Summer Meltdown Festival Spotlight
Summer Meltdown is a soul-restoring festival tucked in the PNW wilderness that you might not yet have heard of. At the foot of a glacier capped mountain and situated right next to a lazy river in Darrington Washington, this hidden gem is the perfect getaway for music and nature lovers. It can best be described as the summer camp of your electric dreams, “where music meets the mountain” and the wild beauty of the Pacific Northwest.
Summer Melters have been melting in various iterations of the festival, in multiple different venues over the years since its conception in 2000. It has a loyal following of attendees who’ve been part of the party since the beginning and it is welcoming newcomers with rapid growth year after year. It is now the largest locally produced independent arts and music festival in the PNW, yet somehow it retains that small festival charm.
At Summer Meltdown, you get the best of both worlds. In the evenings, experience a music festival featuring diverse musical acts ranging from rock, funk and electronic. Enjoy your slumber (don’t forget your earplugs!) under the trees, then spend your day in a nature retreat, bringing yourself back to life with a dip in the glacier fed lazy river until the late afternoon when it’s time to get ready for another round of music.
ATTENDING A MUSIC FESTIVAL ON A WHIM
Purchasing tickets was kind of a leap of faith!
I had not really heard much about this festival. I admit that my radar was limited to bigger scale events featuring primarily DJ sets within the genres I am accustomed to.
Looking at previous years’ lineups I only knew 2 artists - Griz and Grammatik. I love their style but the rest of the lineup was a total mystery. In the past, I attended mostly music festivals that were purely electronic music - my favourites being trance and techno/tech-house/house.
But … it’s been a few years since I attended a music festival. The last one was in 2017 for Above & Beyond’s ABGT250 at The Gorge ...
And because three close friends bought tickets to Meltdown, my partner and I decided to come along.
Bottom line was - We love music, we love our friends and we wanted to experience a music festival with this crew! And that’s how our little festival crew came about!
#SHREDTIP: Don’t be captive to only one genre! Have an open mind. There is so much good music out there just waiting for you to explore. You might be surprised by what you find!
If you have any friends who love other types of music than your usual and they are attending a different type of festival you’d normally go to, check out the artists on previous lineups on Spotify!
If you kinda dig it even just a little bit and it’s within your means, take the plunge and get tickets! It was such a cool feeling that every single set at Summer Meltdown was a surprise, and now I feel like my musical knowledge and taste have expanded and for that I’m so very grateful.
GETTING TO SUMMER MELTDOWN & THINGS TO KNOW
We travelled to Summer Meltdown on Thursday, August 1st from North Vancouver, BC. With crossing the border, food break, grocery shopping and liquor shopping, it took about 5 hours to reach the venue: Darrington Bluegrass Music Park, located 1 1/2 hours Northeast of Seattle, or Southeast of Bellingham, WA.
It was a very scenic drive!
TIP: PLAN TO ARRIVE EARLY! Gates open at 10 am for early bird tickets and 2 pm for everyone else on Thursday, the first day of the festival. We didn’t arrive until maybe 4 pm and of course we waited in a long, sweaty hot lineup. You will probably still have to wait in a long lineup but the wait feels less terrible if you are earlier.
When you get to the gates, volunteers will come to your vehicle to give you your weekend wristband and sticker that identifies the type of camping you have.
The main rules to watch out for are:
- You’re welcome to bring up to 100 gifts that you’ve made in the Summer Meltdown theme to give away, as long as they don’t use the official logo or art.
- Alcohol Limits: 1 case of beer (24 cans) per person, AND 1.75 liters of liquor (in a plastic bottle) per person, AND 1 box of wine per person per car.
- Absolutely NO GLASS as it is very difficult to clean up and dangerous!
SUMMER MELTDOWN CAMPING
Car and RV camping are available with car / rv camping passes, but if you’re cool with hiking in your stuff you can also make a home at campsites cozily nestled in the forest.
Car Camping at Summer Meltdown. Photo sourced from www.summermeltdownfest.com/tickets.
- With car camping, you can create a more intimate, private space for you and your crew. You also don’t need to hike your items in.
- Forest Camping filled up and everyone’s sites seemed to be very close to each other. And if you arrive too late, you might be stuck with a campsite that’s way too close to the trail. Try to arrive earlier so you can choose something a bit more secluded.
However, Forest Camping was a magical sight to behold. It was so beautiful with the sunlight peeking through the trees, hammocks hanging, art displayed. Loved seeing how people expressed themselves through their campsites!
If you are car camping, make sure to arrive early so you can avoid the spots directly next to the portapotties.
If you are camping in the forest and want to be a little crafty, bring a bike and wagon so you can more easily transport your things from the car to your spot!
Our crew loves to go camping in the North Shore mountains where we’re from in BC, often spending our long weekends in the Squamish Valley. We’re constantly aware of the danger of bears, and constantly irritated by the existence of mosquitoes!
So here's another reason why Summer Meltdown felt like a total departure from reality - no bugs, no bears, no problems!
