This last weekend was the sixth annual VanFest, held out in a campground in Maple Valley. The festival, featuring 37 musical acts, minus a few last minute cancellations, was, as founder Van Wolfe put it, an attempt “to mix the best elements of mega festivals and basement DIY shows”. It struck that balance nicely, the 3 stages plus Hip-Hop tent ran by Town TV meant there was always a band or two playing at once. The crowd of around 100 attendees would migrate in waves from stage to stage. As one band would finish, a band on the next stage over would just be launching into their set. The artists playing represented a strong cross-section of the Northwest music scene, pulling bands from Seattle, Tacoma and even Glacier Veins from Portland and Big O from Caldwell Idaho. The line-up gets filled pretty quickly every year; Van Wolfe sends out invitations in January and takes the first 36 or so to get back to him, and also gets asked by bands directly if they can come play, which was the case with Celestial Navigation, who were playing a great folk/jazz set as I talked to Wolfe. If you want to get at the center of the current Seattle scene, it is in the humble draw of Van Wolfe. He admits in an ah-shucks sort of way to knowing of 18 different people with a tattoo of him and every band makes sure to thank him for putting the event on.
The atmosphere was overwhelmingly positive and inclusive and it became quickly clear how interwoven the Seattle scene is. Many bands remarked how cool it was to be able to see all their friend’s bands in the same place.
The location, 45 minutes or so from Seattle, was a welcome retreat from the concrete jungle, verdant vegetation acting as a backdrop to the bands, who played under the overhanging log and tin roofs of the camp’s kitchen areas. There is a small river that winds behind the campground which many took full advantage of in the 90 degree heat. It was eerily like being back at summer camp, albeit with a much more robust talent show, and much more beautiful people.
Stand-outs from the day included SEACATS’ wonderfully theatric set, where the band presented itself as a cult and finished with a strong cover of Papa Roach’s ‘Last Resort’, that rode the thin line between parody and fan-boy worship. Glacier Veins played one of the tightest sets of the day, playing up-tempo post-emo punk rock with equal parts skillful precision and rollicking passion. Front woman and lead songwriter Malia Endres is a real talent. The Hip-Hop tent was set a little a part from the other three stages, and was much more lightly attended. A shame as festival-goes missed out on acts like Michette, whose gender-bending persona and playfully creative wordplay were a revelation.
This writer is already looking forward to next year. See you there?