We don’t often suggest leaving the city, but when we do, it’s for a small destination fest in a very sweet setting
Let me start off by making it clear that, while I hear people say it all the time, I personally never feel that I need to get out of the city. That said, sometimes I can’t help but feel like I owe it to the city to get out for a while. And when I do, I don’t just run away a few hours upstate but abandon the entire East Coast to flee to my parents’ house on the other side of the country, in Washington, where I take a lot of walks and eat a lot of vegetables and go to bed at 10 and pretend that seven days of decency makes up for six months of misbehavior.
However, this most recent visit—which is officially coming to a close as I type this blog post at a bar in the Seattle airport where I will inadvertently and inevitably spend $96 in 1 hour (not unlike a music festival!)—was not purely to enjoy family time or to stock up on sleep, but because I’d received an invite to cover THING 2022: a new festival from Sasquatch! (2002–2018) founder Adam Zacks, which incorporates “music & art & other things” and takes place at Port Townsend’s Fort Worden, a historical state park situated on the water’s edge, just a convenient 20-minute drive from my parents’ house.
Now you might be thinking, How does writing about a festival in the Pacific Northwest make sense for a Brooklyn blog dedicated to covering local music?
Well, our own Nation of Language was playing. So that’s our entry point. And to circle back to the beginning here, for music fans that feel the urge to take a break from BK, this is your call to take your 2023 summer Rumspringa—that momentous occasion where you leave the colony and see what else is out there in the world—at THING, which is truly one hell of a festival.
Here are some highlights.
Before talking about what THING fest is, I want to talk about what it isn’t.
I, and plenty of people I know, are in denial about the fact that most music festivals, most of the time, are often… not fun.
In theory, they’re amazing. Music! Friends! Drinks! Sunshine! Buttttt in reality, the majority of massive, big-budget three-day festivals come with annoyances that are best described by this College Humor video from 2013:
So: In short, THING was not that. And therefore I enjoyed it far more than any three-day festival I’ve attended in recent years.
So let’s get into it.
AND I SAW ALL OF THEM!
Just kidding. But I did pretty good.
As someone whose life revolves around music, I know embarrassingly little about what’s happening on stages and airwaves outside of New York. Almost every show I go to features local bands; almost everything I listen to is by local artists. So while I knew I was going to see Nation of Language and obviously some of the bigger and more seasoned acts, plus Wet Leg (which even I’ve heard of), for the rest of the fest, I didn’t really have a plan. Instead I just wandered, following my eyes and ears and, of course, the recommendations of people I met in the bar line.
What I found truly impressive about this festival was the diversity of the performers—of genre, gender and race and ethnicity. And I’m stoked to say that I walked away from the festival with some new favorites that (gasp!) don’t even reside in the tristate area! Or in some cases, even the country. Notables include: Hiatus Coyote, Yves Tumor, Durand Jones & The Indications, Helado Negro, and—lastly—British electro act Jungle, who closed out the Parade Grounds stage on Sunday with a beautiful blast of a set I desperately wish I could’ve caught all of. (My parents, god bless ’em, had already picked me up and dropped me off five times at that points—highly recommend this mode of festival transportation—and asking them to wait in the car for another hour while I finished off a dance party with hundreds of strangers would’ve been kind of a diva move. Next time I will just have them join me.)
I can’t speak for exact numbers, but Seattle Times reported several thousand in attendance at THING, with a total festival capacity of 6,500.
For reference, compare that to the 150,000 people who attended Governor’s Ball in 2021 or the 450,000 people who attend Austin City Limits over that festival’s two weekends.
Now I’m no agoraphobe—far from the opposite; I get my energy from people—but most of the issues at music festivals stem from crowds. Entry takes forever. Areas throughout the fest are congested to the point of being claustrophobic, and occasionally even scary. You’re too far from the stage to see/hear or you’re so packed in that you can’t leave to pee without being verbally assaulted by 200 people on your journey back. I’ve been to dozens of festivals, and I keep trying to convince myself that this is enjoyable. It is not.
That, however, wasn’t a problem at THING. (Aside from bar lines; more on that below.) I could roam freely, enter easily, pee quickly (and in shockingly clean conditions; beyond porta potties, there was a real bathroom) and easily get right up to the stage. I was close enough to Father John Misty to see every smirk, while the artist himself had the opportunity to invite real and rare intimacy by not just talking at the audience, but conversing with the crowd, asking if anyone had lost a pet recently (RIP Simone, Sparky, Dodger!) before launching into a song on that very topic.
