What The Heck Fest 2011Recap

Daniel Ahrendt / July 20, 2011

Mount Eerie capping off WTHF 2011 (All Photos by Daniel Ahrendt)

“Welcome to the 2011 edition of our festival. Yes, the rumors are true: this will be the last one.” Although opening the tiny festival schedule and reading the first paragraph was the first time I had heard of What The Heck Fest‘s demise, the story had been getting around. An Anacortes newspaper touted the story a few days before the annual festival began on Friday July 15th and the community in the northern Washington port town is small enough for such news to be available within the stable festival community. To the other festival attendees that came up from Oregon or down from Alberta, any complaints were quickly assuaged by a declaration from festival co-founder Phil Elverum (Mt. Eerie, The Microphones, D+). In the below video, Elverum introduces the festival before D+ performed for the Friday dinner show at the Croation Center, where most of the daytime festivities took place.


The tiny schedule continues on to say, “This is not just a “goodbye” but a “hello” to our future projects. “Hello””. The forthcoming Anacortes Unknown Music Series is a project looking forward to bringing more acts, more often to Anacortes. However, the title of the project is pretty accurate right now as Elverum himself doesn’t seem to know what it is going to turn into. Right now all that exists is a website, some postcards, and a lot of hope.

Bret Lunsford and Karl Blau of D+ and co-founders of WTHF

Heckfest, as locals and veterans of the festival call it, was a fabulous change of pace from your typical music festival. Instead of hosting tons of bands and brands over the course of a long weekend, gated in by security guards and overpriced food, Heckfest is tiny. A small ticket pool and a price of $65 allowed the promotors to supply a dinner of fish, salad, pasta, and cake to the audience on either Friday or Saturday. The local dock warehouse event center was home to up to seven acts each night right above the waves (if you looked between the cracks you could see them roll in). A publication fair featuring publishing companies such as Yeti Publishing, Publication Studio, Anteism, and Veneer Magazine was held on Saturday and Sunday on the Croation Center’s top floor. Local musician and festival promoter Karl Blau took attendees on a “Friendship Walk” Saturday morning, visiting fellow NW musicians set up in front of houses and alleyways while the main street of Commercial Ave. was flooded by treasure hunters on “Shipwreck Day”. There are no festival gates in any sense. It’s just the town itself bringing it’s hospitality and dockside atmosphere to bear on the regional music scene and it’s fans.

Dylan Carlson of Seattle’s Earth

Artists featured at Heckfest 2011 largely included acts from Oregon, Washington, and Canada. After local singer/soothsayer O Paon performed on Friday night, Joe Preston (previously of The Melvins, High on Fire, etc.) aka Thrones of Salem, Oregon conjured up his overwhelming one man metal thunderhead, leading into a set of treble, black tinged shredding from Brooklyn’s Liturgy. Saturday mixed polar opposites from songwriters BB and Wyrd Visions with the unexpected and lovingly received electro soul of Portland, Oregon’s Purple & Green. Vancouver, BC’s Nicholas Krgovich performed his softly inflected electric R&B and the next night join Phil Elverum and Mount Eerie in closing the festival with unearthly ambiance and all too earthly lyrics. So many musicians who have appeared and continue to appear on Olympia’s K Records performed. Label head Calvin Johnson often stood behind the label’s table at the shows unless he was dancing to the influential minimalist punk of NW mainstays Mecca Normal. All of this was presented in a context that seemed a mixture of a conference and a summer camp.

Nichola Krgovich & Karl Blau

K Recs label head Calvin Johnson

O Paon


Broken Water

Pinata bashing in celebration of Angelo Spencer’s new album

This little festival has done a lovely job of presenting the region’s independent music scene as people, awkward, funny, and idiosyncratic as they may be. It is a retreat of creative play in a gorgeous geographic setting and will continue to be in whatever new form it will take next.

Arrington de Dionyso’s Malakait dan Singa on Sunday night

Check out more photos below. To see even more photos and videos of bands who performed at Heckfest 2011, go here.

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