I've been facing a lot of changes in my life lately. I am more open to opportunity than ever before, and on my way to Summer Meltdown I was overwhelmed with the feeling of being exactly where I needed to be. Do you ever get that? Like you're about to have an experience that will change your life? I get a feeling like that heading to most festivals, because I always try to take something more real than just a fun party away from the experience, but there was something extra special about this one. Maybe it was the location, maybe it was the fact that I was there completely alone, or maybe it's because I'm at a point in life where I am open to every opportunity... whatever it was, my instincts were right.
It's hard to believe that Summer Meltdown is located only 40 minutes off of I-5 just north of Seattle in Darrington, WA. Driving through the mist and the trees bright and early Thursday morning was so breathtaking that I had to pull over and soak it in before I arrived. The mountains surrounding you are dense with trees and make you feel like you're entering a different world. One where you can leave everything else behind. The air was so fresh and pure, I just couldn't get enough. I loved that this festival is nestled in the woods, where you can actually hike along trails and connect with nature. There were many different trails that you can take to hidden beaches and swim holes, and the main river hangout area was much more low key than Northern Nights. I was able to find some quiet, peaceful places to do my meditation and journaling. There were no giant beach balls or whole floating pizzas, and the "stage" was a small DJ booth set up during the day. Low key, but perfect. It was a beautiful place to lie and watch the meteor shower at night with someone special.
Similar to Northern Nights, Summer Meltdown had a few camping option (shady grove, the glade, the meadow), and was also walking distance to a river. However, the two festivals felt completely different. The grove camping at Summer Meltdown was absolutely perfect. The campgrounds were layered like stairs, and were labeled A-G (each lane had a cute name though, mine was E, Electric Avenue). Setting up in the grove was super easy. Although I was there alone, I saw a lot of people coordinating with their friends on where to meet and people were setting up some seriously awesome camps. There was plenty of space for everyone and the tents weren't all squished next to each other like the are at Northern Nights (again, I totally recommend reserved camping at NN). The distance from the parking lot to the camping sites was one of the easiest I've ever had. It was nothing. I handled everything myself with ease and without a cart... although I am totally going to invest in one of those someday.
For those who arrived late, the overflow camping was up in the meadow, located just above the grove. Downside: no trees, slightly further walk to the stage, and somewhat removed from the action. Up side: more space than you could ever need, much quieter for people who don't want to party late into the night, and super easy access to your car. I ended up making friends with some people camped in this area and it wasn't so bad, just be sure to have a shade structure of some sort.
The RV camping was rad. There were two RV camping sections to choose from. The Mountain View, which was furthest away from the action where a lot of families chose to set up, or the Loud Camp section in the center of the camp grounds, between the two main trails to the river. The late night tent was located in the Loud Camp (obvi), where all the party RVs were. The organization of the campground at Summer Meltdown was on point. It was easy to get around, the signage made it easy to remember where you were camped, and there was SO MUCH SPACE!
The most unique thing about Summer Meltdown compared to the other festivals I've been to so far is the emphasis on being a family friendly. I loved this aspect! It felt so safe, and I just felt so much love. Kids were skateboarding, playing games, selling crystals... it made me really appreciate the atmosphere. Everyone was friendly and open to conversations. I was able to sit down next to any random person on the steps and hold a meaningful conversation. It was the perfect festival to be at for my first time flying solo. The collective energy of the festival was so positive and uplifting, it felt impossible for anything to go wrong.
The Main Stage was perfect. The sound quality was amazing, there was plenty of room to dance, and the cement steps made for a great place to post up with a blanket and some chairs. Beats Antique performed on Thursday and they put on an epic performance with dancers and a dragon... it was nice to be able to sit on the steps and actually see everything that was happening on stage. The other headliners, Grammatik, Griz, and STS9, all played great sets and I had the absolute best time dancing to all of them.
Next to the Main Stage was the Garden Stage, which played throughout the day and in between main stage sets. This was a 21+ area with picnic tables, inexpensive drinks, Two Towns Cider sampling, and a beer pong setup. I personally loved this stage, and thought it was a perfect addition to an all ages event. Sometimes you just wanna be with the grown ups, ya know? This stage offered a variety of music too, mostly folk, but was a nice change up from typical EDM, which is what most festivals are moving toward these days. They also had a meet and greet tent next to the Garden Stage, which I thought was really cool.
The only other stage was the Late Night Tent, which was probably my favorite. There are some moments from that tent that I will never forget. The music playing was always exactly what I wanted to hear and the energy was electric. Friday night, Michal Menert, dancing, kissing, sweating, laughing... it was fucking perfect. The stage was surrounded by plants and lights which added a little something extra to the atmosphere. I loved it. I think a Silent Disco would be a really good addition to this festival though. They have plenty of space for it and it's nice to have options when the main stage is over around midnight.
Because I was trying to pack light this trip and wanted to eliminate a cooler, I decided to pack some basic breakfast foods and just utilize my volunteer meal (which ended up being not great tbh) and the festival food (which was all bomb af). Honestly, sometimes I end up spending more money on food that I pack than I do if I just buy meals there. I decided to go for it and I'm so glad I did! I love getting to know the people who run the food carts. They're always so stoked to be there and are fun to talk to. The food at SM was very reasonably priced, and the smoothie cart was SO BOMB! $6-7 for a superfood smoothie, honestly better than any smoothie you'll find in Portland. Mmmm.... wish I had one right now. I also had some bomb crepes and quesadillas. Yum yum yum.
Summer Meltdown was really special to me. I like to cover all the bases of what to expect so that you can get a good idea of whether or not the festival is right for you... but I also like to share what I learned or gained through each experience to show you how transformational these experiences really can be. As we go thorough life, we are always trying to find ways to better ourselves, even if you don't know it. If you can go into a festival with an open mind, and let your guard down, you'll be amazed at the opportunities that fall in your lap. For me, Summer Meltdown was the end of one chapter in my life and was the beginning of something new. I realized this as I drove away, noticing that I had to peel off all 3 of my What The Fest parking passes from my window to make room for my Summer Meltdown pass. Now when I drive I am reminded of the people I met, the friends I made, the chemistry I felt, and the joy I got being surrounded by families and friends having a good time. I was able to let go of old feelings and make room for new ones. I left with a clear mind, ready to take on life back in Portland. I haven't left a festival feeling that excited and motivated...ever really. So much opportunity to look forward to, I'm bursting at the seams!
What makes Summer Meltdown special is the great camping and the overall energy. It's different from a lot of the other festivals I've been going to. Yes, of course there is lots of partying to be done, but because the only stage playing during the day is the Garden stage and it's generally playing alternative/folk and there are children running around, it feels more real. Like, you're not entering a rave... you're experiencing real life in the middle of a forest. I didn't feel like my "festival self", where I normally get dressed up in flash tats and glitter and focus my attention on the group of friends I'm with. Instead, I was just me. Katie from Portland. Journaling, reflecting, being present, soaking it all in. In fact, I left with hardly any photos (whoops) but it's because I was enjoying myself so fully that I knew I'd just have to write this post as a reflection. It was everything I needed at the exact right time and I highly recommend it.