I also sauntered—sauntered—up to the stage a mere 20 minutes before Modest Mouse’s set and found myself just six people back from the rail. I’ve seen both of those acts at festivals before, and it was cool, sure, but it’s just different to be that close, to be up in the action and able to actually see the performers’ facial expressions. It was a truly unusual and incredible experience, and best of all, I didn’t have to camp out for eight hours wearing a CamelBak and adult diaper to have it.
The only other time I’ve experienced something similar with major acts at a festival was in 2014 at UTOPiAfest, which then prided itself on capping attendance at 2,000. This type of fest feels different, it feels magical, and I’ll be thinking about that Modest Mouse set, which was surprisingly emotional, for a long, long, long time.
Generally speaking, there are two types of festival setups: the all-access open area—a park/field/lot/beach/farm where, once admitted, you’re in. You’re free to wander and to meet your Fitbit goal 45 times over while marching dutifully from one stage to the other. A classic festival experience a la ACL/Governor’s Ball//Bonnaroo/etc. that exploded in the early 2010s.
Then there’s the multi-venue festival a la SXSW, Tree Fort or NYC’s own New Colossus, where spaces (traditional and unconventional) are taken over by a festival for X amount of time, and once you acquire a badge or wristband, you in theory have the ability to enter any of them, but you have to wait in line for admission at each, where you’re subject to different rules, prices, capacity, etc.
THING festival was kind of a mix of each. It was located in one central location, Fort Worden, and was extremely navigable. That said, even a music festival isn’t allowed to take over an entire Fort (the actual point of a Fort is not being overtaken). So, since the middle area of the property remained open to the public—which was actually cool; plenty of people came and watched and listened from outside of the official areas—the different stages within the fest, indoor and outdoor, required that you show your wristband for re-entry every time. This wasn’t an issue in a line sense; I never waited more than two minutes for entry to any area. However, when you love something, you have to point out room for improvement, and this setup was admittedly a pain when it came to one oh-so-important festival element: drinks.
The last festival I attended I attended before THING was Primavera (weekend one) in Barcelona this summer, where the first day was, simply put, a disaster, with bar and water wait times that approached an hour. THING wasn’t quite as bad (largely due to the significantly smaller crowd), but the first day came dangerously close. On Friday, I watched almost all of Wet Leg’s set from the bar line, which wouldn’t have been terrible if I’d been able to wander over to the next show with my drink in hand. Unfortunately, you weren’t allowed to leave an area with booze in hand or bring it from one stage to another, which had half the people waiting who’d already invested 30 minutes of their lives in line agonizing over whether continuing to wait longer was even worth it. And while I recognize that there are surely laws and rules and reasons I know nothing about that explain this, that didn’t make it feel like less of a hassle or a bummer.
Of course, you can’t judge a fest by its first day. Especially after a two-year hiatus. We’re all a little rusty. The key is seeing a problem and then fixing it, and thankfully THING did just that. Much like Primavera, they recognized the issue (festival attendees seldom suffer in silence) and took action, and the second day the process was noticeably smoother and faster, with volunteers moving through the line and IDing people before they reached the front. THING organizers listened and improved, and we’re all human—you can’t ask for more than that.
Along with the physical setup, what’s worth noting (and praising) is the schedule, which was beautifully done. Much like the aforementioned UTOPiAfest (one of the best fests I’ve ever had the privilege of attending), and unlike the fictional fest depicted in the College Humor video (your two favorite bands… they’re both here… playing at the same time… on opposite ends of the festival), there was no music overlap between the two big stages. Music was always happening, and bands were stacked right on top of each other, so with just a five-minute walk before stages, it was easy to catch every act (the big ones) you wanted to all day. Which anyone who’s attended any festival knows is not just uncommon but typically impossible.
Another nice note: Accessibility and safety seemed to be a priority for the organizers, with designated seated areas, sign language interpreters and sensory areas designed to make the festival enjoyable for everyone.
