Northwest String Summit Aims to Hit a Family Chord

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When it comes to musical stylings, you and your tiny troubadours might not agree on much, but if there’s any genre that can bridge the gap between generations, bluegrass is definitely a strong contender. The pop of a banjo, a blazing fiddle and the sunny sounds of a mandolin – we can’t prove it, but we’d venture to guess that the hippie shake was actually invented by the first toddler to ever hear that combination. If you tend to agree, and think that bluegrass, newgrass, jamgrass or any other grassy musical offshoots might create some harmony in your fam (see what we did there?), you owe it to yourself to check out the 15th Annual Northwest String Summit (NWSS) coming to Horning’s Hideout July 14-17, 2016.


photo: Spady Photography via Northwest String Summit

For those who haven’t been, Horning’s Hideout is a magical, forested venue complete with an amphitheater, large fishing pond, disc golf course, shower facilities, established campsites and roaming peacocks (yes, real, live peacocks) just beyond the west hills of Portland near the town of North Plains. The location makes for an easy 45-minute drive from downtown, the festival features many family-friendly services and activities, kids under 10 get in free with discounts for ages 11-15, and passes are available for one, two, three or four days (subject to availability). In our book, all of this makes it a great option for everyone from new parents looking to dip their toes back into the music festival scene to veteran, festie-going families with tweens or teens.

We spoke with NWSS co-founder and promoter Skye McDonald to put together an insider’s guide, so read on for all the details.


Don’t like packing? Stumble into an inheritance? Tired of reading already? Then you may want to skip right to the NWSS Campsite and Gear Rental Program and be done with it. This will allow you to arrive at an already prepared campsite featuring tent(s), cots, camp chairs, a lantern, one bag of ice per day, optional sleeping bags and pillows and access to a community kitchen. Packages range from $499 for two adults up to $949 for four adults.

For everyone else, essentially, if you pack like you’re going camping for a few days, you should be good on the basics. Sans the adult beverages, of course, you’ll not be allowed to bring them in from outside (cars will be inspected at the gate!) although they will be available for purchase in permitted areas. Other prohibitions include recreational drugs of any kind, fireworks, weapons, dogs and campfires/candles.

All other outside food and sealed drinks are allowed, although the NWSS will also feature free water filling stations and food vendors catering to every possible dietary preference and restriction at nearly all hours, so bring cash/credit and it’s likely that you won’t have to go foraging for nuts and berries even if you forget the cooler in the driveway. Safe camping stoves are permitted, although cooking may be constrained to special areas if hot, dry weather persists.

The crew at NWSS has taken the time to compile a list of planning tips and other specific info for families. Check it out here.


photo: Spady Photography via Northwest String Summit


A $25 parking fee will apply for all vehicles, and as with most festivals, arriving on the early side is recommended if possible. If a quieter setting is your preference, let the parking attendants know you’d like to head to the family parking and family camping area, which is just off to the left (west) of the peacock gate. In addition to a major expansion of the overall festival footprint, the family camping area has been expanded this year, and sites in the most remote areas will be quieter but also a longer walk to the stages. However, kids activities and events will also be provided in the family camping area.

Leaving and returning to the NWSS is permitted, but if you know you’ll be doing so, let the parking attendants know in order to find a parking spot that will make it easier. Make sure the parking pass is visible or you’ll be required to pay the parking fee every time you leave and come back.

Veteran Advice

• To help easily find your car/tent in a sea of cars/tents, bring a few flags/balloons or some other easily visible markers that can be hung up high.

• Put a wrist band on your young’un with your name and phone number in case they get lost or separated from you. Cell service is very spotty, however, so contact event staff immediately to initiate the NWSS lost-child protocol. The facility will be locked down until your child is found. Bringing a pair of two-way radios and strapping one to a belt or other secure piece of clothing is another way to go.

• The hideout grounds are large and the festival footprint has expanded four-fold this year and will require a lot of walking, so a stroller or wagon can come in handy if for kids under six.

• In order to locate your party in the inevitable festival crowds, it might not be a bad idea to bring an inflatable animal such as one of these from Amazon. It can be a real help to hold up and wave around when someone is looking for you in the sea of humanity.

Northwest String Summit 3

photo: Spady Photography via Northwest String Summit

For Your Listening Pleasure

You know it’s a parent-friendly music festival when the music starts at 8:30 a.m. every day, which for many parents is still a solid three hours after being gently prodded from sleep with a finger in your nose or a knee to your groin. While just about any of the bands in the 2016 lineup are likely to appeal to your budding bluegrass fans, there are a few acts that are special just for them. In addition to local favorites like Red Yarn (the puppet wielding, folk song troubadour) who plays Saturday and Sunday at 8:30 a.m. on the Cascadia Stage, and the MarchFourth! marching band playing Saturday at 2:30 p.m. on the Main Stage, we’re highlighting a couple potential new favorites for small ones and their grown-ups.

One Grass, Two Grass
3 p.m. on Thursday, July 14 at the Further Bus
Traditional bluegrass with fun, uptempo songs and unique takes on classics like “Stuck in the Middle”.

8:30 to 9:30 a.m. on Fri., July 15 at the Cascadia Stage
Diverse genres with science-based songs, fun subjects and catchy lyrics. “Who, who, who, who … who wants to learn about owls?”

Ben Sollee
12:30 p.m. on Sun., July 17 at the Main Stage
A genre-bending cellist who mixes classical artistry with bluegrass, folk, pop and R&B.

For the 15th Anniversary, the headlining bands and other big acts include several “heavy hitters” in the jam grass scene including Yonder Mountain String Band (Friday and Saturday at 10pm on the Main Stage), Greensky Bluegrass (Thursday and Saturday at 8 p.m. on the Main Stage), Railroad Earth (Friday at 7:40 p.m. on the Main Stage), and Leftover Salmon (Friday at 1:15 a.m. at the Kinfolk Revival Tent and Saturday at 5:45 p.m. on the Main Stage).

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photo: Spady Photography via Northwest String Summit

The Skinny

When: July 14-17, 2016
Where: Horning’s Hideout at 21277 NW Brunswick Canyon Road, North Plains, Oregon. Click here for a map.
Time: Gates open at 12 p.m. on Thurs. and close 12 p.m. on Mon.
How much: Current prices range from $70 for a Sunday-only ticket to $225 for a four-day pass.


Have you gone to NWSS with kids? Tell us about your experience below!

– Ty Adams