Hottest THING in town: Festival returns for first time since 2019

Brian Kelly, Derek Firenze, and James Sloan
Posted 9/1/22

Wild THING, you made some hearts sing.

You made everything, well, groovy.

Hundreds of music fans crowded the gates, ready for the noon opening.

First in line at the Eisenhower Avenue …

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Hottest THING in town: Festival returns for first time since 2019

Posted

Wild THING, you made some hearts sing.

You made everything, well, groovy.

Hundreds of music fans crowded the gates, ready for the noon opening.

First in line at the Eisenhower Avenue entrance was Ryan and Hannah Neary, with their two sons, Sawyer, 8, and Stone, 5.

They were at the head of the line out of necessity, Ryan Neary said.

“Part of it is, our tickets are in Tacoma,” he said. 

“I got photos of the tickets from my neighbor, and we’re just hoping to resolve that pretty quickly,” he said, eyeing the nearby box office booth.

He said it was their first THING, but actually their third big show of the summer.

“We weren’t at the first one; we had some friends who came to the first one. 

“We just jumped on it right when tickets went on sale,” Neary added. “We’ve had it planned all summer.”

They came up from Pierce County with two other families — one from Tacoma, one from Seattle — and were camping in three RVs parked at the fairgrounds. 

Their must-hear list for THING was long.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing Jazz is Dead,” Neary said. “I’ve been listening to them for a couple of years. “I’ve got a bunch of friends who have been talking about Goose for a while. So I’m excited to experience that as well.

“And then Delvon Lemarr Trio - some hometown soul/funk; always love those guys. And then, I guess, Mdou Moctar, the African desert rock. His story is pretty cool, so I’m excited to hear that, too.”

Neary admitted they see a lot of concerts.

“We go to a lot of shows. This is our third musical festival as a family this summer,” he said. “We went to the Northwest Strings Summit down in North Plains, Oregon, and then we were just at Big Bottom Festival, which is down on the Cowlitz.”

The lineup at the Purdy Pavilion box office gate before gates opened at noon Friday stretched back a few hundred souls or so, all the way to the fence set up at the edge of Fort Worden at Spruce Street.

The mood was jovial before the gates opened Friday.

More people joined the queue as the gaggle of volunteers in bright orange shirts near the entrance continued to grow, as well.

One volunteer, a woman in long ponytails, was saying goodbye, heading to the other side of the grounds.

“I heard that volunteers get smooches on goodbye,” she said to another volunteer, giving him a quick peck as she left.

After making several radio calls of “Are you ready, are you ready?” then “OK, we’re going to open it up” and “We’re ready to go,” an official at the front gate turned to the line of concertgoers and yelled: “The house is open!” 

Three lanes opened, but only two were needed as attendees streamed past, holding arms high with their wristbands in sight.

Everyone in the crowd of early arrivals seemed to already have their wristbands.

Dozens quickly passed by in a mellow and orderly fashion, with the gate crew sharing laughs that no one needed to stop to exchange a ticket for a wristband. 

The first folks through the gate fanned out fast. 

Some started to wander, others had a more immediate mission.

Four guys in black shirts, with neon-green portraits of Neo from “The Matrix” on the front, gathered in the parking lot by the food vendors and started playing catch with a football.

David Landoni made his way over to the nearby row of food trucks and booths.

He put in the first order of the day for Coyote BBQ from Port Angeles.

Turkey bacon melt.

Landoni, of Portland, was coming to THING for the first time.

“I bought tickets because I’m a big Modest Mouse fan,” he said. “Obviously, they’re one of the big headliners here.”

He came with a couple buddies, one from Portland, the other, Seattle. They made the six-hour drive starting Thursday afternoon.

“But I’m with these two guys, and they have bands they want to see, too,” he said.

And there was a non-musical attraction, as well: “They’re not a band, but Triumph the Insult Comic Dog is here. That’s going to be funny. I’ve gotta go see that.”

At the nearby box office, just seven people were waiting.

Landoni said he was surprised at the little wait to get in to THING.

“I thought there was going to be more of a line. But I guess people weren’t in a hurry to get here,” he said. “So we just showed up about 30 minutes early, and were like the first people here.”

Roadies were busily putting the final pieces in place on the Littlefield Green stage nearby. A smoke machine was spewing its exhaust from both sides of the stage as snippets of Sparks’ “Tips for Teens” boomed through amplifiers.

