Timber Achieves Apotheosis

Today’s vocabulary word is apotheosis. Apotheosis is a state of idealized perfection in which a thing exists at its highest function and execution. Timber Fest, which wrapped up its fourth-annual installment last Sunday morning, has achieved apotheosis.

Since it began, Timber’s ambition has not been to bowl you over with name-brand headliners, omnipresent corporate sponsors or arena-sized stage production. Instead it aims to provide an accessible, easygoing experience by putting music and nature side by side and letting human curiosity do the rest. This is Zen and the Art of Music Festing: Clear away distraction to reveal the latent joy at the intersection of good music and the great outdoors.

This year fared better than any previous, due in large part to the flexibility and ingenuity of the people who put on the festival. No doubt there’s luck involved in the success of any three-day event, but there’s also a zillion tiny choices to be made. Chad Clibborn and Kevin Sur, the main brains behind Timber, have figured out how to best cultivate that festival Zen. Ten years of Doe Bay Fest—one of the Northwest’s most singular gatherings, albeit hard to get to—and now four Timbers have provided plenty of practice. Most significantly, they reoriented this year’s entire Timber to take place in a more central part of Tolt-MacDonald Park in Carnation, about 40 minutes east of Seattle. They moved the main stage, concessions and beer garden closer to the camping and parking, a simple but crucial maneuver that concentrated the experience and eliminated time spent walking hither and yon and opening more time to enjoy the festival.

They also, for the first time in my estimation, bullseyed the booking of the festival headliners. On Saturday evening, as a bluebird afternoon sky faded into Creamsicle twilight, Langhorne Slim & the Law put on an unforgettable, quintessential set of full-throated folk rock, fulfilling their out-of-towner, cleanup-hitter duties with equal parts modesty and bombast. An itinerant troubadour who’s lived in Portland, New York City, Vermont and, currently, Nashville, Slim’s been sober for three years; his performance revealed a newfound clarity and vulnerability that absolutely magnetized the crowd. At one point he coiled about 40 feet of mike cord in his hand, leapt off the stage and coursed through the audience, leaping onto a table in the beer garden and singing into the upturned faces that swarmed at his boots. “This is the way we move!” he belted, and the audience moved right alongside.

Friday’s headliner was also special, though for different reasons. For the last four or five months, the members of country-rock mainstays the Maldives and the Moondoggies have been rehearsing Creedence Clearwater Revival’s greatest hits, and Friday night they unloaded a 40-minute set with the animated energy of true believers, 14 people on stage and 2,000 or so in the crowd singing along to every note. For as much of an instrumental free-for-all as it was, with different singers taking on different songs and at least two of every instrument, the collective sounded astoundingly tight, and the crowd went berserk, singing and dancing to “Suzie Q” and “Fortunate Son” and a slew of other numbers all of America knows by heart. Surprisingly, they ended with “Keep on Chooglin’,” a lesser-known CCR B-side that’s also the band’s ragged, groove-drunk mission statement. 

To counter the main stage’s fullblown dance party, Friday and Saturday featured meditative late-night sets at the smaller Campfire Stage set in the woods, reached by crossing a gently swaying suspension bridge over the Snoqualmie River. The Maldives headlined there Friday, a band transformed over the years from Crazy Horse-style country rock into an eerie, mesmerizing kind of country-folk voodoo, led by Jason Dodson’s newfound falsetto and accompanied by occasional theremin (!) from banjoist Kevin Barrans. They played with a kind of haunted tension, uplit by pink stage lights and between flickering tiki torches that sent quivering shadows into the tall pines behind the stage.

Equally enchanting was Saturday night’s Campfire Stage headliner, Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter, a veteran psych-rock band making their first Timber appearance. Sykes evoked a sort of oracular wisdom in her lyrics as guitarist Phil Wandscher unleashed peels of squalling guitar. The setting aligned with the sound, all spooky, woodsy ambiance huddled in the intimate darkness, a million miles away from civilization.

This year Timber nailed it in a way that only the 2,600 people who were there can know. The grounds never felt crowded; lines were never overlong; trash and toilets and other important incidentals were always well monitored. A couple was married during a small, flower-garlanded ceremony at the Campfire Stage on Saturday afternoon. Among those present over the weekend were a zillion children—infants, toddlers and teens, running loose in the fest’s grassy fields or clutched in arms beside Koozied beers—plus plenty of REI-clad middle-agers and even a handful of olds. Absent were people of color in any notable amount, aside from members of Seattle Kokon Taiko, a Japanese-style drum corps that provided delicious diversity on Saturday’s main stage. Timber’s producers have created a safe, welcoming idyll in Carnation with a demonstrable degree of perfection. Now they’re free to broaden the fold and open the coming years to a wider audience and even higher heights. 

Photos courtesy the Timber Facebook page.