Timber! Outdoor Music Festival Stands Tall Above Corporate Giants


(Timber! Photo: Greg Roth)

[Editor’s note: this editorial opinion piece reflects the views of the author alone.]

Ah, the Great American Music Festival – hot, crowded, expensive, overwhelming, full of obnoxious wasteoids more interested in woo-selfies than music, and all your favorite bands booked on top of each other so you are left with endless musical Sophie’s choices . . . Am I a get-off-my-lawn old man grump, or is this ringing a bell? In 2015, there are more summer music fests than ever before, and most of them leave much to be desired. As the music industry moves more towards streaming models, many bands are forced to look more at touring to make ends meet. And large festivals, with their bevy of commercial overlords sponsors, pay many times the going club-rate for bands. It seems new festivals are popping up every week. But really, why? For the most part, these are not places for the actual enjoyment of music or good vibes.

Enter Timber!Outdoor Music Festival, a shining beacon of hope. Founded in 2013 by Artist Home (the good folks behind Doe Bay Fest, another anomalously lovely festival held each August on Orcas Island), Timber is just about the most pleasant festival experience a body could ask for. For starters, it’s close to Seattle, just 45 minutes away in Carnation, Washington. Yet the beautiful Tolt-MacDonald park feels a world away. Held along the banks of the Snoqualmie river, concert goers cross a large wooden suspension footbridge to get to a main stage nestled among the trees. Timber is thoughtfully curated, from a diverse lineup, to a bevy of fun non-musical diversions, right down to very tasty and affordable local food and drink options. These folks are passionate about providing a space where each attendee, and each artist, can truly relax and enjoy. And, the fest is full of families and kids, yet also offers plenty of adult enjoyment. This is a discerning music lovers’ event.

From dancing to soul star Charles Bradley‘s raw and heartfelt set on the main stage, to watching J Mascis alternate pensive acoustic and blazingly overdriven notes during a solo set at the tiny campfire stage in the woods, I’ve seen many memorable sets at Timber. This year I’m most excited for an acoustic show from members of The Head and the Heart, a hip-shaking show from rising R&B stars Grace Love & The True Loves, and a headlining set from one of my favorite party punk bands of all time, The Dead Milkmen.

But, I’m just as much looking forward to catching up with many friends new and old, and taking my paddle board upriver to pick blackberry bushes laden with summer’s ripe bounty. Timber is one of the only festivals I attend where I feel better after the weekend ends; more rested, happier, and more centered as I pack up my tent. If you love music and community, but have sworn off festivals after getting burned one too many times, I highly suggest you give Timber a shot.

I reached out to Timber music booker Kevin Sur to ask a few questions about next weekend’s festival.

This is the third year of Timber Outdoor Music Festival. What was your approach to booking this year’s music and events?

Our approach is the same as always, booking artists that fit perfectly with the environment while emphasizing musical discovery and helping give unknown bands that need the spotlight an audience that we know will fall in love with them.

What are some special tricks you’ve got up your sleeve for this year, or, what’s new?

I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of a geocaching scavenger hunt that may or may not lead you to a secret midnight show from one of Seattle’s favorite bands on Saturday. Other new things we’re excited about include: Bubble Futbol which is going to be hilarious, the first ever Timber! Comedy show with three of my favorite NW comedians (also hilarious), some amazing mountain biking with REI (they supply the bikes and the helmets), and a lot more that I’m sure will surprise folks as always.

Your company, Artist Home, is known for other intimate events like Doe Bay Fest on Orcas Island. What is the vibe you are going for with Timber?

The vibe is rooted in what it’s always been – treat everyone that comes to our events like family and make them feel at home. On one end we feel we create this incredible summer camp-out that’s accessible and affordable to all.  But when it comes to vibe, there really is no audience like the ones that come out to Artist Home events.  They truly create the “vibe” and an experience that can never be duplicated.  I’d be more interested to hear what you think of that, Isaac.  You experienced it from the audiences perspective, I’m running around making sure everyone’s having a great time.  What would you say the vibe at Timber is?

My take on the vibe? I’d say blissful, all out yet relaxing fun. A peak summer experience! Timber is held at Tolt-MacDonald park in Carnation, WA. How did you settle on that site, and what do you like about it?

