Chinook Fest. If you’ve been, you know there is nothing else like it in the Valley. If you haven’t, well then, my friend, you are definitely missing out.
This festival not only features some of the best touring bands in the nation, but it also serves as the perfect time to put your phones away and hit the reset button after a long, hot summer.
“Chinook Fest is a chance to unplug, unwind and really connect with your friends and family,” says Michelle VandenBrink. “I constantly hear that Chinook Fest is a place where someone might show up knowing only a couple of people, but will leave with 100 new friends. There are bands that are created because of Chinook Fest, there are lifelong friendships that have been created because they met at the festival and are now married, some even with families. It’s pretty incredible to witness how many lives have been changed because of this event.”
So now that you have a glimpse into this yearly event, it’s time to dig a little deeper into how it got started, who runs the show, as well as what’s in store for this year’s festival. And the best way to do that? Through the words of the rock star crew that makes the magic happen year in and year out: Festival organizers Dawn Gardner, Michelle VandenBrink and Cody Beebe.
How and when was Chinook Fest created?
Cody: In 2012, my band was inspired by the support we had received in Central Washington, specifically from the mountain folks up at Chinook Pass. We had just come back from a tour and had a few friends and fans ask if they could put on a party for us. We thought, well why don’t we just throw a party for them? We only had from May to September to find a venue, get permits, book a lineup, build a website, figure out how to sell tickets, get sponsors, sell those tickets, secure insurance, etc. Somehow we pulled it off, but not without the help of countless community members.
Michelle was working for my band as a publicist that summer, so she helped out on the festival as well and I realized at that point that I couldn’t do it without her. Dawn came on board as my band’s business manager the next year, and then we quickly realized she was a huge asset to the festival as well. The three of us have been working together on pretty much a daily basis ever since.
What are your roles?
Michelle: I am responsible for sponsorship and marketing, and I’m the festival director. We all wear quite a few hats and all work together to make every aspect of the festival successful.
Dawn: My major role for the festival is talent buyer. I get asked all the time what this is ... essentially, much like a band has an agent to work on their behalf to get them booked at music venues and on festivals, I work on behalf of the festival to find and book those bands for the event. Additionally I coordinate and manage production, infrastructure and overall event operations as well as company finances, daily operations and business administration.
Cody: I handle the overall vision of the festival and assist in most decisions regarding band lineup, marketing, logistics, etc. Dawn and Michelle do most of the heavy lifting at this point.
Describe what Chinook Fest is as it exists today.
Cody: Chinook Fest is a three-day music festival that is held in the Cascade Mountains just west of Naches. The majority of our festival goers camp in tents or RVs over the weekend, enjoying over 25 nationally touring Americana, outlaw country, rock and blues acts while sipping the best local craft beverages and enjoying food and art vendors. Best part is there is no cellphone reception or internet, so people get to actually unplug. We aim to help people disconnect from their daily grind and reconnect to what really matters.
What’s new and exciting about this year’s festival?
Michelle: The lineup this year is going to be the biggest we’ve had to date. I think people will feel really lucky that they get to hear this type of talent in such a remote and intimate setting.
Another relatively new and exciting addition is the early Thursday entry ticket. We’re now allowing people to show up and set up camp Thursday night rather than Friday. This extends the weekend and allows everyone to relax and cut loose a day earlier. There might even be a band or two playing that night.
Dawn: “I’m definitely proud of how this one turned out and festivalgoers will surely enjoy it. If I had to pick favorite bands playing this year, I’d have to say Shane Smith & The Saints, Hannah Dasher and Vincent Neil Emerson.”
Cody: The Cadillac Three has played the main stage at Watershed almost every year since it started and we are lucky enough to be their hosts in the Northwest this summer. They are just one of the many Nashville acts we have on the bill, as well as a number of artists bringing the red dirt sounds of Texas, like Stoney Larue and Shane Smith & The Saints. In addition to the band lineup, another exciting attribute is that we’re working to provide hourly shuttles from Yakima so that if people don’t want to camp, they have a safe way to and from town. Lastly, we have some exciting activities planned throughout the weekend that we’ll unveil at a later time.
What drives you to continue putting on Chinook Fest?
Cody: I love being able to help bring good people together. With the way the world is heading with everyone focused on their phones, it’s nice to have a weekend each year where none of that matters. Music, food and drink, and a ton of fun people and bands in the woods — that’s my idea of a good time and I love sharing it with like-minded people.
Michelle: I absolutely love every part of it. I love the people, I love the environment and I love creating something that so many people love and consider their own. This is a festival for the people who call the area home, and the way they have embraced it is a beautiful thing to witness and be a part of.
Dawn: I am not a musician, but music is definitely my passion. Having the opportunity to connect bands with fans is truly rewarding for me. I believe music is the universal language and that makes Chinook Fest a place where all walks of life come together, forget their differences and feel connected. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?!
Tell me about your goals for the future of Chinook Fest.
Cody: I hope that we can continue to build and refine this event for the next few decades. We’ll actually be hitting our 10-year mark in only two years! Our goal isn’t to be the biggest festival, it’s to be a great experience. The intimacy that the Naches River Valley provides for our 1,500-1,700 festivalgoers is a very rare quality that most other festivals don’t possess. I hope we can continue to connect people on a real level, expanding relationships and growing our community.