THE FESTIVAL VENUE - MUSIC
Break Science performing at Summer Meltdown's Cabin Stage
Summer Meltdown is located in Darrington Bluegrass Music Park, also known as Whitehorse Mountain Amphitheater at the foot of Whitehorse Mountain in Darrington, WA.
There are four stages - Main Stage, Cabin Stage, Late Night Tent and the secret-ish Forest Stage. The set-up for the Main Stage and Cabin Stage (the two main stages) seemed odd at first glance, as they are located right next to each other. But it was brilliantly planned out, with performances bouncing from one stage to the next so you didn't have to choose between sets or travel far.
The Late Night tent was the home of the Silent Disco and some grimy, bass-y goodness, while the secluded Forest Stage played host to some fantastic live bands.
Near the stages, there is a marketplace area where you can find a plethora of food, art and retail vendors, stalls that showcase different programs for environmental and social outreach, and a kids’ area - because yes, this festival is family friendly!
THE FESTIVAL VENUE - NATURE
The venue is rich in the beauty and calm of nature. Walking underneath the canopy of the lush, green forest, one is constantly reminded of the fairyland-like beauty of the Pacific Northwest.
There are trails that lead you on a short walk down a steep and dusty hill. With the help of a rope you can use as a handrail, you walk down to a river with water holes that you can swim and dunk in. The river was packed with people every single day!
Photo by Kelly Brunell on the Facebook Summer Meltdown Page
Our group spent our days here, at a quieter part of the river.
How to get there? From Interstate 5 take Exit 208, the Arlington Darrington exit. Go East on Hwy 530 for approximately 30 miles following the Darrington signs. The Darrington Bluegrass Music Park is three miles before you come into the town of Darrington on the left side. You will see the signs.
ON TO THE IMPORTANT STUFF ALREADY - WHAT ABOUT THE MUSIC?!
Summer Meltdown is the perfect festival for those who love both electronic music and live bands with instruments. Many of the artists were a mix of electronic and live instruments and it is very refreshing to someone like me whose festival experience is limited to mostly DJ sets.
I was only really familiar with one name on the lineup - Grammatik. But over the weekend I found so many new artists to love.
Some Music Highlights:
Nahko & Medicine For The People is a world music group headed by frontman Nahko Bear - born in Portland, Oregon, of mixed ethnic background which includes Puerto Rican and Filipino descent.
Being Filipino myself, my ears perked up and my heart swelled with joy when I heard Nahko say “Mabuhay” (a Tagalog greeting that translates roughly to ‘long live’) to a crowd of thousands.
- Music is powerful and transformative, like medicine for the people. Nahko & MFTP delivered a beautiful, uplifting folk-rock set with a uniting world message. If you feel an urge to bring your mindset back into perspective and you are craving a chance to refresh your spirit, you would benefit from listening to Nahko & Medicine For The People.
- Break Science - Live trip hop / breakbeat
- Break Science is the NYC duo of Adam Deitch and Borahm Lee who together create a refreshingly original take on electronic music. The two are connected by a common connection to hip hop.
Their live performance was mesmerizing, with Lee performing trip-hop, dub and jazz on keyboards and Ableton Live while Deitch laid down delicious breakbeat on drums. It was especially awesome to watch the communication between the two. They have to remain in sync the entire time as absolutely everything is being played live.
- CloZee - World Bass
- “Under the broad structure of electronic and bass music, and informed by sound the world over, Clozee finds her best fit in the 'World Bass’ corner.”
French producer CloZee has a unique, mind expanding trippy sound I can barely describe, but the opening sentence above puts it simply.
Her music features instrumentation from all over the world. She is a sound engineer as well as a producer, and her knowledge of sound design is palpable in her productions and her flawless mixing.
- Brother Ali - Hip Hop
- Brother Ali’s performance was one of my favourites! He has such a commanding presence on stage and his music is so personal and inspiring, with a socially conscious message. You could feel it in the crowd as well - everyone was wide awake and paying attention.
- “The Polish Ambassador is a multi genre musician, producing styles including electro, breaks, hip-hop, dub, funk, chiptune, and glitchy IDM. He uses live sound mixing, using computers and midi instruments to produce album tracks differently at every live performance.” (Wikipedia)
- This set was another one of my favourites - the music was very unique, fun and incorporated live elements including Jesse Klein on keyboards and the talented fairy princess Ayla Nereo on vocals!
There was also a Silent Disco on Thursday and Sunday of the festival. Two DJs would play and you can switch which set you are listening to with the touch of a button! It was so great to hear all the fine details of the music in your ears while enjoying dancing with friends!
LESSONS TO TAKE BACK TO REALITY
It had been a couple years since the last time I attended a music festival that I forgot for a moment how amazing it is and how liberating it feels to leave reality for a few days and fully immerse yourself in an experience with your friends and thousands of not-yet-friends.
We met so many cool people from different parts of continent! The feeling I got talking to “strangers” was that underneath it all we are interested in the same things (music, having fun and not taking life too seriously) and wow was it ever restorative.
