Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Subdued Musings

What impressed me most about the 2018 Subdued Stringband Jamboree was its professionalism, musical diversity and relaxed ambiance. For an all-volunteer effort, the Jamboree was well-organized to host and entertain some 2,000 people. Tent's, RVs and various other structures filled the campground at the Deming Logging Show (essentially a fairground and campground dedicated to all things logging) along with two performance stages, some smaller performance spaces where music continued into the wee hours after the stage amplifiers went quiet, food vendors, information booth, merchandise tent and a first aid station.

All of that was simply the infrastructure that allowed the music to go on. And go on it did. The music began at 5:00 pm Thursday and went on through the night, only shutting down near dawn and beginning again later on Friday morning. Friday was much the same and rolled into a 9:00 am opening on Saturday that featured performances by the Bellingham Circus Guild before continuing into another full day—and late night—of music. More music than I could sit and listen to but even if I wasn't directly watching the stages, I could always hear the sound. It was pervasive and engaging even at a distance.

The Subdued Stringband Jamboree had plenty of strings and traditional music but the program was far more diverse than the name implies. I heard everything from the hard-edged rock of Kitty and the Rooster to the divine three-part vocals of the Hothouse Jazz Band, the amazing guitar-accordion work of the Ditrani Brothers and Alexis P. Suter's gospel-blues. Other bands and individuals I noted included the Louis Ledford, Kenny Roby, the Crow Quill Night Owls, Petunia, Robert Sarazin Blake, Sabine Shannon, the Sweet Goodbyes, Baby Gramps, the Sons of Rainer, Corwin Bolt and the Wingnuts, and the Hot Jazz Scandal. Along with the usual guitars, fiddles, mandolins and there were trumpets, trombones, tubas, saxophones, clarinets, washboards and keyboards.

Most of the musicians were from near by Bellingham, Washington and other parts of the Pacific Northwest. A few came from other parts of the country. One thing all of the musicians had in common was their profieciency and professionalism. None were well-known (to me, at least, but all knew how to put on a good show. From the laconic to the exuberant, they played and sang like seasoned performers, even as they changed line-ups and joined other performers for a set. I was amazed at their ability to simply sit down with another band and play seamlessly with them. Some of that may be due to familiarity; most have known each other for years in the region but even so, the musical interplay was impressive.

The professionalism was enhanced by a fine sound system on both the Flat Stage and the adjacent Slanted Stage. Instruments and vocals sounded clear and crisp throughout the viewing area. Right in front of the stage the sound was and all-encompassing presence that shut out the rest of the world and, as noted earlier, the sound carried across the entire campground.

The Flat Stage was the main stage venue for the Jamboree. It was spacious and well-lit. The speakers were hung from towers on either side of the stage and hidden behind fabric. Just below the stage was an elevated walkway that allowed kids (of which there were plenty) to get up close to the music and the musicians. Occasionally one would steal the show for a few moments. The Slanted Stage was just to the left of the Flat Stage and was the venue for acts while crews changed out gear and did sound checks on the Flat Stage. The Slanted Stage—so named due to its slanted roof—was a much smaller structure and a tight fit for a few acts but the sound was no less than the Flat Stage.

The whole affair was relaxed an informal with few barriers between musicians and the crowd. I could wander into crowd standing in front of the stage to see and hear the musicians up close and let the sound wash over me. Or I could place my chair higher up on the hill to watch from a less ear-splitting distance. Over the three-day event I had the opportunity to meet and talk to the musicians. One was camped next door, another group was a few spaces away. As a rule, I stay away from crowds but at the Jamboree I mingled and met many people. We were all connected by the music, the shared experience of creating an ephemeral community on a hot August weekend. I can't remember ever feeling so at ease in such a large crowd as I was at the Jamboree.

My Jamboree experience continued into Sunday where I volunteered as part of the clean-up crew. It gave me a real appreciation for the leel of effort and organization needed to pulloff this event. In less than eight hours the campground transformed from a tightly packed community of a few thousand complete with substantial structures and support services to an open field with a few camps still scattered about along with some gear and trash bags awaiting pick-up. The stage that was the center of the community was deconstructed in a few hours. All that remained in that space was the orange boom lift used in the process. By the following day all traces of the 2018 Subdued Jamboree would be gone from the Deming Logging Camp.

And in 2019, it will all happen again.