Rocket Queen: We Are Family

The local roots-rock community comes together for No Depression.

When local guitarist Jeff Fielder told me the Wedgwood home of revered keyboard player Ty Bailie (best known for his work with Department of Energy, Truly and Kim Virant) was near the Fiddler's Inn, I didn't realize he meant it was immediately next door, with just a few feet between Bailie's yard and the beloved neighborhood tavern's patio. It's a sunny and breezy Sunday afternoon, and both the Fiddler and Bailie's adjacent house are buzzing brightly with music and laughter. I walk into the backyard to a sea of familiar faces stretched out on blankets in the grass, some nursing post-July 4th hangovers with cans of Rainier beer, and virtually all of them with broad smiles on their faces. It's essentially an all-star cast of the very best local roots and Americana musicians, including Star Anna, Kristen Ward, Zoe Muth, Mark Pickerel, and members of the the Maldives and North Twin. They certainly have good cause for collective grinning, as their gathering is both an informal celebration of their chosen musical genre and a rehearsal for their appearance at the No Depression Festival this Saturday, July 11, at Marymoor Park. The alt-country bible the festival takes its name from ceased publishing in magazine form just over one year ago, but publisher Kyla Fairchild refused to let her passion for documenting and nurturing that community die. She's not only coordinating the festival, but also is in the midst of a massive reinvention of the No Depression medium, taking it entirely online with a plethora of new and archived material, along with user-generated content and a clear goal to become the definitive portal for all things alt-country, roots, folk and Americana. The somber lilt of Sera Cahoone's voice drifts up from Bailie's basement, where more musicians are working their way through Cahoone's cover of Hank Williams' "You Win Again." A core backing band featuring crack drummer Eric Eagle, Bailie on keys, Fielder on guitar, and gracefully assertive bassist Rebecca Young will serve as the foundation for a assortment of local singers to step up and each sing one song that embodies the No Depression spirit. It was Fair-child's idea, executed with critical assistance from Fielder. "In planning the lineup for the festival, there were only seven performer slots, but there are so many great local bands right now playing really fantastic roots music—to choose just one was impossible," explains Fairchild later during the rehearsals. "And I really wanted to involve the local community more, so I came up with the idea of a kick-ass backing band and picking singers to come up and each do a song. I was trying to think of someone who bridges the gap between old-school Seattle roots music and all the new bands. Someone without a lot of bullshit rock-star attitude. Jeff just seemed like the perfect guy for it." Indeed, there really isn't a more ideal instigator for such an endeavor; Fielder was instantly embraced by both the new and old guard when he first started making a splash on the scene at the age of 27. Now 34, the guitarist and songwriter has an infectious laugh, an encyclopedic knowledge of classic rock and country music, and a seemingly bottomless well of enthusiasm for bringing musicians together to work on new projects (his latest baby is a new group with Bailie and veteran Posies/Fastbacks/Flop drummer Mike Musburger called Feel Burlie). He's also a benevolent taskmaster, periodically emerging from the basement and rallying another cast of players downstairs to run through a Carter Family cover or a classic Uncle Tupelo song. "It's all working out really well," he tells me later. "Next weekend's going to be killer." As the evening rolls in, the motley crew decides to roll their equipment next door to the Fiddler, setting up on the vine-covered patio and running through each song one more time. Sitting with myself and Fairchild, local musician Jake London remarks that "it feels like we are having an Austin moment," referring to that city's tendency to produce semi-spontaneous music gatherings. Ticket holders for the No Depression Festival should be sure to get out to Marymoor no later than 2 p.m. if they want to catch this all-star revue. After the local luminaries play, expect standout sets from Iron and Wine, Justin Townes Earle, and Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter, capped by headliner Gillian Welch. Drive-By Truckers frontman Patterson Hood is also appearing in support of his stunning new solo record, Murdering Oscar (Ruth St. Records). a convenient correlation he's clearly thrilled about. Checking in with Hood later that day via e-mail, he was clearly excited to be a part of all this: "I was an avid reader of No Depression shortly after they began publication and still read it online. They were among the first to cover the burgeoning, so-called alt-country scene and managed to keep it free-flowing enough to incorporate many of the sub-genres it spawned. We timed our entire West Coast tour around getting to play this festival, and I'm honored to be a part of it this year."

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