The second annual Wildwood Music Fest will be held this summer in Willamina, OR on July 19-21st. This year the festival/ campout has expanded from a one-day to a two-day music event. Attendees can camp, take in some stellar performances, and enjoy some fantastic locally sourced food. Although new to may national festival-goers, Wildwood offers some of the best music, food, and communal camaraderie anyway. Last year's inaugural gathering included such artists as Charlie Parr, Shovels & Rope, Sasspirilla, and many more. This year, Wildwood will feature Brown Bird, Deadstring Brothers, Hillstomp, The Harmed Brothers, Possessed By Paul James, among many others.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Wildwood Music Festival organizer and founder KAtie Vinson about the event's origins, philosophy, and evolution.
Before we dig into Wildwood Music Fest, can you share some of your previous musical experiences that led to you founding the festival?
Katie Vinson: I have always been a huge fan of live music and after moving back to my home town of Willamina, I really wanted to try to bring live music to the area as there are already a lot of artists and independent thinkers locally. I found it unreasonable to think that just because we live in a rural area that we would not be able to have some of the cultural perks that are afforded urban areas. I know it is not much, but by having live music even a couple of times a month, it gives many music lovers around here a feeling of anticipation. I hope helps increase the general livability.
After opening the Wildwood Hotel with my sister Meredith nearly a decade ago we began hosting live musicians from our region and have progressed enough to attract some pretty impressive national acts to our small town. Having The White Buffalo back in January of 2009 play to a room of almost 100 people packed into our small room really gave me the confidence to reach out to many of my other musical idols like, Joe Pug, Anais Mitchell, Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside, Shovels and Rope, Charlie Parr, Strand of Oaks, Brown Bird and others that normally would not be including a town of 1800 on their national tours.
From that point, how did you get started with putting a festival together?
Katie: The progression to planning a music festival seemed a natural one. After getting to know Kim Hamblin when she relocated from Portland, I immediately started dreaming of her property with it’s weathered rock quarry, nice level field and picturesque mountain views. The great part was that she never even hesitated to the idea of using the land where she lives as the site of a music festival. She has been nothing but supportive since it was in the beginning idea stages.
In the summer of 2011 we had a humble pallet stage assembled and invited McDougall and Charlie Parr as well as our whole community to a party and over 200 people showed. We felt very supported and haven’t looked back since.
What are your goals for Wildwood?
Katie: The main goals that we hope to achieve by creating a festival are, helping to promote the area we live in and love, create an environment that supports emerging artists, allow families and people of any age to spend time enjoying live music together, maintain an environmentally conscience outlook with locally sourced food, beer and wine as well as re-useable recycled tableware.
What was most rewarding and memorable to you from organizing and putting on last year's festival?
Katie: For the first official Wildwood MusicFest that happened last July, I had an easy time knowing whom I wanted to take part. Many of the bands on the lineup had become dear friends or had a strong connection to my musician friends. With the exception of Shovels and Rope which was just a case of finding the perfect match at the perfect time and having a lot of luck. We were so lucky that they were even able to come play at the Wildwood Hotel the following Saturday night. I am so happy for their achievements since then and find them to be some of the most genuine and kind folks I have ever met.
A couple of the most gratifying experiences from last year for me was being a witness to all these wonderful people who on faith alone gave us there time, energy and devotion discovering that it was all worth it. We pulled it off amazingly well and I was so very proud of what can be accomplished by a community when they put their mind to it.
I also appreciated how taken back the audience was during certain performances. I had people that were not very familiar with the music come up and tell me that they could not believe how much they enjoyed it. I swear I saw a few people crying when Charlie Parr was singing with his beautiful wife and daughter on stage with him. It really is about those irreplaceable uniquely stripped down moments.
Wildwood also had a number of vendors participating at the first festival.
Kate: Yes, all of last year’s vendors were people that we already knew very well and we just gave them the guidelines of offering local food. We had many people put in a lot of work to make that first festival happen and we are so thankful to everyone. I hope the fact that all the vendors and artists that participated in the local artist market are happy to return again this year speaks of their appreciation of being involved. We are adding to the vendor line up this year with additional affordable and local selections being available.
What was most challenging for you putting on the festival?
