A new THING sprang up at festival Port Townsend, WA’s Fort Worden Historical State Park on August 24-25, 2019. Billed as “music, comedy, dance, food, podcasts, visual arts, and other things,” the sold-out weekend festival offered nonstop entertainment from midday to midnight. The event was co-produced by the nonprofit Seattle Theatre Group and Sasquatch! founder Adam Zacks.
Admission was capped at 5000 attendees, which created an intimate and unpretentious atmosphere. Unlike at larger festivals, there was plenty of room to move freely throughout the grounds and rarely a line for restrooms. Several artists were even spotted roaming the crowd and chatting with fans. The venue hosted four musical stages, which included retired dirigible hangar McCurdy Pavilion and the art-deco Wheeler Theater, along with a dance venue, a night market, and several free outdoor attractions.
One-day tickets started at $100, with free admission for children 13 and under. Lodging anywhere near Port Townsend became unavailable even before tickets went on sale, but festival camping was available at the fairgrounds a half-mile away. Frequent shuttles allowed for accessibility to the spread-out venue and nearby parking lots. (I logged 25 walking miles on my fitness tracker!) A smartphone app assisted with personalized schedules, show reminders, and announcements. Although there were a few logistical wrinkles to iron out and an unfortunate weather delay, overall THING ran smoothly for a first-year event.
THING featured a truly fantastic lineup of artists—from local to international—that appealed across genres and generations. Headliners De La Soul and the Violent Femmes are still going strong decades after the height of their popularity. On Friday, De La Soul put on high-energy hip-hop show that had everyone (including photographers in the pit, at the artists’ request) waving their hands in the air. On Saturday, Violent Femmes and their odd assortment of instruments (including contrabass saxophone, acoustic bass guitar, and a BBQ grill) had even the youngest fans dancing to “Blister in the Sun,” “Add It Up,” and other classics.
But THING was not just about the headliners. Going in, I was especially excited for Japanese Breakfast, Khruangbin, Calexico and Iron & Wine, and the Black Tones, and all met expectations. Some great surprises included New Orleans spoken-word master Tank and the Bangas; Krist Novoselic’s new folk-leaning project Giants in the Trees; Jeff Tweedy’s hilarious, poignant, and cantaloupe-fueled birthday solo set; and actor–folk musician John Reilly’s “Friends” that included Andrew Bird, David Grisman, David Garza, Alan Hampton, and Tom Brosseau. Regrets included missing Orville Peck and Lindy West due to scheduling conflicts, and not venturing into the inflatable Architects of Air Luminarium. There were no acts that I didn’t enjoy, and many that I loved.
After this promising inaugural weekend, Western Washington music fans will be keeping their fingers crossed for more THINGs to come.