DARRINGTON — The 19th installment of Summer Meltdown — and all its psychedelic, majestic and good-natured spirit — is halfway complete.
The annual four-day music festival, which kicked off Thursday at Darrington Bluegrass Music Park, features over 40 national, regional and local acts playing on four stages. More than 4,500 fans are expected to attend this year’s event.
Many have called the festival a family reunion since 2000, when it began as a backyard party on San Juan Island. Festival-goers range from toddlers to octogenarians.
Art installations, floats on a nearby river and transcendental workshops available at Summer Meltdown add as much to the experience as the music. So does the wilderness surrounding Darrington’s amphitheater, with the towering sight of Whitehorse Mountain looming in the background.
Out of all that, we picked five memorable moments from Day 1.
Nahko and Medicine For The People perform its first funk song
The global fusion band from Portland, Oregon, capped Thursday night with an eclectic set, ranging from alternative/indie with “Aloha Ke Akua” to world beat (Western music influenced by different cultures) with “Nyepi.”
But the highlight was “Take Your Power Back” — Nahko and Medicine For The People’s first-ever funk song.
Groovy horns, syncopated basslines and a dynamic vocal range from the band’s frontman, Nahko Bear, whose lyrics were both vibrant and inspiring, seemed to skyrocket the energy at the main stage.
Bear, 33, said in an interview that the song was inspired by funk/soul/blues legend Syl Johnson, and is meant to have a different meaning for every listener, from increased awareness to strength in a divisive time.
“What’s nice for us, is it opens the door to dialogue around your own personal spiritual journey,” he said.
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong’s mannequin challenge on stage
On the same stage where Nahko and Medicine for the People would later share good vibes, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong played a funky set with originals, covers and … the mannequin challenge?
Before jumping into a cover of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Give It Away,” the jam band from Baltimore froze in place for about 10 seconds, as if replicating the viral internet trend from 2016 and 2017.
Most impressive was the drummer, Alex Petropulos, who sat motionless with his drum sticks raised in the air. Not one member in the four-piece band budged an inch.
Then — after what may have felt like a long moment of quiet for the inebriated or an eternity for those on other substances — they resumed their groovy performance as the sun set on the amphitheater.
Flowmotion’s epic finale
It’s not often you see the founder of a festival jamming away, but that’s what made Flowmotion’s set at the Cabin Stage so special.
The rock-funk jam band, which has played at Summer Meltdown since its inception, is fronted by guitarist/singer Josh Clauson, who co-produces the festival with his wife Genevieve Clauson.
It was clear how ecstatic the band — Josh Clauson especially — was to be back at Darrington Bluegrass Music Park, where the festival has been since 2006.
Many in the audience were delighted to see them too, like Samclaire Hall, 52, of Bellingham, who’s been going to Meltdown since 2011.
“You get here, you feel at home, you love this place and you love the music. And to see Josh on stage, it’s all of that.”
Flowmotion’s final song of the night, “Pleasure Opportunity,” was true to the band’s style of rock ‘n’ roll with psychedelic influences. It had everything you could ask for in a crescendo: a catchy hook, masterful solos and high-energy drums.
Near the end, when Clauson gave keyboardist Joe Doria a giant hand-five after his blazing solo, it felt like he channeled the crowd’s appreciation for the performance.
The Clausons wanted to set the tone for the weekend with a new, 30-minute opening ceremony in the amphitheater.
After Josh and Genevieve Clauson spoke about their appreciation for the fans, the venue, the arts and musicians, they welcomed Paul Chiyokten Wagner to the stage.
A storyteller, water rights activist and member of Saanich First Nations, Wagner shared his wisdom about the land, its history and ways to appreciate it. He also taught the crowd a few phrases from his people’s native language.
Then, Wagner serenaded the crowd by playing an ancestral song called “Gentle Crystalline Water” with a Native American-style flute he carved. Many who gathered around the stage closed their eyes while they listened, reflecting the beauty of the melodies.
Sensebellum’s interactive experience
This is not so much a moment as it is a collection of them, experienced by many who came to see the Bellingham company’s art installation: The Sensatorium.
The 15-foot-tall dome housed interactive technology to play with or watch, such as a 3D printer rendering household objects with a modern twist, a display for creating new worlds on digital landscapes and a sandbox with topography that changes as people dig through it.
Wait, what? The sandbox is best described by its creator, Casey Scalf, 28, who founded Sensebellum in 2012.
“A 3D camera literally reads the topography — where the sand is, the mountains, the valleys — and then runs through some custom code I made and projects water and beaches and highlands,” he said. “It’s almost like an interactive terrain map.”
Scalf said the sandbox is meant to mix the natural and digital worlds together in a playful way. But not everything in The Sensatorium was technology-related — there was a white-colored piano at the center for people to jam with, too.
The theme behind the installation is “stir the mind, have a good time,” he says.
“It’s trying to provide that spark for moments where people get a glimpse into how something works, or make a cool connection or just enjoy the beauty that these artistic forms can take,” he said. “But it’s not like a textbook or a lecture. You might have to stumble onto those things at your own pace. And I think that’s when real learning happens.”
Evan Thompson: 425-339-3427, firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ByEvanThompson.
If you go
Tickets are still available for Summer Meltdown, which continues Aug. 3-4 at Darrington Bluegrass Music Park, 42501 Highway 530, Darrington.
A two-day pass (Saturday and Sunday) is $195, Sunday is $100, with fees. A youth two-day pass is $80, Sunday is $50, with fees.
More at www.summermeltdown.com.