Katie: The most challenging part of last year’s festival was the permit process. Very early on I was told by the county that it should not be a problem to continue with our plans and they had no real rules to keep us from going on with the plans if all the neighbors were happy. I learned after turning in the application that we actually could not move forward at all.
So from November all the way until June I was talking to county commissioners and planners and many other levels of government. We were signed off only two short weeks before the date of the festival. I really owe a lot to the open minded folks on the Yamhill County planning commission to realize the value that lies in inviting hundreds of people to our area to enjoy the natural beauty, local cuisine and fantastic live music.
Now that you are preparing for your second festival, what did you learn from last year and what do you want to continue and/ or what change?
Katie: We learned so much last year and I know there will be a ton that we will be learning this year. I think one positive thing about our personalities is that we really try to remain flexible and also have the knowledge that this is a process that will take a while to perfect. Most of the things we are altering this year are logistical traffic flow, layout alterations. We are also incredibly fortunate that Kim and her fiancé’ Dan purchased an adjoining property of 40 acres that sits just behind that quarry. It is going to make an exquisitely beautiful camping area with drop dead gorgeous hilltop views. There will be PLENTY of room for comfortable camping and improved access.
As a a two-day event this year, how the performances will be scheduled? Will there be overlap of set times?
Katie: We are operating on the assumption that people are there primarily to enjoy the music and will have a single stage with each act having one set that will range from 30 minutes for some of the singer/songwriter solo acts to 65-70 for the prime time headlining bands.
I have never been a fan of having to choose between two performers that you really want to see, with one stage each musician has the opportunity to have the attention of everyone in attendance. Naturally the lineup will be organized in a way that we hope the tempo and energy to build throughout the day.
As both an organizer and a fan, how would you say Wildwood differs most from other music festivals, and makes it unique (lineup, philosophically, etc.)?
Katie: I think one of the ways that our festival differs from others would be primarily the authenticity of the whole experience. We are not trying to be something we are not. It is a wholesome, fun party in a quarry/ field. All of the volunteers are chosen and are happy to participate and have a real appreciation for what they see is being built here.
Our business motto at the Wildwood Hotel has always been “an attitude of gratitude” and I like to think we are conveying same message at the festival. We are truly thrilled to have people decide to spend one of their precious few summer weekends with us. I am also a huge supporter in activities that can include the whole family including grandma and grandpa. Those are the times that life is really about. That is also considered in the line-up selections. We have converted more than a few 80+ year olds to some very current music and I love that part of it. Most of the bands we feature it is easy to hear their reverence for music from earlier times.
How would you say that this year's lineup is pushing the event into exciting new musical directions?
Katie: I think this year’s lineup is pushing us in a new direction because I was forced out of my comfort zone of knowing almost everyone on last year’s lineup on a first name basis. I am so proud of the day that was created but we had to expand our horizons. I hope to continue with the emerging roots based artists though and I am in awe of how much talent there is out there.
Musically, we have a few returning standouts like Sassparilla, McDougall and Jeffrey Martin. There are many bands that I have been admiring for a while like Truckstop Darlin’, The Harmed Brothers, Water Tower and Possessed by Paul James. There are some that were very well loved when playing at the Wildwood Hotel like, Hillstomp, Rollie Tussing, Sidestreet Reny, Hip Hatchet and The Hill Dogs and Tom VandenAvond. Some that were highly recommended by musician friends that have impeccable taste like Jackrabbit, The James Low Western Front, and Delaney Davidson.
Brown Bird is a band that I had wanted to take part last year and we finally worked it out for this year, and we are so thrilled. Shivering Timbers is the one that would fit into my feeling like I actually discovered since last year’s festival. They are driving with their 5 yr. old daughter and a nanny all the way from Akron, OH and I think they are going to be fantastic.
Broken Rodeo is the only band that landed on the line up from contacting me but they did so even before last year’s festival and were very good about getting in at the right time, I think they are going to fit in nicely.The Deadstring Brothers came to me like magic in the final hour from a friend who helps book music in Seattle. I am very excited about the rock edge they will bring to their late Saturday night slot.
