On the coastline of Orcas Island, Doe Bay is a down-to-earth community.
Owners of the resort, Joe and Maureen Brotherton, seem to set the vibe. Intentionally creating Doe Bay Fest to be friendly, supportive and all about music.
“It’s like we wanted it to be in the 70s, but in the 70s we got into other things. Here (at Doe Bay Fest) there are at least four days where everyone takes care of each other.” Joe Brotherton said.
Booked to DJ a dance party on Friday night, I arrived Sunday to get some solo time. My guy and I had been here to visit before, but not for the festival.
Doe Bay itself is serene and green, like the rest of Washington state. The resort seems like a small village. The general store/cafe building acts as hub.
Tents, cabins, a big garden (where they grow most of their own food), stages, hot tubs, a beach and guest areas are connected by woodsy trails. Deer wander everywhere like they own the place.
My yurt was cozy and in a spot overlooking the bay. For the first three days there was hardly anyone around. In the mornings, I’d play guitar and watched the fog burn off. The rest of the time I’d visit the tubs and sauna, read my book (Game of Thrones series, second time through), sun in front of the yurt and socialize with the festival folks and volunteers (who were working hard prepping for the festival) down by the store.
On Thursday, this quiet place turned into a party. Tents popped up all over. A busking stage was set. A colorful bunch of people filed by, loading instruments, food and camping gear.
The crowd that filled the vista were gentle and considerate. Not your average festival crowd, many of them had been returning for years. On Friday, the maximum of 2000 people seemed to be reached, still it felt small. Tents filled every semi-level spot.
Seattle-based outfit Artist Home (who are also behind the reportedly excellent Timber Fest) booked musical artists for the outdoor stages all afternoon and into the night. “Secret shows” rung out on the beach and in the woods.
Over the next three days we’d see strong musical showings by: Adra Boo (from Fly Moon Royalty), Truckasaurus, Mirah, Legs, Cataldo, Ra Scion, Thao & the Get Down Stay Down, Cody Chesnutt, Wet City Rockers, Brother for Sale, Runaway Symphony and more. We traveled from stage to stage to catch every act we could.
The musical stars of my personal Doe Bay Festival experience were Portland band Modern Kin. Formed by members of Drew Grow and the Pastor Wives.
Drew Grow’s passionate delivery made me think of an unleashed Lou Reed.
Friday was the most exciting night. I’d been anticipating the DJ set all day and watching everyone else party.
When I got into the yoga studio for my set at 11pm, it had to be 90 degrees in there.
DJ Bruce Pavitt (one of the founders of Sub Pop and a consummate DJ) had the crowd really warmed up.
The sweaty group of people packed in the box looked expectant, then slipped into gear with me on the first note of James Brown’s “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and then right along for Salt-n-Pepa’s “Shoop”. Outside the windows dancers surrounded the building. Drawn in by the heat, action and loud music.
The crowd inside and out seemed to respond to the more familiar tracks. Most of these folks were from Seattle and listened to KEXP. I wanted to feed their fire and knew just where to ignite.
They went crazy for the Chemical Brothers, Outkast, David Bowie, The Romantics, Fatboy Slim and my remix of Madonna’s “Express Yourself.” At one point I almost passed out from the heat and jumping up and down with the crowd. When the set was done they screamed for more.
At Doe Bay Fest everyone’s encouraged to succeed at playing music. It’s a re-institution of the instrument as toy.
It seemed everyone had a guitar, drum or shaker at one point or was singing along. Songs were being learned and invented on the fly. Every once in a while someone would shout out a celebratory call, “Doe Bay, Doe Bay!”
Doe Bay Fest is now my favorite music festival. It wasn’t just about the high quality music and the friendly, creative people.
There was a noticeable lack of regimented rules at Doe Bay. We were invited to take it all in, to soak in the tubs, walk the paths, relax on the grass and play on the coastline.
Tune in to DJ Michele Myers Fridays at 9pm on KEXP. Music historian and producer, Michele’s made over 200 radio stories for KEXP Documentaries. A dance party DJ, she’s got upcoming shows: Gigantic (A Big, Big Dance Party) at Chop Suey 9/4 and The Black Cat Halloween Bash at Fred 10/25. Michele writes for Soulful Alternative and has created scripts and features for The Smithsonian Institute, Experience Music Project, The University of Washington and NPR.