I identify as a #hotgirl, which has nothing to do with my appearance and everything to do with the fact that I AM VERY SWEATY MOST OF THE TIME. For this reason, I’ve never understood why festivals take place in August, where you look awful, feel awful and your beer is already horrifically warm when you’re just 1/3 of the way in. How do so many people look so good at these things? I don’t know! And I’m forever scarred (and my ego forever bruised) by a ~2014 experience at Firefly where I was briefly pictured on the Jumbotron during Twenty One Pilots before they yanked the camera away to focus on a midriff-baring babe who didn’t look like she’d just finished an Ironman in a flower crown.
ANYWAY! Allow me to introduce you to the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, where even in August you, gasp, can wear a light jacket come nightfall (added bonus: far more pocket potential). The weather was perfect: the days were pleasantly warm, the nights were comfortably chilly and I even took a few selfies that won’t require sixteen hours of editing.
As for the setting, if you have no idea where Port Townsend is, you’re not alone. LA-based band Illuminati Hotties (who, god bless ’em, had woken up at 5 a.m. that morning to get to the festival and serve as what I believe was a last minute fill-in for Faye Webster) kept saying WHAT’S UP SEATTLE?!, while Roberto Carlos Lange (Helado Negro) announced that he was very happy to be here… also acknowledging he didn’t know where “here” was. Anyways, it’s a gorgeous town, and Fort Worden—originally built to protect the Puget Sound from invasion by sea—is situated on the edge of it, surrounded by those trademark Pacific Northwest trees and set against a postcard-perfect mountain backdrop, just steps away from a chill little beach where I stepped away for a sandy nap between sets.
While I didn’t camp or enjoy any, um, extracurriculars (I was staying with my parents!) (also, I’m not good at them!), I imagine that for the portion of the fest population who was enjoying a bit of a trip on their trip, the setting was nothing short of mind-blowing. After alll, it is even when you’re sober.
Sure, you can’t credit the festival founders for nature’s gifts and perfect temperatures, but they do deserve massive props for selecting this setting, which blessedly wasn’t in a fried flat field in Mississippi or something, and for that, I truly salute them.
THE CUTE FACTOR
I’m honestly not sure if I want kids, but I do think that they’re absolutely hilarious (in small doses), and that there is nothing cuter on this planet than a baby in giant headphones being pulled on a little wagon. Also, at the ripe age of 33 1/2 when more than half of my friends either have children or are thinking about it, I’m now wired against my will to seek out things that are child-appropriate, and I’d be hard-pressed to think of a more youth-friendly fest. Admission was actually free for the 12-and-under set, which is extremely kind and wonderful and made for a wholesome and extremely endearing atmosphere as kids smashed their faces into ice cream cones, twirled around with lanterns they’d decorated on site and ran laps around the lawn.
Within a 15-minute span one afternoon, I saw at least 20 kids destined to be (okay, fine, that are def already) far cooler than me, and one three or four year old who waddled up to a naked blow-up doll that one cheeky group was using as their group mascot and then proceeded to mount and bounce up and down on top of it.
Much healthier than screen-time IMO.
Even if you fest to the best of your ability, there’s no way to do and see and hear it all, and the post-fest retroactive FOMO is real. Beyond music, THING had a massive inflatable luminarium created by Architects of Air (you were required to remove your shoes before entry, and the woman working the door told us to try not to disturb anyone in there on their “spiritual journey”) as well as comedy, theatre, dance and a host of other interesting… well, things. If I could go back and do it again, I would’ve explored more, but a girl can only fest so much. That said, for those interested in the funny, the funky and the fringe, there were some pretty cool options, including—in mad-throwback fashion—an appearance by Triumph the Insult Comic Dog (who, btw, is now 175 in dog years).
+ EVERYTHING MUST GO!
I’ve never experienced anything like this at a festival. I’m not sure it was intentional, and it probably won’t happen again, but drinks actually got cheaper (???) as the festival wore on.
Rainier was down to $4—pennies on the festival scale—by the third day, while the cider I’d been been double-fisting throughout the fest was now being served for the same price in a cup nearly twice as big.
That likely wasn’t the plan, but I do appreciate the attempt to avoid waste and to do the thing that actually made sense, which seemed very much in line with the casual, flexible and friendly nature of this fest.
TLDR: If you’re looking for a destination festival—to get out of the city and experience something smaller, different, beautiful and wholesome… an event that isn’t just massive crowds, huge acts and hoards of Kylie Jenner-looking 15-year-olds on molly—I highly recommend THING.
I’ll def be going next year, so shoot me an email. You can crash at my parents’ house.