Naturally I am more intrigued by the artists that I have not had a chance to see yet and my personal “can’t miss” would be Shivering Timbers, Possessed by Paul James, Delaney Davidson, Brown Bird and the Deadstring Brothers. I am also excited about the spontaneity of the All Star Jam on Sunday morning that Kris Stuart and his band Root Jack are organizing.
Which artists did you initially have in mind that set the direction for the lineup?
Katie: There are so many musicians that I wish could be part of this year’s festival, that is most definitely the most challenging part to have friends that are such stellar musicians and not have a slot for everyone. I am trying to look at the whole picture and think about the future years. There are artists that were on last year’s lineup that you will certainly see again on our roster. We really hope to keep things in check and focus mostly on musicians on the rise.
As you began securing artists, did any lead you to discovering and approaching others?
Katie: There were a few that did lead to others, for example Possessed by Paul James will be on tour with Delaney Davidson who is from New Zealand. He said “What about my friend?” and I liked him within minutes of hearing his music. And although I was unfamiliar with him, he is someone I am very excited about seeing. Also in some ways Sassparilla lead to Water Tower who I have seen before but had recently relocated, although they still maintain their Portland-based booking agent who also books for Sassparilla.
If you had to choose one act, is there an artist that you were particularly thrilled to have on this year's lineup?
Katie: The band that I put the most time and energy into securing would be Brown Bird, so consequently I was relieved when we finally got word that they could do it. They are also one of Kim’s favorite bands so I was really happy for her, I love them too but maybe I have a few more bands that I throw that word around with than her. Kim and Dan are also going to do a quick low key wedding ceremony for all to enjoy during the festival complete with wedding cake for all, so this year is going to be a special one for her.
What would you say the artists' experiences are like playing Wildwood?
Katie: I think the artists themselves were surprised with the beauty of the location. I think with last year being the first, we had an natural opportunity for shock value as no one had ever been before and I really think that everyone was pleasantly surprised by the setting. We also do our best to treat our musicians like rock stars with meal and drink vouchers and tee shirts, etc. So hopefully they felt like their treatment was a cut above other festivals. It was thrilling to have musicians come up and say thank you to us for letting them be involved, when we were feeling the exact same way.
Of the lesser-known acts, which ones are you especially happy to help promote and have on board this year and which of those will you absolutely not be missing yourself?
Katie: Of the lesser-known acts, I am thinking that The Hill Dogs are going to be a pleasant surprise for the folks that are unfamiliar. They are incredibly good and also very young so I am eager to see where they end up. Also, Jeffrey Martin was there last year and many of the folks know him now but I think he has so much potential to be discovered, he is so talented lyrically, vocally and just has a certain appeal that makes him seem so relatable.
I also think Shivering Timbers is going to be a unique experience, they have such and interesting blend of acoustic bass, electric guitar and haunting vocals, I have never really heard anyone like them. But like I have said before there are so many incredible bands and I think there are going to be lots of acts that are new to lots of people.
How would you describe the "Wildwood experience" for newcomers who are interested in coming out this year?
Katie: We hope that the community feeling still will continue at our festival. Last year it felt like a big, very cool family reunion.We always want to make sure that our patrons do not feel taken advantage of and are keeping our prices very reasonable for very good quality local food, beer and wine. We hope to create an opportunity for local nonprofits to happily do a little fundraising, where the sweet girl painting children’s faces is a local high school cheerleader helping to earn the money to go to cheer camp and the kids in the petting zoo are local FFA students sharing their own project animals.
Kids will have plenty to keep busy with lots of fun activities and parents do not have to worry every second about what they are up to. All with the backdrop of amazing rural natural beauty and some of the finest music our country has to offer.
I really dig the festival posters. Who does the artwork?
Katie: Kim is also an artist, in addition to co-organizing the festival. It is her work that is featured on our posters. She does and amazing cut paper assemblage tediously nailed down on painted wood. Then Kristina Stuart, who is our great friend and also the wife of Kris from Root Jack, re-works the images. He has been our volunteer graphic artist the whole time.
Wildwood Music Fest lineup:
Local native drumming and blessing
Rollie Tussing & the Diminished 7
The James Low Western Front
The Hill Dogs
The Harmed Brothers
Possessed by Paul James