Story by Kara Wilbeck
Photos by Alexander Maso
Well, it’s official, and I’m not afraid to say it: I absolutely love, love, LOVE 4 Peaks Music Festival! The first time I went to the festival in 2012, it was a drizzly weekend, but the beauty of the place was not lost on any of us. This time around, though, the combination of the gorgeous weather and unbeatable view was overwhelmingly beautiful. It’s really impossible to get tired of the view at the Rockin’ A Ranch, with its rolling grassy hills surrounded by the high desert of Bend, which looks out upon the sprawling peaks of the Cascade mountain range.
4 Peaks was significantly larger this year, thanks to a mass gathering permit issued by Deschutes County. Even with the expansion, 4 Peaks still qualifies as a teensy-weensy festival, and instead of crowding more people in to the existing space, additional campgrounds were opened up for the bigger crowd. I love that the festival promoters know that part of the draw is the easygoing, hassle-free environment, and that they make sure that experience is preserved, even as the festival grows.
This year’s music was top notch as usual, featuring mostly string bands with a peppering of funk. On Friday, some afternoon highlights included Polecat and Hot Buttered Rum (who played a handful of seriously awesome covers), and a super-long tent set from The Congress. Poor Man’s Whiskey (who have played at 4 Peaks every single year!) opened up the evening with a rippin’ set of Allman Brothers tunes, before Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk closed out the main stage with a dirty, funky dance party. After the main stage closed at 10, everyone piled into the side stage tent for a late-night set from Whitewater Ramble an accurately self-described “High-Octane Rocky Mountain DanceGrass” outfit who kept the party going until it was time to unplug (at which point they continued their set acoustically, to keep the neighbors happy). Even after the end of the scheduled music, the campgrounds at 4 Peaks don’t go to bed! Despite the chilly air, campsite jam sessions went on late into the early morning.
Saturday began relaxed and fun, with campground neighbors trading stories and getting together for lawn games. The music up at the stages started early in the day, with highlights such as the Brothers Comatose, Tracorum, and Moonalice. One of my favorite sets of the weekend was from Brooklyn funk band The Pimps of Joytime, who played right before the headlining set on Saturday evening. These guys have been making a huge splash on the West Coast in the past couple of years, and it’s easy to see why- the band brings more energy and intensity with each show they play, and they just seem to get better and better.
4 Peaks’ main event this year was the string band Railroad Earth, who have a massive following in the Pacific Northwest. I really, really like this band in a beautiful, intimate, outdoor setting – their music just sounds so right. Watching the sun setting over the Cascade range during a Railroad Earth show is about as good as it gets, and the band’s playing didn’t fall short. The band drew us in to the one-set show with a handful of tried-and-true favorites including “Water Fountain Quicksand,” “New Lee Highway Blues > Fiddlee,” and “Potter’s Field.” The real highlight of the show for me was a mindblowing “Birds of America” as the set’s centerpiece. The band finished up with a pair of songs from their brand new album, “Last of the Outlaws,” and encored with another oldie-but-goodie, “Long Way to Go.”
It’s rare for me to leave a festival feeling refreshed and rejuvenated instead of dirty and physically exhausted- but that’s how I leave 4 Peaks each time I go. It’s a great place to get your annual fix of natural beauty, great music, and an unbeatable sense of community.
Gallery: 4 Peaks 2014
Photos by Alexander Maso