of the music park with Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin and his wife, Kelli Smith.
Darrington benefits economically from all the summer music festivals at the park, but the events also give local folks a cultural treat, the mayor and his wife said.
“It’s rare that we go out to a great concert on a Thursday night and get to be home just five minutes later,” Smith said.
For more information about the festival, go to summermeltdownfest.com. The box office opens at 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 12 and 13. And because so many more people are at the festival, be sure to pack patience and a pair of sturdy walking shoes.