I love how close it is to Seattle yet how remote it feels when you get there.  It gives those who want to camp the feeling that they’re actually away from home and on a vacation. It gives those who don’t want to camp the ability to come and go each day and sleep in their own beds at night.  It’s a win-win for both kinds of festival goers.  Aside from location and how incredibly beautiful the park is, partnering with King County Parks has been a dream come true and we couldn’t have imagined a better organization to partner with to help bring this crazy vision to life.

Talk a little more about the birth of Timber, and its history. There are many summer festivals, more each year. What made you want to start another one?

Well, when we started Timber, there weren’t as many festivals, truth be told.  Timber got started because King County Parks met with us and invited us to do something there in Carnation.  We’ve always wanted to own a festival of our own and create something that felt like a giant summer camp for adults.  It was the perfect opportunity to do it.

What are some of your favorite moments or memories from the first two years of Timber?

Well, I actually wasn’t even there last year as I was waiting for my second son to be born. I have to say though that one of my favorite memories of doing this whole thing was getting a video message from one of my partners last year.  It was him standing on the main stage looking out at the entire audiences and having them yell “WE LOVE YOU KEVIN AND KATIE!”.  The whole concert paused for a few moments to send my wife and I this incredible gesture of love and support.  It was a reminder of how every ounce of love and good will we put into these festivals is returned ten-fold by our audience each year. The people that come out to Timber feel like family to us, as I’m sure many feel like family to each other.   That was just one of the many Timber moments that have given me a moment of pause and brought a tear or two to the eye. We’re so lucky to get to do what we do.

Why is live music important to you? And what is the state of festivals and live music in 2015, from both an audience member’s and performer’s perspective?

I made a living for a long time while touring as a musician and since then have dedicating my life to supporting other working musicians the way I always wish my band could have been supported. My partners are also former working musicians and have a very similar motivation. Whether it be through an event we’re producing or by sharing a cup of coffee with an artist and giving them advice, supporting these artists and live music has become my life’s work and is Artist Home’s mission.

In terms of the state of music festivals and live music? I’m so grateful to be living here in Seattle because live music here is more vibrant and supported than most any other place I know of in the country, and I hope people don’t take it for granted.  There are constantly things threatening the world of live music locally, perhaps none more currently than rising rent, which might lead to an exodus of Seattle’s arts community like it did in the San Francisco Bay area. Every time there seems to be a threat to the industry locally, the community rallies, and I have no doubt it will continue to do so.

There are a lot of new music festivals happening in the NW these days, there are also festivals that were new that quickly disappeared.  I’m not sure what it all means.  Some do a really good job of taking care of their audience and delivering an original experience and lineup different from any other. Others don’t do a very good job at that. All I can say is that we aim to constantly evolve and let our audience inspire us to create new and awesome things at Timber. Whether it be the on-stage experience or off, we’re always aiming to bring incredibly fun ideas to life and make Timber an event like no other.

Thanks Kevin, see you at Timber!

Timber Outdoor Music Festival kicks off Thursday, 7/16. Buy tickets here

Check out some of our past SMI Timber! coverage right here!

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Timber! Artist Naked Giants recently stopped by Critical Sun Radio Studio for an interview with SMI Radio’s Greg Roth and a live in-studio performance. (Video: Jason Tang)


Isaac Kaplan-Woolner is a live music fanatic and radio nerd living in Seattle. When he’s not attending concerts, he works as an assistant producer for the public radio show Travel with Rick Steves. He also volunteers and occasionally moonlights at KEXP Radio, and serves on the board of directors for the nonprofit Fremont Abbey Arts Center. He got his start in radio with a punk show at the tiny 10 watt station WNMH at his highschool in Northfield, MA, then in college volunteered at KBOO radio in Portland, OR, before landing a job as a DJ and news producer at KOHO Radio in Leavenworth, WA. Isaac collects vinyl, gig posters, ticket stubs, and ukuleles. The first CD he bought with his own money (when he was 11) was a used copy of Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet. These days he listens to all sorts of music, though he still has that Public Enemy CD somewhere.