Welcome To Doe Bay – A Documentary
A love note to the “greatest music festival you’ve never heard of”Posted by Melissa Daniels
Well, they absolutely got one thing right… I’d never heard of Doe Bay Fest. A friend of mine recommended I catch one of their screenings during the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF), and gosh darn it, did I walk away from the screening of “Welcome To Doe Bay” feeling as though I had just come across one of the most unique music festivals in the world as a fly on the wall.
“Welcome To Doe Bay” is a documentary by filmmakers Daniel Thornton, Nesed (CB) Shamah and Sarah Crowe. The three filmmakers set out to capture the spiritual music experience unique to the Doe Bay Fest, a small jamboree on the southeastern shore of Orcas Island, Washington. Now, I don’t mean spiritual in the worldly religious sense, so much as I mean it in the “music is my religion” sense, just so we’re clear.
After a successful run during the 2012 SIFF, I took some time on a lovely Tuesday evening to meet directors Daniel Thornton and Nesed (CB) Shamah at The Traveler, a little hole in the wall bar, for some happy hour sliders, fries and few questions about the film.
The project was born out of a culmination of work bubbling within the Pacific Northwest music scene since 2010. “Everyone sort of became aware that all of a sudden there was this sort of critical mass of music that was developing; a culmination of people writing about music… it sort of paid off with this ground swell of support,” said Thornton.
The directors had amazing access to this “very unique phenomenon” through connections to the festival curators and within the music scene. Telling the story of Doe Bay Fest, and highlighting this important time in Pacific Northwest music history was a no brainer for the crew.
Much more than a strategic advertisement for the festival, as some opinions on the internet would assert, the true essence of this documentary was conceived out of the recognition that music is indeed a spiritual experience; an experience that is enhanced to the nth degree when artist and audience is able to connect on a deeper level than what is capable through recorded music or at larger more corporate engulfed festival. “Welcome To Doe Bay” captures the beauty of this incredible music experience. That is what makes the documentary so powerful.
“There’s a vibe that happens there that I don’t think I’ve ever seen, and that was one of the things about the film,” Shamah mentions. “We wanted to build off, sort of encapsulate, that. The experience at the Yoga Studio, or being at the point out there with the way the music echos and gives off the water and just keeps going. It’s a very special thing.”
The film records a handful of musicians and bands during the 2011 Doe Bay Fest including the Maldives, who serve as the festival’s house band each year, The Head and the Heart, Champagne, Champagne, Fly Moon Royalty, Ben Fisher, Lemolo, Bryan John Appleby, Pickwick, Ravenna Woods and more.
“We knew we needed the Maldives in there because they had been there for so long. They’re the band that plays every year,” said Thornton. But they also planned to feature newer acts like Lemolo, Champagne, Champagne and Fly Moon Royalty.
When it came to Damien Jurado, “We knew we had to make a decision,” said Shamah. “There were some real surprises. Like Damien was on our radar, but we had to kind of trade off. He’s already established. He’s already a big name.”
“And we were surprised that he sort of emerged as such a strong interview about these trends. So naturally, we had to put him in,” added Thornton.
It came as a surprise to both directors that Jurado and Seattle songwriter Bryan John Appleby offered such dynamic interviews.
“I’ll tell you, there’s something about Doe Bay that inspired [these guys] to be so open. They were so stoked to talk about stuff,” mentions Thornton. “We kept needing someone to say on camera, something to the effect of what they said; that this is insane. This is crazy. It breaks all the rules.”
“Welcome To Doe Bay” also endorses the uniqueness of the music scene coming out of the Pacific Northwest by recognizing the overall synergy between music and media coming out of the community. The film features an underlying political motif regarding this golden age of music that is currently being conceived and an animate enthusiasm that is vital not only to the music, but to the way the music is experienced. Thornton sought to steer away from the politics, but to be quite frank, there was just no getting away from the purity of the underlying threads uncovered in the Doe Bay experience.
The film looks at the festival’s versatile lineup, and its sacred spiritual state through a thorough polling of musicians and writers in the Pacific Northwest, Including interviews from the festival curator Kevin Sur, and both local and national music journalists, Abbey Simmons (Sound on the Sound), Heather Browne (blogger/Huffington Post) and Jonathan Cunningham (Music Journalist/Experience Music Project).
“Welcome to Doe Bay” concludes that large corporate sponsored festivals have become overtly commercialized to the point that it takes away from the audience’s experience with the musicians and their music. By protecting the amount of tickets sold, Doe Bay Fest, nips the gargantuan size factor in the bud, and they also avoid major corporate sponsorships.
The directors definitely had hesitations going into this documentary project. Thornton said, “We didn’t necessarily want to draw attention to something that didn’t need attention drawn on it, or exploit it. But not long into shooting ticket sales sold out in two and a half minutes. We heard that and were like, there’s nothing we’re gonna do at this point to make this any harder to get into.”
Unfortunately, this means mourning the fact that you or I will likely never be able to attend the festival ourselves. Earlier this year, Doe Bay Fest set a Brown Paper Tickets record by selling out in less than two minutes. After five short years, the notoriety of the festival has grown to the point that the festival curators have sought out various ways to deter people from purchasing tickets as soon as they go on sale. These efforts include releasing tickets when people are likely hung-over on an early Sunday morning, and not releasing the lineup prior to ticket sales. Regardless of those efforts, the tickets are snatched up faster than you can say supercalifragalisticexpialadocious.
By protecting the amount of tickets sold, the curators protect the experience, which is really what is at the heart of Doe Bay Fest. Jurado spoke to the unique nature of the festival by highlighting his enjoyment of playing on stages that essentially put him at eye level with his fans. City Arts contributor and KEXP DJ Levin even went as far as calling out SXSW for its, for lack of a better term, bastardization of the musical experience. She recalled an experience she had at the Austin, Texas festival where she was walking out of a show and ran into someone selling “MySpace hot dogs.” Her frustration about the controlled commercialization of the music resonated with several other journalists and artists interviewed in the film. This idea that festivals have become a target for consumerism and music for the masses definitely contrasts what Doe Bay Fest encapsulates.
What “Welcome to Doe Bay” offers, is the inspiring kick in the pants of bringing righteousness back into the music experience marketplace. Sure, it’s depressing, and ok, moderately frustrating, to think that you’ll never have the opportunity to experience Doe Bay Fest for yourself, but the biggest take away from the film is that you don’t have to travel all the way to Orcas Island to have this experience.
“We hope that in the film you’ll be inspired to be like, ‘We can do this’,” says Thornton. “I mean, the tagline of the film is the greatest festival you’ve never heard of, but it doesn’t mean that you should know them. We’re giving you an opportunity to, in a way to be like, ‘Oh wait! There could be a million micro-festivals’.”
The film encourages its audience to replicate the spiritual music experience in their own communities with the underlying hope of creating change to this over-commercialized profit-driven festival monster. You feel that when you walk away from the film.
DVDs of the film are currently in production and will be available for purchase via the “Welcome to Doe Bay” website. As for what’s next for the film: the crew will be shopping it around to various film festivals, and has had some interest from local Seattle television stations. Possibilities are endless, not only for the film, but for micro-festivals everywhere.
“You don’t need a beautiful island to have a great micro-festival,” says Thornton. “You can do it in an abandon warehouse. You can do it anywhere.”
Alright music lovers, here’s your chance.