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Oregon's Largest Bluegrass Festival Celebrates 15 Years


Portland-based folk-rock band Fruition closes out the 15th Annual Northwest String Summit with a two-hour concert in the colorfully lit Kinfolk Revival Tent.

Portland-based folk-rock band Fruition closes out the 15th Annual Northwest String Summit with a two-hour concert in the colorfully lit Kinfolk Revival Tent.

Shirley Chan/OPB

The growing bluegrass music scene in the Pacific Northwest stays alive with the Northwest String Summit celebrating its 15th year at Horning’s Hideout in North Plains, Oregon.

Colorado-based Yonder Mountain String Band has hosted the festival from its start. The band has expanded the West’s prominent bluegrass scene to Oregon.

“Yonder [Mountain String Band] is from Colorado,” said Chip Russell, who works for the Oregon Bluegrass Association and has attended the festival for 12 years. “A lot of people come every year because of that,” he said.

Yonder Mountain String Band wanted to host a festival and the group decided it liked Oregon more than Colorado.

This is the fourth year Travis Heath and Regan Watjus have attended the String Summit. They live in Eugene and first heard about the festival while living in Colorado. “We were definitely drawn to this because it was super family-friendly,” Watjus said.

The Pacific Northwest bluegrass music scene stays alive with the Northwest String Summit celebrating its 15th year.

What draws Watjus and Heath back to the festival is the environment created by the friendliness and openness of the community.

“A lot of these people that come every year, we’ve been either online friends and then this place drew us together,” said Russell about the bluegrass music community and the String Summit’s influence. “We started out on a Yahoo group before Facebook and all that. We knew each other online from trading shows and whatever, then we came here and started meeting.”

The Northwest String Summit is the largest bluegrass festival in Oregon and second largest in Pacific Northwest. However, all summer long there are smaller bluegrass festivals every week.

Capped at a maximum of 5,000 people, the String Summit embraces the intimacy of bluegrass music combined with community. It is a smaller than most music festivals in the area, even though the entire property totals 160 acres.

Austin Warren is attending for the first time from Colorado. He attends many bluegrass festivals and says String Summit is the most family-friendly he has attended.

“It seems like bluegrass festivals have more children and family vibes,” Warren said as he enjoyed his lunch and the main stage from the top of a hill.

There are tents for children with arts and crafts and more, and specific family camping. The festival is set up to provide children the opportunity roam freely in the forested valley.

“Everyone takes care of each other here, which is nice,” Heath said.  

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