Of all the factors that determine whether a festival will flourish or fail, the setting is arguably the most important. A festival's location helps define its individuality and can drive ticket buyers just as much as the performers. In the case of THING—a new multidisciplinary festival produced by Seattle Theatre Group (STG) and helmed by Adam Zacks, STG's chief programming officer and the founder of Sasquatch! Music Festival—the festival was actually inspired by the setting: Fort Worden.
It's a Puget Sound historical army base turned state park and recreation facility. Zacks had gone to Fort Worden as a kid, on field trips and such, but it was his return as an adult that sparked his excitement. "It was just too cool and unique not to try to come up with something to do up there." That was nearly a decade ago, during Sasquatch's prime, before he had any real time to act on his idea.
Zacks circled back to Fort Worden after Sasquatch's demise, and by then, Fort Worden Public Development Authority had taken over management of the park's 90-acre campus area, which meant it was no longer subject to the same rules and restrictions as the rest of the park. The FWPDA's mission—to transform Fort Worden into a financially self-sustaining and "vibrant public resource that provides a confluence of creative learning, recreation, and retreat opportunities"—aligned with hosting a festival like Zacks envisioned.
A few Modest Mouse shows at the site last summer were the perfect trial run, "to test the site out and test some assumptions, because there are community, traffic, and sound concerns—all the things involved with a larger scale event," Zacks says. It went so well "that we decided we were going to do this for real."
Zacks didn't want to stage a straightforward music fest. "I just really felt there was room to create something fresh. So this notion of pulling from all different disciplines—podcast and film and dance and comedy and music—all of that was part of the initial kernel of the idea for THING. It sort of grew organically from there."
He says, "There's a music discovery element that is certainly a part of this event and was a huge part of Sasquatch." However, there are big differences, including the aforementioned non-music offerings, the fresh site, and THING's size. "THING is much, much smaller. I guess that's an obvious part that has maybe been understated. This is a 5,000- capacity-per-day event, as opposed to 30,000 a day, which Sasquatch was. Just by virtue of that alone makes it extremely different."
The musical lineup itself—a refined, wide-ranging combo of buzzy indie selections like Japanese Breakfast and Tank and the Bangas with heavy-hitting headliners in older school vets like Jeff Tweedy, Violent Femmes, and De La Soul—feels geared toward a more mature crowd. "A lot of it was just wanting to go where my heart is personally," he says. "I'm a middle-aged guy now, and I think there's a lot of people that grew up with Sasquatch being a part of their lives, and they had families, and it becomes more challenging to do these types of events." Thinking about that audience "helped shape the vision for this."
That includes making admission for kids 13 and younger free, and booking acts like the ever-popular Seattle children's song-maker Caspar Babypants. Plus, no late-night EDM tents amid THING's stages, which will include a decommissioned zeppelin hangar turned plush 1,200-seat theater, a quaint art-deco theater (original to the site), and the expansive parade grounds lawn. Add to that the pristine scenery, plenty to do on-site (including more than two miles of beachfront, 11 miles of hiking trails, the Point Wilson Lighthouse, places to eat and drink like the Guard House Pub, which serves locally sourced, seasonal fare along with regionally- crafted brews, ciders, spirits and wines), and plenty of things to do off-site, too, in the charming yet hip Port Townsend.
It's shaping up to be a pretty relaxed affair, and that's not a bad thing. In fact, that's part of the allure. I, for one, am tired of the same old overworked, overpacked, overbilled festival routine, the Bonnaroos, the Coachellas, the Sasquatches. This is smaller, more thoughtful, and alluring in a way that a festival hasn't been in a while.
Apparently, I'm not the only one who feels this way; single-day passes for the fest are already sold out. "I'm proud that we took some creative risks here," Zacks says, "and it feels like people got it pretty quickly."
Some THING Highlights
De La Soul
The eclectic-sampling, jazz-tapping alt hiphop trio is among the genre's greats. That 2016 comeback album, their first full-length outing in a dozen years? Tight. With collabs with Little Dragon, David Byrne, and Snoop Dogg that are all worth listening to. The classic shit is the tits, too. "Me Myself and I," anyone?
Natasha Lyonne was outstanding in Netflix's existential series Russian Doll. Oh, also Orange Is the New Black, obviously. And Slums of Beverly Hills, of course. Classic fantastic. Not sure what she's doing at THING, but whatever it is—talking, storytelling, stand-up, a mix of all three, something else entirely—will undoubtedly be compelling and entertaining.
Architects of Air's Luminarium
It's a sculptural maze of winding paths and domes that visitors enter and are "immersed in radiant color that comes simply from daylight shining through the luminarium's fabric," and participants "may lose themselves in sensory bliss." The luminarium has been described as "somewhere between a womb and a cathedral." Now tell me you aren't intrigued.
Azniv Korkejian crafts the most soothing, Carole King–vibing mix of 1960s folk and 1970s country you'll hear this side of the Mississippi. It'll make you want to curl up in dreamy, languid pleasure, her love songs hit- ting your ears like the whisper of a kiss. Ahhh.
You may have heard of her? She used to work at The Stranger and more recently had a column in the New York Times? She's an executive producer on that Aidy Bryant comedy series Shrill, which is based on her book of the same name. She's funny as hell—and, man, can she give a talk.
John Reilly & Friends
Did you know that John C. Reilly played music? Grassy roots music. Jack White has produced him. He sings in a warm, drawling tenor and strums acoustic guitar. It's fun, heartfelt, and for god's sake, man—it's John C. Reilly!
Of all the performers that Adam Zacks booked for THING, this Dublin post-punk outfit was the one that he mentioned as a complete standout. "I fell for Fontaines D.C. when I saw them last fall at the Iceland Airwaves festival. It's just been a long, long time since a band has made me slack-jawed for the entire set and completely freak out."
Napoleon Dynamite Live!
The comedy about a socially awkward teen and his equally artless friends has remained culturally relevant 15 years after its release. This anniversary tour includes a screening of the film followed by a Q&A with Jon Heder and TBA others from the film.