Local boy made good Cody Beebe’s brainchild, Chinook Fest, appears to be the real thing — a self-sustaining music festival that will endure for years to come.
And, yes, I know it’s just the second year for the festival outside of Naches. And, yes, Central Washington is littered with the corpses of music festivals that died before their time. (Remember Edgefest at YVCC? Gust Fest in Ellensburg?) So, sure, a note of caution is probably in order: A festival like this relies on a lot of things going right, including the financial support of sponsors, the continued popularity of music festivals with fans and the will of organizers to put in the requisite hours.
But for now, Chinook Fest has all of that. And there’s no indication that will change during the next few years. The festival is sold out except for single-day tickets on Sunday, with capacity crowds near 1,000 expected throughout the weekend. It has solid sponsorships from local companies such as Liberty Bottleworks. And the lineup this year features 32 acts — up from 19 last year — the vast majority of which have strong fan bases in Central Washington.
“Cody and I both just absolutely love doing this,” says Michelle Bounds, the Seattle-based publicist and event director who organized the festival with Beebe. “We want this to be something that 20 years down the line is expanded and we are in a place where we can bring thousands of people and still have that community feel.”
Chinook Fest is modeled after the Summer Meltdown Festival in Darrington, which celebrated its 13th year last month. The founders of that event, the band The True Spokes (formerly Flowmotion), inspired the Selah-born Beebe to start his own festival after his Seattle-based band, Cody Beebe and the Crooks, played Summer Meltdown.
“He told Cody, ‘You have a fan base there. You could totally create something like we did up north with Summer Meltdown,’” Bounds says.
Beebe, who maintains strong ties to the Yakima Valley, loved the idea. And he set about creating a festival that would reflect the spirit of Northwest roots music. It would have to be laid-back, with the bands and fans working together to foster a sense of community. And it would have to be in the great outdoors. (Jim Sprick Park outside of Naches hosts again this year, but the festival may ultimately outgrow the park’s 800-person capacity.) So he, Bounds and other organizers set about contacting bands they had strong connections with and bands that fit with the beard-and-flannel musical style of the Northwest scene.
This year there were more than 130 acts vying for a spot, Beebe said. The first criteria was the quality of music, but that wasn’t the only consideration.
“The next criteria: Does this band embody what we embody, and will they open themselves up to the people here and the other bands,” Beebe says. “We want people who get along with our friends and fans.”
The result, at least in the festival’s infancy years, is a scene in which performers mingle with crowds and Beebe himself helps people park their RVs when they first arrive at the Jim Sprick Park campground.
“Aaron (Myers), our piano player, was up hanging signs, and he was also stage manager,” Beebe says with a laugh. “And (percussionist) Joe (Catron) was doing parking, and we were all running around.”
Indeed, there’s a lot of work involved in throwing a three-day party like Chinook Fest. And Beebe has been busy touring with The Crooks. But this is a labor of love.
“We played 23 shows in August,” he says. “And in the meantime, Michelle and I are going back and forth on the phone. So we’re rolling around in the van, constantly strategizing. And the actual sit-down-and-go-to-work part just has to be done on the breaks, in hotel rooms and stuff.”
The nice part is Cody Beebe and The Crooks have a chance for catharsis on Saturday night, as they headline the last real rock ’n’ roll portion of the show. Sunday is family-friendly and dedicated more to acoustic stuff. But Saturday, with the months of work behind him, Beebe will be rocking out.
“We’re going to try to bring as many friends up on stage as we can,” he says. “We booked some of them with that in mind.”
That spirit of jamming together and playing music with friends is a big part of the Chinook Fest appeal, says Blake Noble, the Seattle-based guitarist and didgeridoo player whose set at the festival last year gained him a lasting following in the Yakima area.
“We all play a lot of festivals,” he says of the bands at Chinook this year. “But we’re all on the move all the time. Bands will play their set and then leave. But at this festival, most, at least half, of the bands last year stayed on for the whole weekend.”
They just want to see some good music, he says. So do a lot of other people.
“I’ve had people in the last week or so coming to me, looking for tickets,” Noble says. “My advice to people is to get them quickly for next year. This festival is only getting bigger and better.”