A man in a golf hat with a British accent on the stage was asking someone apparently in charge: “Can you just give us half a song?”

Another worker pleaded, “Can we cut the smoke for a second?”

The lines were short, save for beverages, at many of the vendors Friday afternoon.

The wait at High Country Mini Donuts on the Parade Grounds was just six-deep at lunchtime.

Soap bubbles hopelessly floated toward the main stage; escapees from a Chauvet DJ Bubble King Bubble Machine that was perched atop two portable ATM machines on the north side of the Parade Grounds.

Testing, one, two

Over at Littlefield Green, Aurora Avenue, the first band to play at THING, was getting ready for their set.

The band, less than two years old, was made up of five students from West Seattle High School. They got their first big gig as part of last year’s SOUND OFF!, a regional showcase  presented by the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle.

“Hi mom and dad. Check, check,” Koh Casaba of Aurora Avenue called out during a sound check. 

“We’re so proud of you!” came a shout back from the crowd of 60 or so, with scattered laughter following.

Singer Samara Reign, who would perform later in the set with Aurora Avenue serving as her backup band, stepped to the microphone for a sound check. She searched for something to say.

“The trees are green. The grass is dead. The stage is cool,” she paused.

“Everything is cool. My dad is right there,” Reign said. “Hi dad.”

A man about 40 feet away, holding a cellphone high to record the moment, waved back.

“Whoah,” she said, and a long moment passed as she continued her mic check. “I’m 18 years old,” she offered.

“You’ve got your whole life ahead of you!” someone from the crowd shouted.

The music-loving mob quickly grew as a few people danced in front of the stage. A couple volunteers bobbed along with the music near the premium seating area, a roped off section of 75 or so teal and red plastic chairs. At the far end of Littlefield Green, two guys threw a Frisbee as Aurora Avenue played “Tides” from their first album, the self-titled “Aurora Avenue.”

Back in town

THING returned to Fort Worden for the first time since its debut in 2019, which featured such venerable acts such as Violent Femmes, De La Soul, and Jeff Tweedy.

Expanded from a two-day event to three days, THING featured a more robust lineup than its pre-pandemic predecessor.

The festival’s name itself comes from “TING,” a medieval term that was described as “an assembly of free people to reduce feuds and avoid social disorder.”

On the other side of the fort, a small gauntlet formed in front of the THING souvenir booth, marked by the banner, MERCH.

“Their merch is really sick,” a girl looking at Goose shirts told her companion.

Many festival attendees wore their trophies from earlier shows. Concert T-shirts spotted in Friday’s crowd: Megadeth, Altin Gün, Pearl Jam 2022, Macklemore, Lizzo, Goose, WOMAD USA 1999, Violent Femmes, Bad Religion, Beck. Grails, “Wake up and live.” Rolling Stones. The Who - Moving On 2019. Phish. 

Other shirts from not-bands: Pez, Griffey 24, KEXP 1972-2012. Coachella. Some had slogans. “My Body, My Rights.” “Holy Forking Shirt.” “Rock this joint.”

Here to help

Sean Dodd was stretched out on the embankment in front of the fort’s Building 202, overlooking the luminarium.

A volunteer for THING who had come over from Bothell, Dodd was taking a break before the start of his first shift.

“First time coming, first time in Port Townsend, too,” he said.

“A friend of mine mentioned volunteering, and that was an option, and suggested I come and join her. It sounded like a fun time. Good line-up, local venue, and first time going camping for a music festival,” he said.

Dodd had just arrived earlier Friday morning. He said he was excited about checking out some bands when he wasn’t at work. 

Dodd said he was looking at a 90-minute shift Friday, followed by longer ones on the next two days of the three-day festival.

“I’m just doing one shift a day. So I’m doing my first shift here in a little bit, and then I’ll have the rest of the day. It’s the same deal every day; doing my shift early in the morning and having the rest of the evening,” he said.

No. 1 with a bullet

Wet Leg, a British indie rock duo made up of Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers, drew a large audience Friday. A relatively new group dating back to 2019, Wet Leg released its debut album this year, “Wet Leg,” which charted at No. 1 on the UK Albums Chart, ARIA Albums Chart (Australia), and the Irish Albums Chart.

More people squeezed into the front row for Wet Leg in the minutes before they entered all smiles from stage right.

