Occasionally you can find a little jam band oasis within any festival lineup: Trey Anastasio plays Jazz Fest in New Orleans and Umphrey’s McGee plays Electric Forest in Mich., for instance. But, if a diehard fan wants to truly immerse themselves in the genre within a sonic and serene natural setting few festivals today dedicate themselves to this experience as well as Wash. state’s Summer Meltdown.
Founded by the relative locals of Flowmotion (think melodic rockers in the vein of the String Cheese Incident or Railroad Earth), Summer Meltdown has nearly two decades of jam band nirvana under its belt. Unlike similar band-founded jam events that eventually grew beyond the genre, Meltdown now boasts the biggest acts still embracing and experimenting with this distinct style. Headliners for 2018 include the likes of Beats Antique, the genre-defiers that draw upon everything from glitch pop to world music, and Bassnectar, the DJ who’s collaborated with icons like Gogol Bordello and mixes tempo and dynamics like a classic analogue jam band. Fans flocking to Meltdown can also find new(er)comers to the scene like Twiddle within the lineup. That traditional jam quartet has become such a crowd-pleaser, they beat out the likes of The Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers in a recent Jam Act Association approval poll.
Of course, with a jam-leaning festival sound is merely one part of the question. Meltdown offers a unique focus on both family and the environment, too. There are kids-focused sets and a parade for those wanting to show the young ones in their lives what the jam band community is all about. And each year, the festival’s Green Village offers attendees a chance to learn and participate in both environmental and social outreach.
No matter your age or level of interest, jam music generally remains perhaps the most outdoor-stage-ready style of modern music. And on that front, no setting may match what Summer Meltdown offers. The natural amphitheaters of Wash. are legendary for their combo of scenery and sound, and Summer Meltdown’s venue has long been home to the Darrington Bluegrass Festival, “sitting between a glacier-capped mountain and a calm lazy river” as the festival puts it. Attendees can enjoy music in a natural amphitheater during the day and then pick between swimming, hiking, and camping underneath some Douglas firs at night. There’s even horseback riding and river rafting for those wanting to skew more towards the scene rather than sound at some point.
So maybe festival fans can find intricate improvisation and sonic exploration within virtually every festival lineup these days, but you can only find an experience like Summer Meltdown in one very serene location.