Summer Meltdown, which started on San Juan Island 15 years ago as a jam band backyard party, has grown into a major summer festival. Now in Darrington, the festival has some restorative business tie-ins this year with Oso, in the wake of the 2014 landslide.
Summer Meltdown — which gets under way Thursday, Aug. 6, at Darrington’s Whitehorse Mountain Amphitheater — began 15 years ago on San Juan Island as a backyard party for a tight-knit group of friends, creator Josh Clauson recalls.
Flowmotion, Clauson’s long-running jam band, provided the entertainment, as well as refreshments.
Today, Summer Meltdown is one of the Northwest’s major summer festivals. This year, Clauson and his wife, Genevieve, are hosting more than 40 artists — including some of the biggest names in the festival’s history (STS9, Iration, Galactic) — performing reggae, jam, funk, bluegrass and electronic dance music.
Aug. 6-9, Whitehorse Mountain Amphitheater, Darrington; $25-$185 (summermeltdownfest.com)
The festival also offers an innovative slate of outdoor “adventures” supporting local businesses in the aftermath of last year’s Oso landslide.
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Since its humble beginnings, Meltdown has moved from San Juan Island to Camano Island, then Sedro-Woolley, finally moving to Darrington 10 years ago.
Last year, the festival was nearly canceled after the Oso landslide, which killed 43 people and blocked the highway leading to the amphitheater. The timing couldn’t have been worse. The slide occurred in late March, just days before the Clausons were planning to announce the 2014 lineup, quelling their usual enthusiasm about promoting the event.
Just weeks before the festival was to begin, the highway reopened, allowing the Clausons to move forward. Since then, they have used its growing influence to help with the region’s recovery through fundraising efforts and ticket donations to first responders and volunteers and their families.
A butterfly maple tree was placed on the grounds to which people could attach notes, prayers and ribbons in remembrance of victims. The maple is now planted outside the Oso fire hall.
After talking to the community, the Clausons also came up with a plan for 2015 and were awarded a Tourism Promotion Area grant from Snohomish County. The plan allows festivalgoers to sign up for guided “adventures” — river rafting (offered by Adventure Cascades), rock climbing (from Northwest Mountain School), horseback riding (with the Pack Station) and more.
All that comes in support of one of their best lineups ever. Among the biggest names is Atlanta’s instrumental-rock band STS9, which has enjoyed huge success on tour in recent years. Iration, an alternative-reggae band from Santa Barbara, Calif., has been growing in popularity since its 2010 release “Time Bomb.”
Greensky Bluegrass blends bluegrass, acoustic music and spirited rock ’n’ roll, while innovative, experimental rock/hip-hop band Galactic boasts singers from New Orleans.
Innovative EDM DJ Slow Magic, who keeps his real identity under wraps, recently played at Sasquatch! and has created a huge buzz with trippy, mesmerizing music. Another buzz-heavy artist is Minnesota, who plays a melodic, uplifting brand of dubstep.
Performances are offered on the main stage, in a beer garden and at a Late Night Tent, an atmospheric EDM space created by lighting and stage designer Casey Scalf of Sensebellum.com.
“We have these cool cubes, these LED things, and we put ferns and foliage in them, so it’s like this spaceship wreck in the jungle,” Scalf said. “It blends the digital and the natural.”
The forested, 60-acre site includes the stunning backdrop of Whitehorse Mountain, as well as food and crafts vendors, a Kid’s Village and shaded campgrounds. Festivalgoers can also cool off in a fork of the Stillaguamish River.
“Our goal is to have more than just a party in the woods,” said Josh Clauson.
Added Genevieve Clauson: “We wanted to highlight the really positive, beautiful side to the area and encourage people to support it.”