Gleason Fest came with much anticipation this year with a heavy lineup and the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge paving the way for a big turnout; and it definitely delivered! Saturday afternoon came around and people were trickling in greeted with smiles and often hugs. There was an air of reunion surrounding everyone, people that were somehow connected to the Gleason family through an unspoken bond, gathering for their annual celebration of Steve Gleason and in support of his fight with ALS. All day there were kids running around kicking beach balls, hula hoopers dancing, ice buckets dumping, food trucks serving, and a lot of smiling and talking. Although the music temporarily and sporadically appeared to be just a backdrop for festival-goers with few people in front of the stage, that was only at first sight. The front of the beer gardens were always lined with music loving, ‘gotta have my cake and eat it too’ beer drinkers. To quote Jett Pace, of Old Man Canyon,”Gleason fest was a lot smaller than most festivals I’ve been to, but it had a cozy small-town vibe that gave it a really nice warmth. We all got great vibes from everyone that was a part of it and felt like the music was received really well. I had only driven through Spokane once before, but always wanted to return, as it looked like a very cool little town. Once the offer [to play the fest] came in I said yes without hesitation, and was even more excited to be a part of it after I was told what the festival was supporting and learned all the amazing things Steve has done for this disease. Very inspiring.”
Here’s the low-down on the bands that really made an impact on me.
No stranger to the Spokane stage, playing many of the festivals and events that happen around town, The Rustics remain one of my favorite Spokane staples. With their first album, Be Here Now, released in January and a couple of videos on the way, they have put in a lot of work since our last review of them. Their music is inspired by their travels and love for life and each other while carrying a nostalgic feel with positive lyrics.
An incredible all-girl band that was finishing up their tour in their hometown, Spokane. “The tour was great, but it’s so nice to be back home again, and to be playing for such a good cause.” The crowd cheered and they went on to play more songs off of their newly released album, “As The Crow Flies.” With swelling harmonies and sweet melodies, these ladies reeled in the crowd and made many new fans.
HEY! IS FOR HORSES:
These guys jumped up next, another Spokane band fronted by John Blakesley, the man behind the festival. From promoting and organizing with a small team, to securing the lineup, to taking care of the out of town bands, to playing IN the lineup, to making sure all of the details are in order, to being the electrician that fixes the stage lighting when they go completely black during Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real’s set… all with a broken cell phone and probably not enough cigarettes; John Blakesley deserves an entire write up of his own, but this paragraph will have to suffice. John is Superman with his band being Clark Kent and his backstage persona being a discreet Superman.
TANGO ALPHA TANGO:
This Portland band played nothing short of an amazing set. They were a little loud for the early afternoon crowd, but their musical genius drew Steve Gleason and his entourage out from their tent to experience them more attentively. Watching frontman, Nathan Trueb, manhandle his guitar, reminds me of the time I saw Scott Pemberton Trio at Summer Meltdown 2012 – “It was like observing a relationship fraught with a long, drawn-out history…” it’s near impossible to take your eyes off of him as he is constantly moving around the stage, playing the guitar in some pretty unconventional ways.
OLD MAN CANYON:
This witty Vancouver, BC band wins my award for Best New Find! Their music is perfect as Summer adventures quiet down to Autumn routines. I hadn’t heard of them before Gleason Fest, and I completely fell in love with them the week before the festival when I found this video.
Not only was their music ideal for the sunset time slot, but they were such great guys and lovely company backstage. I sprung a spontaneous request to participate in a Feed Me A Line poem before their set, and they all jumped in without any prompting necessary. We worked on it all the way until they walked on stage and were determined to finish it after their appeasing set. You will want to make sure to catch Old Man Canyon in Seattle at Barboza on November 5th at 7pm. IRW will also be releasing our poem as a preview for that show.
THE GRIZZLED MIGHTY:
Ryan Granger has a new sidekick from the last time we saw them at Elkfest 2013. Lupe Flores is quite entertaining to watch, let alone listen to, as she whips her big, curly hair like a man whose head is on fire. This drum/guitar duo has a much bigger sound than you would expect and their showmanship definitely doesn’t make you feel that they are lacking band members in any way.
ACKNOWLEDGING STEVE GLEASON:
Running a little behind schedule and into Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real’s set, there were a few things that Spokane wanted to acknowledge Gleason for. When John Blakesley apologized to Lukas for running into their set time, Lukas replied, “No worries, man. This is what it’s all about. Do your thing.” So as Lukas and POTR humbly set up, people piled up on stage to honor Steve for being such an inspiration to the city. Two presentations that really stood out were when the KREM 2 Executive News Director, Noah Cooper thanked Steve for being the catalyst behind the television station’s “Project Inspire” campaign, which showcases the inspirational stories of those in the local community that honor Steve’s spirit. As part of Project Inspire, Cooper completed Ironman Coeur d’Alene.
LUKAS NELSON & PROMISE OF THE REAL:
These men…well, I didn’t lie in the preview…Spokane loved them. They were immediately reeled in with the beginning notes of the first song. Lukas brought his usual high-energy antics with back-bending shredding, playing the guitar with his teeth, high-kicks and a twangy growl. These guys have a very raw feel to them as they carry the crowd through the emotional spectrum. For most of the set, Steve and his crew were sitting up on stage off to the right for an up close and personal experience. Steve’s nephew, Finn, was a welcomed addition as he jumped around flailing and dancing the whole set. Bass player, Corey McCormick, spent much of the show interacting with Finn while he carried the bass line.
Lukas had thanked Spokane throughout his set for welcoming them and thanked Steve and Team Gleason for inviting them to play the show, but it wasn’t until Lukas dedicated the song “Just Breathe,” a Pearl Jam song that he and his father, Willie Nelson sing together, to Steve that the whole crowd really got why they were all there. It was a tearful song for much of the crowd as they were reminded of the frailty of life and the desperation behind wanting their loved ones to stay with them…for Steve to stay with them. It was a beautiful way to bring the festival full circle and with their final song being, “American Girl” by Tom Petty, it was surefire way to make it an uplifting end to the whole experience.
“I really dug the amount of genuine love and family support at the Gleason Fest,” Nelson commented. “I hope that people continue to help raise awareness for the cause and to donate as they can.”
FEED ME A LINE with LUKAS NELSON:
(This poem was written via text on our road trip back to Seattle from Spokane after their show at the Panida Theatre in Sandpoint, ID almost two years ago – my contributions are italicized)
There once was a woman
Who lived in a shoe,
With grommets for windows
And a beautiful view.
She saw all the houses
come clammering by
As they tripped and tumbled
And began to untie,
And the world all around her
Went upside down
So she rose and stood firmly
With two feet on the ground.
And then she did hear
A small cry from her shoe
And out of the shadows
Hopped a frightened kangaroo
that came out of nowhere 😉 haha