Strangers shared random stories. One girl described a recent experience with magic mushrooms. “I tried to fight someone. Then I rolled down a hill. I climbed a tree.”

Wet Leg launched into “Being in Love.”

Partway in, buzzing feedback led to a short delay, as Teasdale stalled with random observations.

She looked out past the crowd, asking about the luminarium. Teasdale recalled seeing one at an earlier festival.

“Where was it? What festival was it at?” she asked her band.

And answer came back, and she agreed, “I think it was. I think it was ... Yeah. There’s this festival in UK, in Manchester ... they have one of those,” she said to the crowd. 

Another member in the band asked out loud: “Is it all lit up and s***? It’s f*in cool in there.”

Laughter, and then a shout from the crowd. “We like to get weird!”

Spelunking the surreal

The maze of light and air known as the luminarium was, of course, awe-mazing. 

The Architects of Air was founded by Alan Parkinson, who also designs the structures. The Architects of Air  travel internationally with their collection of modular, inflatable chambers, creating unique structures wherever they happen to be.

“We can set them up in different configurations. Sometimes we’re in a city square and we have to deal with street furniture,” exhibition manager John Gat said. 

“Sometimes there’s trees; we go around them. Sometimes we can set up in a straight line down the road.”

From the outside, it looks something like a large, silver series of bounce houses with a few slices of color, but once inside, that silver picks up and blends the light emitted through the opaque colored fabric creating tunnels of rainbow whorls.

To spelunk the swirl, participants were required to remove their shoes to not track in rocks before they entered the air lock. 

Here, in a darkened chamber that regulates the air pressure between the inside and outside, a volunteer explains the experience to come and invites people to relax in the peace and serenity the designer intended.

The air lock is the darkest space of the exhibit, needed to widen the pupils of participants in order to pump up the wow factor when first entering.

“We play with the eye,” Gat said.

This particular structure, titled “Timisien” in honor of the Romanian city of Timi»ôoara, is comprised of 21 domes in total with a labyrinth of miniature domes connecting two larger, spacious outer domes.

“It’s kind of surreal ... You’re immediately taken out of your world and into this other world,” said Sam Rezendes of local knife shop Uptown Cutlery.

Some people say

Overheard in the crowd: “It’s not even
8 o’clock yet!” “I love dumplings, but I’ve never strayed away from Asian dumplings.”

A family stretched out on a Pendleton blanket on the Parade Grounds, playing UNO as Hiatus Kaiyote played in the background. 

Singer Nai Palm, between songs, called out the band’s driver who had gotten them to Port Townsend. It was his birthday at midnight.

“Everybody say, ‘Happy birthday, Tom!’” Palm yelled.

Chatter was mostly observational in the lead-up to the performance of Sparks over at the Littlefield Green Stage.

“There’s not really as many people here as should be,” a festival-goer told her male companion.

“Yeah, it’s really surprising,” he said.

Ten minutes later, as took the stage, however, the crowd had grown tenfold, nearly filling the green, as the venerable art band took the stage.

Singer Russell Mael looked out over the heads: “This should be interesting.”

“Hello, Port Townsend?” he asked, quickly noting he was having a bit of culture shock having just returned from a concert in Japan.

Sparks, iconic influencers made up of the brothers Russell and Ron Mael, played a generous set, ending with “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us,” their No. 2 hit on the UK Singles Chart from 1974.

Father John Misty opened with two crowd-pleasers: “Mr. Tillman” and “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings.”

“Alright, thank you very much,” he said after the second song, then paused to describe the people on stage.

“Just look like a bunch of normal guys that you’d see walking around the woods in Port Townsend.”

“It’s really horrifying,” he added. 

Meet the vendors

During their downtime, festival-goers were treated to an arrangement of local and regional venders for crafts, art, food, and more.

One of the local vendors included Nadine’s Kitchen, a Port Townsend-based soul food eatery owned and operated by Grace Love, who shared what was on the menu.

“We had soul bowls, which is a layer of mac and cheese, collard greens, and fried chicken, and people are very happy about that, except for the vegans,” Love said. 

“It’s good; the sun is really hot and us venders have had to kind of troubleshoot some stuff because the fort is kind of big and there’s a lot of things that we hope next year will change. But overall, it’s been a good time,” Love added. 

While there was plenty to eat at THING, there were also plenty of booths to check out, like Sativa Valley Essentials of Sequim.

