While most of Anacortes was rummaging through records, nautical supplies, knick-knacks, do-dads, whirligigs, and other assorted gizmos at the city's annual rummage sale, a small group was meeting with Karl Blau beside the retired W.T. Preston stern wheeler boat Saturday morning for a tour of the city. The “Friendship Trail” led us first to the deck of an ice cream shop for an instrumental organ version of “I Want Wind to Blow,” then through a small glen where a boy in a yellow raincoat played a song on a water-wrecked organ, to a wooded thicket where my guide for the weekend, and sometimes Stranger contributor, Kenneth Piekarski was playing instruments that were wrapped in the branches of an evergreen tree.

From What the Heck Fest
”Go slow when cats come out at night/They'll never understand about cars.”

Beside a cat adoption center, we heard a cautionary tale—”Go slow when cats come out at night/They'll never understand about cars.” On a small rocky beach, a band of rotating characters performed with seaweed all over themselves. Later, a chirping sound led us to Rebecca Redman who played a song while sitting on the branch of a tree. The “Samba Train,” a minivan full of instruments, led us most of the rest of the way until Phil Elverum played a newer song and then disappeared into a back door of the Croatian Club, one of the festival's primary venues. If you arrived late Friday night, or early Saturday morning, this was your introduction to What the Heck Fest 2011.

From What the Heck Fest
I would have taken a picture of dessert, but I finished most of it before I remembered that I was supposed to be working.

Between myself and the two couples that sat at my table during Saturday's dinner, only one person had been to the festival before, but both groups had traveled over 15 hours to get to Anacortes. We ate salad, pasta, a chick-pea dish, bread, and salmon while Lake got all snazzed up to entertain us. The food was delicious. D+ played while we ate strawberry shortcake. I would have taken a picture of dessert, but I finished most of it before I remembered that I was supposed to be working.

Saturday night Portland's Purple and Green hosted the weekend's most approachable dance party, David Lester of Mecca Normal played his guitar with a kitchen knife because he is a badass, and Clyde Peterson presented the first episode of Boating With Clyde which was kind of like Black Cab Sessions but weirder and on a boat. I missed Nicholas Krgovich's set because I went to get a beer and start writing this. Sorry. But, in my defense, I had seen him play twice that day—once with Phil Elverum during the Friendship Trail and once as one half of the hilarious, cluelessly '90s pop duo To Bad Catholics. By the time I got back to the venue Earth was about to play, which was great because I was exhausted and sort of melted right into it. I know that melting into something sounds trippy, but I don't do drugs. Promise.

Greetings from lovely Anacortes, WA

Phil Elverum is pretty good at basketball. I'm not sure exactly how many times he won at the perpetual game of Lightning that was going on all weekend, but it seemed liked every time I looked he was one of the last few people in line. He also encouraged everyone at his set as Mt. Eerie Sunday night to move to Anacortes despite its high cost of living and lack of jobs. But besides all of that technical stuff, which you could totally figure out later, why not?

Earlier that day I went to the actual Mt. Erie. From a picnic area near the summit, I could see dots of islands sticking out of fog so thick that the water and everything else between the dots was completely hidden. It wouldn't be too much of a stretch from this perspective to imagine that the only things that existed in the universe were you, your mountain, and the tops of islands in the distance that you could never hope to reach. I didn't imagine that because that would be weird. But someone could if they wanted to.

From What the Heck Fest
Weird. This pinata that came down from the ceiling during Angelo Spencer et les Haut Sommets has the same name as their new album. From what I can tell it contained pink balloons and a plastic, oversized human ear.

The mountain also has many secrets. One is that it sounds distinctly hollow. I noticed this while walking around the summit and realized that my footsteps were resonating. It was the same sensation as stepping on hardwood floors, and knowing that there's some space beneath them. It was as if the whole mountain was just a shell of moss and rock concealing some unimaginable expanse, one that could be shattered by stepping with too much force at one specific point. I think Arrington de Dionyso of Arrington de Dionyso's Malaikat dan Singa unintentionally described the surreal feeling it inspired best when he said, “And now for the commencement of the utopian gangster shit, because we're facing directly ahead the naked uncovered forms—the Unknown," during his performance that evening.

From What the Heck Fest
"And now for the commencement of the utopian gangster shit, because we're facing directly ahead the naked uncovered forms—the Unknown." —Arrington de Dionyso

Mt. Eerie's set was pretty much the same as the last couple of times that I've seen them. Phil spent most of his time behind a glockenspiel while Nickolas Krgovich and Julia Chirka helped on keys and vocoder. The only big difference was that one part got moved from the beginning to the end. It's this part where Phil, apparently, amplifies the subtle vibrations that are produced from a full size gong mostly at rest to the point where its sound is completely unrecognizable, perhaps only as static, and then he manipulates its textural intensity by touching it very gently until it sounds like being somewhere inside the earth while infinite, inexplicable things are happening all around you as well as inside of you for about ten to fifteen minutes. You know, that old trick.

My Castle

That was most of it, but I do want to go back to Friday night, because if there's any sort of narrative to this story, that's where it started. First, I found this written in the Festival's guidebook:

“Welcome to the 2011 edition
of our festival. Yes, the
rumors are true: this will
be the last one.
This is not
just a “goodbye” but also a
“hello” to our future projects.”

From What the Heck Fest
Sorry about my pictures. This is Thrones.

It was also the night that Joe Preston of Thrones said this, “I don't want to sound maudlin or anything, but I think Anacortes is a really magical spot," while considering the end of the festival. It was also the night that my guide Kenneth “showed me the ropes” by showing me the ropes at a ropery conveniently across the street from the Port Warehouse, the festival's primary venue. But none of that is the most important thing that happened. The most important thing that happened is what I'm about to say right now. For a very short period of time there was a little girl selling copies of a comic book that she wrote and illustrated at the merch table in the Warehouse. It's called My Castle and it's about a prince fighting an evil witch in a castle. A travelling band called Dangers notices what's happening and goes to the castle to help. Here's an excerpt:

Then they go to the castle and tell the castle mates and the army of knights about their powers:

This nifty guitar shoots any power you want.
This conductor's stick shoots a laser ray.
This cello here is a good hookup for a force field.
This pretty good accordion pumps out lava.
And this violin blows out sleepy gas
(that's not effective to good guys)
These drums here, if you hit them with regular old drumsticks,
they'll shoot out lightning bolts.
And last but not least, our very nifty harmonica
that shoots all of these powers combined.

From What the Heck Fest
Karl Blau's new power-pop project, Lovers Without Borders, was one of the best performances of the weekend.

That is the most important thing. Because we all know that bands don't really have magical powers, and that the spiritual connection we can sometimes feel with a place and a time is probably only within ourselves. Yet, here was a girl in the midst of What the Heck Fest, of Anacortes, of Washington State, of America finding faith in the magic and the power of creativity and music. A faith from which she developed her own mythology, drawing directly from a tangible, powerful, creative community that's happening all around her.

From What the Heck Fest
Phil Elverum disappears in a cloud of smoke. Duh. What else would he do?

Find out what happens next in Anacortes here.