I hope it doesn't sound too cliche or dismissive to say that Doe Bay Fest isn't really about the music, but I submit as evidence that the festival's headliner was swapped out at the last minute and barely anyone thought to notice it or care. Surely part of this acceptance was that by the simple nature of their respective genres neo-soul pinch-hitters Pickwick almost certainly provided a much more upbeat and danceable mainstage finale than the previously scheduled Cave Singers. Another part seemed to be that while most everyone appeared to enjoy the string of solid, mostly thematically similar performances, the general mood felt like one of being pleased at being there: at the resort, on this particular weekend, with a thousand similarly-inclined relentlessly polite fans, for an event that very rapidly built its own mythology, in part to to its near-unattainability. And really, you'd have to be some sort of monster not to delight in a weekend on Orcas Island, let alone in near-perfect temperate summer weather on a gorgeous wooded coastal property with its own locally-sourced gourmet restaurant under clear skies in the middle of a meteor shower.

Otter Cove Stage
  • Otter Cove Stage

First, a digression to express my personal pride in sleeping outside for three consecutive nights at a music festival without dying. Although I've staunchly avoided festival camping for most of my life, I managed to survive several nights in a tent (with the help of an air bed, a trunkload of creature comforts, and friends with amazing skills at conjuring delicious meals on picnic table kitchens). It also helped that an off-season visit to the resort granted us spots high enough on the priority list high enough not only to get tickets but also to secure an almost secluded campsite on a clearing on a wooded bluff. Being able to disappear from the tent cities at night and to wake up (or fall asleep) to the sounds of music and chatter rising from the grounds below provided a sanity-preserving comfort buffer just a small step below the luxury of staying in one of the resort's yurts, geodesic domes, or to living the dream of having an actual cabin. Had we not already made plans to stay at a friend's house to facilitate catching the ferry, I might have even made tempted to stick around after a fancy cafe dinner for a final night under the stars.

  • Kithkin

Thee Satisfaction
  • Thee Satisfaction

Ivan & Alyosha
  • Ivan & Alyosha

Regarding the music portion of the event, as far as I'm concerned, no band approached Kithkin's showstopping festival-stealing youthful vitality. By the end of their Saturday afternoon set, they'd enlisted the lyrical prowess of Kung Foo Grip, pulled dozens of fans and compatriots onstage for a stage-shaking percussion explosion, destroyed an acoustic guitar, and splintered the woodsy flagpole bearing their standard. The bristling enthusiasm of their performance was the most rock and roll moment. Other musical highlights included Thee Satisfaction invigorating a sleepy Friday night; watching people jump off cliffs and float around Otter Cove with a soundtrack of Kris Orlowski's sweet pop strummings; later, Orlowski inspired the crowd by example to rise from their blankets to dance along with a tight indie rock set from Ivan & Alyosha. At night, a few brave souls squeezed into the sweaty yoga studio to hear the likes of Motopony or Birds & Batteries. Others visited the cafe to hear acoustic sets, gathered around a community campfire, capered, or wandered the woods in search of John Roderick (or others) playing under trees. In general, I appreciated the diversions from the core sonic constituencies to be the most invigorating and hope that the festival continues to play genre mix-and-match even more boldly.

cliff divers and kayakers
  • cliff divers and kayakers

Shipping out of Doe Bay
  • Shipping out of Doe Bay

What people seemed to relish most, though, was the unofficial last day of the festival without any of the shackles of a schedule to constrain the day to anything more than wandering the grounds, tossing frisbees, diving on a makeshift slip and slide, seeking semi-spontaneous musical moments on stages or around campfires, or lounging on the beach drinking margaritas from Two Bar, braving the chilly waters, and waving goodbye as attendees piled aboard the chartered foot ferries while various band members stood on the shore playing them out to sea.

Ultimately, while I think that my affections lie more with the manic energy, overwhelming options, and mass cultural moments that giant festivals can provide (really, there's nothing like 75,000 people watching a rapping ghost/hologram), I don't really see them in opposition to this sort of close-knit microfestival where people spend most of their days on blankets, frolicking in the forest, or crowding into hot tubs (with or without their clothing). I get the sense—from things like the Welcome to Doe Bay documentary or the excellent Sound on the Sound Doe Bay Sessions—that the deeper one is in this nebulously-defined scene, the more magical and more plentiful the musical moments must seem. That said, even as someone not intimately connected to this fuzzy community, I found the weekend to be a refreshing and rewarding getaway. I'll almost certainly start scheming for a way to get back to the island.

More photos below, and even more in this evolving Doe Bay 2012 photoset. Evaluate the beardoness of the festival for yourself:

The Maldives
  • The Maldives are the only band allowed to play the mainstage every year.

Doe Baby
  • Doe Baby

Gold Leaves
  • Gold Leaves

Adra Boo
  • Adra Boo, performing a tribute to Etta James with Portland Cello Project

  • Lemolo, festival buzzband.

Hey Marseilles
  • Hey Marseilles

Big Sur
  • Big Sur

  • Bobby Bare Jr. flew in from Nashville

Poor Moon
  • Poor Moon

Joe Brotherton, the Jacob of Doe Bay
  • Joe Brotherton, Doe Bay's Jacob

Kung Foo Grip guest appearance w/Kithkin
  • Kung Foo Grip guest appearance w/Kithkin

  • Kithkin

  • Pickwick

Tea Cozies, beach set
  • Tea Cozies, beach set