SIFF “Face The Music” Preview: Welcome to Doe Bay

Welcome to Doe Bay
Directed by Nesed Shamah and Dan Thornton
(USA, 2011, 97 minutes)

Festival Screenings:
Sunday, June 3, 9:15 p.m. at the Egyptian
Tuesday, June 5, 4:00 p.m. at SIFF Cinema Uptown

Doe Bay needs its own brand of Kool Aid drink, and a big mug with the logo from its deer-hunter hats on it. As a gently sarcastic deflection of people who roll their eyes at the musical-spiritual experience of three days of live concerts out on Orcas Island many try to explain with a “You just don’t know unless you live out there at the festival.”

It involves comfortable camping, no VIP tent, spontaneous music making by the artists who come out into the bucolic wilderness to perform in it, and those artists are many of the best the Pacific NW has to offer: For example, Damien Jurado, who does for the documentary Welcome to Doe Bay what Dylan should have done for Woodstock; Champagne Champagne, who specially mutate their very urban weirdness with an inspired stripped down punk-blues cousin behind their raps; the gospel soul swagger of Pickwick, and many, many more. The film is a great endorsement of the diversity and creativity we have in our local music scene, even if there is definitely (and admittedly) a downtown Ballard neighborhood night-time vibe overall to the pleasures.

The festival is also hugely successful, selling out thousands of tickets within two minutes of going on-line this year.

Welcome to Doe Bay answers a lot of questions we stuck-in-Seattle folk have about what goes on out in those woods. Like, who started it? That would be resort owner Joe Brotherton, and co-organizers Chad Clibborn and Kevin Sur, the first guy a “regular Joe” with some land and vision to let the other two run a very specified live music experience. As is explained throughout the film, purity is the goal of this marketplace. “You’ll see no Budwesier banners here,” I think someone says at one point. I’ve seen Chad and Kevin in the music scene for years and didn’t really know who they were till now, but they sure seem to work their asses off (as no doubt do their loved ones and staff) to keep the campfire good vibes burning and help people relax to what is normally crammed into the front corners of pubs and in shadowy venues.

Speaking of pubs, it was at Conor Byrne where the Head and the Heart first open-miked in Ballard, and that grew into a flurry of interest through gigs with bands related to the Doe Bay core, a great big frothing love-in that assured they needed to play a couple of times during the year this doc was filmed (one of them on the porch of the general store). The story of the Head and the Heart will be of historical interest and as with all the other bands performing in this film, the live footage is awesome. I don’t dislike any of the bands I saw in Welcome to Doe Bay as I watched it, even if I may not actually seek some out back here in Seattle. No offense at all intended, but this is pretty sharp marketing for a creative experience involving live music. They put plenty of it in the film, and before I start to whine about wanting full songs or even part sets from some of the acts, I realize this is no longer the Woodstock economy for movies. The portions of the film I really enjoyed — hearing Larry Mizell, Jr., Hannah Levin, and Jonathan Cunningham chat about the odiousness of corporate festivals and why we need to have truly alternative ones where the setting is inspiring and the sets are invigoratingly egalitarian with the audiences; with no overt commercialization back-grounded.

City Arts scribe and KEXP DJ Levin’s hilarious comment of her own “had enough!” moment at a SXSW one year (“I was walking out of a show and ran into someone selling ‘My Space Hot Dogs’”) reflects the frustration many of us feel about the music being so seriously controlled in any live setting bigger than the Sunset. Festivals are the most frustrating examples of customers not getting what they crave from the music — freedom, creativity, kinship — but like the commercialized, politicized church, people still go to get what they can out of it.

That spiritual element is articulated effectively by Jurado, who eagerly explains how he loves there not being any “stages” at Doe Bay — most of the time, the musicians are at eye level with their fans and friends. There is a delicious moody grace of hearing him, and Lemolo, sing to the spirits directly around them. But Doe Bay has enough room for the quirky and only breaks one rule by having The Maldives as the house band every year (the line up is always moved around by trying new things with new and different bands). That’s one of those “spirit of the law” sort of things that makes perfect sense.

Of special note in the documentary is Abbey Simmons’ expert running rock critic commentary on the backgrounds and qualities of the artists, summing up bios and giving thoughtful praise and cultural criticism when needed. The fact that filmmakers Nesed Shamah and Dan Thornton involved her, and the writers from The Stranger and other street level-respected media, shows a literate awareness of the synergy happening in this scene, and intuitively put together the right voices to tell it. And it was a good year for sampling Pacific NW music in the middle of the Pacific NW, that’s for sure. (Will I ever camp out there? Hell no, I’m a City Boy — but maybe I’ll start a campfire next time I catch Champagne Champagne at Neumos.)

Read more reviews from the “Face the Music” series as part of the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival here.

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