Leavenworth is past its prime. While conjuring an ersatz Bavarian village out of the ruins of an abandoned railroad depot assuredly saved the mountain hamlet from the fate of countless other Cascade ghost towns, Leavenworth’s 1960s vintage roadside Americana schtick feels painfully outdated in 2019. Sure, heritage is worth preserving—if there were actual German heritage here and not just the fever dream of some enterprising Seattle transplants. But umpteen restaurants serving the same overpriced sausage-and-sauerkraut fare makes for nothing more than a tourist trap.
Which made this past weekend’s Timbrrr! Winter Music Festival such a breath of fresh mountain air. While downtown concert venue Festhalle has the same corny murals of beer-swilling peasants as every other bratwurst joint in town, two nights of Pacific Northwest music, libations, and culture offered an event worthy of Leavenworth’s breathtaking setting at the foot of the Eastern Cascades. Along the way, Timbrrr! offered a preview of what a bona fide Cascadian mountain town with a creative streak could feel like when the Bavarian boner finally goes limp in Leavenworth’s Teutonic revival generation.
I rolled in on Friday night and was immediately bombarded by the town’s seizure-inducing display of 500,000 holiday lights bouncing off the snow, though thankfully without the rage-inducing traffic jam the half-million tiny bulbs generate in the weekends leading up to Christmas. I quickly took refuge inside Festhalle where I caught a sliver of Portland supergroup Slang’s set before heading off for dinner—more substantial munchies inside the venue than Dumpling Tzar would have helped buoy dinner hour attendance—but made sure to return for my personal festival highlight: the inimitable Parisalexa.
The 19-year-old phenom isn’t even old enough to drink one of the delicious hot toddies the Timbrrr! bartenders were slinging, but damn that voice. Its clarion timbre filled the 1,000-capacity Festhalle with ease as the Seattle rising star toyed with jazz-style scat and contemporary swagger that can go toe-to-toe with anything on Top 40 radio. I wouldn’t be surprised if we find her playing arenas down the road for 10,000-person singalongs to “Like Maria” though I hope she limits her stage banter appeals to “turn up” to max three times per show. Props also to her two-piece backing band, a combination of keyboard and drummer that effortlessly cycled through funky bass grooves, jazzy soul, boom-bap hip-hop, and even a Latin-tinged flamenco and clave riff.
On night two, Tres Leches amped up the energy with their round-robin style of instrument switching and a quiet/loud dichotomy that kept the crowd on its toes. The day after the government shutdown finally ended, Ulises Mariscal said to cheers, “To all the people who think walls are going to fix our problems… Tear that shit down.” Then he tore shit down on stage with another blistering garage-punk number while Alaia D’Alessandro whaled on the guitar rocking fur cuffs big enough to envelop a small child and Zander Yates politely broke a drum stick. The set ended in a riot of distortion and Mariscal’s stream of consciousness en español intoning “Estamos todos unidos.”
Elsewhere, Monsterwatch schussed through 40 minutes of don’t-call-it-grunge-revival and Kyle Craft unveiled fresh genius from his fountainhead of lyrical wisdom—if a bit of preening ego for my taste.
Timbrrr! is the winter counterpart to the seven-year-old Timber! Outdoor Music Festival and it takes its hivernal theme seriously. The organizers raffled off skis on night two for a crowd that spent the day sledding with the kiddos or crushing the slush at Stevens Pass in the Juneuary sunshine. Beyond the hot beverages—Irish coffee was my session drink for the weekend—venerable local apparel company KAVU sponsored festival-branded flannels, toques, and a very fetching onesie. In a pleasant surprise, the gear was jacked down in price, selling for less than the same items sans Timbrrr! logo would fetch at full retail back in Ballard.
The crowd, which skewed 30s-and-40s (and surely appreciated the nightly childcare), came dressed for the occasion with plenty of thrift store fur, colorful ski leggings, vintage Nordic sweaters, foam antlers sporting Rainier logos, and a flannel quotient high even by Pacific Northwest standards. With Caffe Vita brewing in the corner, a Sonic Boom pop-up selling vinyl, letterpressed gig posters design by Cornish students, KEXP’s Troy Nelson on MC duties, and a Vera Project booth, it felt like Capitol Hill goes to the Cascades.
Sadly, that bubble of Cascadian culture was contained inside Festhalle and the few outposts where Timbrrr! staked its daytime shows. Outside, it was all dirndls all the time in a sea of Sasquatch t-shirt shops and imported German beer advertised in Gothic script.
But while many rightly lament the increasing unaffordability of Seattle, a creative class diaspora to small towns like Leavenworth may be the silver lining. Already, there are signs of a life beyond lederhosen in the handmade ice cream at Whistlepunk, bone broth soups at Yodelin, boutique manufacturing operation at Lithic Skis, and farm- and forest-to-table dining at Mana. While I appreciate Timbrrr! curator Kevin Sur’s ability to make a Seattleite feel at home with his favorite coffee at the ready, I would have appreciated more of an effort to bridge the Cascade divide. Why not serve Dryden-brewed Independent Cider instead of Seattle Cider Co? Or Leavenworth’s Huney Jun kombucha? Surely one of Wenatchee’s many Mexican eateries could slot a taco truck inside Festhalle. Beer from Icicle Brewing next door was a no-brainer, but the out-of-state High West Distillery sponsorship was out of place—have you called up Westland?
These quibbles aside, Timbrrr! was well worth the weekend road trip. It offered an antidote to the news that Sasquatch! is kaput and Upstream is on hiatus, as well as a glimmer of hope that Leavenworth may one day shed its faux-Bavarian costume and embrace its destiny as a bad-ass Cascadian mountain town.