Summer Meltdown was a gentle cuddle from the universe. The kindness from everyone I met reminded me of the following:
Being true to yourself. How good it feels to be authentically yourself in every way, from your outfit choices to your conversations.
Being in that environment, I felt that my walls naturally dropped and I was able to have real, genuine connections with everyone I met.
And others must have felt this way too, because without both people being all - in on a conversation, the connection wouldn’t feel that real. You feel?
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One of my favorite moments at @summermeltdown this year. The love is so palpable throughout the whole festival, but this couple really hit me right in the feels. ..... ... . #summermeltdown #festival #music #love #couplegoals #piggyback #happy #livemusic #pnw #washington
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Unity. It’s always so mind boggling attending a music festival, knowing that thousands of people are brought together to the same place because of a common love for music.
I remembered that deep down despite all of our differences, we humans are all on the same journey. Our souls have miraculously landed into temporary vessels and we are all on a common quest to make the most of our time on this planet. More than that, we all need the same things.
In this context, all humans crave to feel seen and heard, for their existence to be validated, for real connection with others. We get so distracted by the daily grind that even when we’re surrounded by people, we feel so desperately alone.
The importance of art and play, silliness and creativity.
Music Festivals are an escape from reality, even for just a few days. Can you name a better time to stimulate those creative urges?
Summer Meltdown had a ton of art that makes you stop in wonder! From the psychedelic artwork at the marketplace to the Sensatorium to the Lit Up Mushrooms to Axis Mundi art installations by Thirty Circles.
Even now weeks after the festival, my creative juices are flowing, I feel invigorated and inspired, and I’m sure that the moments appreciating the art at the festival have a lot to do with it.
"the connection between heaven and earth."
After a day at the river we took a different path back to our campsite and we stumbled into Thirty Circles’ art installation Axis Mundi. Moments like this are some of my favourite parts of music festivals! Stumbling into secret-ish little things that are not obviously on display. It was truly magical!
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"Did you catch Ayla Nereo?""Kind of. I was... distracted."⠀ ⠀ If you know this amazing performer, tag them!⠀ Summer Meltdown, 2019.⠀ ⠀ #summermeltdown #camping #musicfestival #music #livemusic #festival #pnw #washington #pacificnorthwest #blog #seeitlive #sonya7iii #bump #follow4follow #f4f #followme #letsmelt #getmelty #meltdown19 ⠀
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While it might not technically be a secret, it was to us so I am putting it here! We somehow didn’t know about the Forest Stage. We spent all our time at the Mainstage, Cabin Stage and Late Night Tent, and one day we heard someone talking about the forest stage.
Confusion! What is that! Later that night we stumbled into the Forest Stage - a stage within the forest as you can imagine, within the forest camping area!
Our favourite part was definitely the Dream Net, an elaborate and beautifully designed system of nets woven lovingly to create a chill spot for Melters! Here we met so many new friends, relaxing with a great view of the Forest Stage.
SOME LAST TIPS
- The following are packing non negotiables: headlamp, portable charger, camping stove, tent, canopy, carpet, chairs, tables, floaties for the river, tapestries, giant jug of water and a few refillable bottles, battery operated lights, earplugs, eye mask, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, wet wipes both to clean up messes and spills and for a tent shower to help you feel more refreshed!
- For extra comfort you can also purchase a camping shower from Amazon, fill it up with water from the river and hang it up at your campsite. We did this and it was such an amazing addition to our campsite. Nothing like a freezing cold morning shower to feel refreshed in the heat of the sun!
- Don’t be shy to ask for people’s information! Get their instagram accounts and connect, who knows how your friendship will evolve - you might catch them at another festival soon!
All in all, Summer Meltdown was a festival that I will never forget.
While I did a very minimal scan of each artist on the line up on Spotify, I mostly walked into the Festival ready to be surprised, and I was not disappointed. I get the feeling that newcomers can trust the Summer Meltdown organizers to deliver a variety of music from so many different genres. Whether it's soulful, funky or downright grimy that you like, there is music for everyone at Summer Meltdown.
But the thing that really stood out for me as a first time melter was how kind and welcoming every single person was that my group met.
It was an inspiring weekend and I hope to continue the Summer Meltdown positive energy and creativity into my real life!
SUMMER MELTDOWN HISTORY
Summer Meltdown was founded by PNW band Flowmotion in the year 2000. Back then, it was a party for San Juan Island community, with coordination and execution handled by members of the band and their friends. Flowmotion performed as the headliner of the event.
Over the next few years the festival grew, adding new team members to lead the event coordination efforts, developing an official volunteer program, ticketing system, logistics planning, permitting attempts, vendor programs and media marketing.
By 2005, the festival had moved away from San Juan Island had had occured in 3 different venues. At this point the festival reached new heights in growth. To continue, the organizers needed official county permitting. Organizers took a year of leave and regrouped in 2006.In 2006, Summer Meltdown moved to its current location in Darrington, Washington, sharing the Whitehorse Mountain Amphitheater (aka Darrington Bluegrass Music Park) with the Darrington Bluegrass Festival. The festival property is also known as the Darrington Bluegrass Park.