“Sativa Valley is a botanical farm, we do a lot of essential oil extractions in the Olympic Peninsula. We turn those extractions into CBD value-added products, topicals, tinctures, tablets,” said Sam Konovalov, owner of the business.

Konovalov set up shop in Sequim in 2008, following in the arboreal footsteps of his grandmother.

“My grandmother actually used to make a cannabis salve,” Konovalov said. “We used to go in the garden and get herbs and she would turn them into these products, and so I took that idea and turned it into Saliva Valley. We still do all the same wildcrafting and botanical production as she used to do.”

Their products bring all the positive effects of cannabis minus the high — sorry stoners — along with the numerous medicinal boons

“CBD is very beneficial, especially in different forms. As a topical its good for immediate area-specific pain relief,” Konovalov explained.

As for the festival, the Sativa Valley owner lauded the event, saying, “It’s been fantastic, the people here are really inviting and it’s a really awesome crowd.

“Goose was good; I’m looking forward to seeing Modest Mouse this evening for sure,” Konovalov said.

Game on

Between the live music, fun, and festivities, THING attendees took part in a live gameshow at Fort Worden’s Wheeler Theater.

Pedestrians packed the theater seats Saturday evening for “The Future is 0,” a satirical, irreverent gameshow hosted by Seattle-based filmmaker Claire Buss. 

It didn’t take an “applause” sign to get the crowd going as three musician-contestants competed in a wide range of challenges, quirky trivia, and more.

The show commenced with a wheel spin, tagged with phrases like “Jingle Trivia,” “Bad Girls Club,” “Paul Revere,” and an icon of a pizza slice. 

The first spin landed on “Bad Girls Club,” where the contestants applied a sticker for every “bad girl action” they’ve committed in the past.

Whether it was walking away from a toilet after clogging it, intentionally ringing the wrong item at the grocery checkout machine, wearing a fedora, or bringing an acoustic guitar to a house party, contestant — and Saturday’s opening act — Shaina Shepherd came out with the winning point as the baddest girl of them all. 

Perhaps the most perplexing round of them all was “Jingle Trivia.” The audience was tasked with humming a popular song in unison while the competitors attempted to guess the right tune.

The crowd was off to a solid start humming The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” and “We Will Rock You” by Queen, but the simultaneous humming fell apart as the audience’s rendition of “Thriller” by Michael Jackson evolved into musical mayhem. 

Even the crowd’s conductor lost control of the hummers, as the off-beat and out-of-tune renditions of the classic ’80s hit went off the rails.

The contestants continued with an array of wacky activities including “Paul Revere,” with the objective being to guess the correct photo of the famed Revolutionary War vet.

Fans from afar

THING Fest brought music fans from around the Pacific Northwest including many from Seattle and Western Washington.

Julie and David Peterson of Olympia made the trek up the Peninsula to see one of their favorite artists live for the fourth time. 

“We mainly came here for Modest Mouse, but there’s a few other [artists] we’re looking forward to,” Julie Peterson said. “THING’s been pretty good so far, other than the lines.”

The couple was introduced to midday act Reign Wolf during the festival, and were struck by the band’s heavy energy.

“Probably the best act I saw so far ... a lot of energy,” David Peterson said. 

Three-day attendee Zach Randall of Seattle was also impressed with Reign Wolf.

“They were great man, really fun and loud,” Randall said. “There’s a lot of cool bands I want to see or I already saw, Father John Misty, Hiatus Kaiyote, all of them.”

Honoring the honorable

Organizers went beyond a simple land acknowledgement and invited in Tribal storytellers Elaine Grinnell from the Jamestown S’Klallam and Delbert Miller from the Skokomish to not only have a seat at the table, but a stage. 

On Sunday, Miller began his performance by acknowledging that no one alive today — white, Native, or otherwise — took part in the genocides that birthed the U.S.

“We’re not accountable or responsible for what happened back in the 1850s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, 1900. We’re not responsible for that ... Our responsibilities are to think of one another, to have courage and trust and honor,” Miller said.

Miller went on to share a prophecy about a time of change while telling the story of the Caterpillar Woman who had to struggle alone, without complaint before she could emerge and take to the sky in her new finery as a butterfly leading as an example for mankind to follow.

While he had no backing band, Miller needed nothing more than his powerful voice and hand-crafted drum to shake the crowd with the songs of his family he shared in between stories, offering an experience equal to any of the other acts of the day.

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