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Monday, August 20, 2012 - Page updated at 05:00 a.m.
Festival serves up food and music in their purest form
By Charles R. Cross
Special to The Seattle Times
Take Exit 212 west off Interstate 5 and head toward rural Camano Island and you'll see picturesque fields lining the roads and locals waving to passing cars. But six days from now, Exit 212 also leads to one of the Northwest's unique events: the Slow Food Roots Music Festival, which runs Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 25-26, at the Stanwood Camano Community Fairgrounds.
To understand the festival, in its second year, picture a series of food booths that source all their ingredients from the surrounding community. Add to that hip American roots music, the kind of bands you might hear at a Ballard nightclub. Put it all in the setting of a traditional county fair, complete with bales of hay, and you begin to capture the laid-back and utterly charming Slow Food Roots Music Festival.
The idea did not come together by accident. Organizer Ed Beeson is well known in the Northwest for partnering in restaurants (the old Silver Spoon, in Duvall, and the Maple Leaf Grill, in Seattle's Maple Leaf neighborhood) and for running the Backstage nightclub in Ballard.
"My idea was to create a festival that featured really good food, plus my favorite music," Beeson said. "I thought Stanwood was a great location because the community was without an identity to the outside world. It also had a strong farm/food connection."
Last year's festival drew thousands of Seattleites, who made the one-hour drive north for a music lineup that included Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Dave Alvin. This year's booking is even stronger, featuring San Francisco singer-songwriter Chuck Prophet on Saturday, and on Sunday the New Orleans band the Iguanas, one of the best roots groups in the nation.
The Iguanas' music has been used in David Simon's HBO series "Treme" and "The Wire." The band has not played the Northwest in more than a dozen years.
"We haven't been back in a while because it's hard to route tours up that way," explained sax player Joe Cabral.
Like New Orleans itself, the Iguanas' sound is a mix of genres, styles and rhythms. Imagine Los Lobos joined with the Meters, and you begin to describe their stage show. They are a party band, known in New Orleans for their standing weekly gig at a bowling alley that turns into a dance hall when they play.
New Orleans, surprisingly, fits well into the Stanwood vibe. Last year's Slow Roots even featured a traditional New Orleans-style second line parade, when Tubaluba led the crowd through the hay bales.
A second line in Stanwood is exactly the kind of excitement Beeson imagined when he came up with the idea for Slow Roots. When Beeson ran the Backstage, it was not only the best club in Seattle but also a place that booked multiple genres, everything from funk to folk.
When the Backstage closed in 1998, Beeson moved into the restaurant business and started living in Warm Beach, near Stanwood. When he saw the local fairgrounds, an idea came to him.
"I fell in love with the site," he said. "The size and ambience of it are perfect for this type of event." He's since begun booking Benaroya Hall's nonclassical events, so expect more eclectic music there to come.
At this year's Slow Roots, there will be locally sourced meat, local honey and vegetables grown in the surrounding fields.
"Remember, S-L-O-W stands for Sustainable, Local, Organic and Wholesome," said Cyndy Payne, one of the promoters.
But in the end, this Slow Roots fest will most likely end up resembling the one last year, with a dance party, when the Iguanas close out Sunday night's lineup.
"It's all about celebration," Joe Cabral says. "In New Orleans we dance about life, and we dance about death."
And, at least for one weekend a year, so does Stanwood, Washington.
Copyright © The Seattle Times Company
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