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It'll be the 20th event at North Plains, and the famous festival hosted by Yonder Mountain String Band sold out in March.

COURTESY PHOTO: NORTHWEST STRING SUMMIT - Born in 1999 and moving to Horning's Hideout two years later, the Northwest String Summit has been a staple of the Portland-area music scene. Organizers said 2020 will be the final festival.Deadheads, bluegrass folks and avid music fans will surely find other places to camp and party and listen to great music in a beautiful setting — but, oh, the stories they will be telling about the Northwest String Summit.

The summit comes to an end at Horning's Hideout in North Plains, but not before a sold-out event fills the Washington County woods with revelry, July 21-24. It is sold out, but you, too, can experience the fun and music via livestream at StringSummit.com. It's officially the 20th NWSS at Horning's Hideout, after the canceling of the live event the past two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Much like Pickathon on the other side of the Portland-metro area, Northwest String Summit crowds have been pretty distinct. They are fans of host Yonder Mountain String Band and others, and simply enjoy the friendly atmosphere — with food and beverages and other pleasures to be partaken.

COURTESY PHOTO: JASON CHARME PHOTOGRAPHY - Fans of Northwest String Summit camp, party, listen to great music and seek commune with fellow festival-goers."Oh, this is a bluegrass crowd and some old Deadheads," said Skye McDonald, a founder of the North Plains festival who tells of many great "Strummit" happenings since its founding, including many with offshoots of the Grateful Dead and stars of other genres.

"It's not that rowdy. It's craft beer and cannabis. It's super mellow. Everybody's in it for everybody else. Another thing unique is it's an old-fashioned camping music festival. You create a village with tents, and 85-90% of patrons are there all four days. You get to know people, you get dirty with them and it becomes an extended family on site."

Yonder Mountain String Band started the summit in 1999 from its home in Boulder, Colorado; McDonald and NWSS partner Gregg Friedman spent time managing the band in certain capacities and they all remain friends.

The original festival, called Dexter Lake Music Festival outside of Eugene and run by Seque Productions, outgrew the Dexter Lake area after two years. Meanwhile, Horning's Hideout had proven to be a cool haven with The String Cheese Incident and Leftover Salmon hosting concerts there.

COURTESY PHOTO: JASON CHARME PHOTOGRAPHY - Art and light decorations dot the Horning's Hideout grounds during Northwest String Summit.So, the move of the Northwest String Summit was made to Horning's Hideout, and Friedman and McDonald joined the team.

Friedman and McDonald decided to call the 20th festival at Horning's Hideout the final one.

"It'll actually be three years to the day of our last string summit," McDonald said, referring to the COVID-induced hiatus. "It being our 20th anniversary, coming out of COVID it's naturally going to be a very big celebration. My partner and I have different things going on in life. Gregg is getting close to retirement age — he has kids out of college. It seemed like the way things are going on, why not go out with bang?"

Yonder bass player Ben Kaufmann has called the Northwest String Summit a "special" festival.

"There's an energy there," he said. Yonder Mountain String Band found early success at Oregon shows, and fell in love with Oregon, hence its commitment to Northwest String Summit.

Interestingly, along with the music on five stages and fun and frolic and art and light decorations dotting the grounds, it's always been a destination for the deceased — literally. McDonald said many people have spread their loved one's ashes at Horning's Hideout.

Said Kaufmann: "My father's ashes are spread at String Summit, at a nestled spot on the hillside; it's a great opportunity to go and sit and try to share my year at very least (with him), share my spirit with his spirit."

There have also been weddings. Horning's Hideout is a premier wedding locale, anyway. "I had sparks that led me to marrying my wife at String Summit," said McDonald of wife, Tess.

COURTESY PHOTO: JASON CHARME PHOTOGRAPHY - Check out the costumed heads of band members backing the band. Things get fun, and a bit weird, at Northwest String Summit.Yonder's fan base has been called Kinfolk, based off its own former festival in Colorado. It's become a Kinfolk reunion.

Cancellations the past two years hurt the NWSS community. But it's back.

The lineup over the years has evolved, from traditional bluegrass to "multi-genre smorgasbord," McDonald said. "It's come a long way."

Featured bands include Yonder, Umphrey's McGee, The Greensky Bluegrass, Leftover Salmon, Del McCoury Band and Infamous Stringdusters.

"I'm just excited to provide space for these people to do it and play one last time," McDonald said. "I'm excited for the mini-collaborators — the 'cluster-plucks.'"

McDonald actually hasn't taken much time to reminisce. Northwest String Summit has been sold out since March, and he helps organize it from afar, also living in Boulder.

"We're so laser-focused on making sure this is done well and safely and everybody sends it off well," he said.


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