Last Saturday (18 August 2018) was the 8th Annual Squirrel Fest in Longview, WA. Squirrel Fest was started by a local civic group, The Sandbaggers, in 2011, basically as an excuse to have a beer garden, throw a concert, and make some money for the city. The “squirrel” element of Squirrel Fest comes from Longview’s world famous, “Nutty Narrows” squirrel bridge, which was installed in 1963 by Amos Peters (a former member of The Sandbaggers) to help squirrels get across Olympia Way in Longview. When Peters died, in 1984, The Sandbaggers commissioned a ten foot tall, wooden, squirrel sculpture in his honor, which was placed on the grounds of the Longview Public Library, not far from the “Nutty Narrows” bridge. Since then, five other squirrel bridges have gone up around the city, all maintained by The Sandbaggers. (This info all comes from the City of Longview web page.)
The tone of the entire event was very good-time / fun. There were carnival-style attractions for the kiddies, including face painting, a giant inflatable slide, zip-lining, and various games and activities. There was also a parade, a “bed race,” food vendors, and various booths by local artists and organizations. My family and I went up fairly early in the afternoon and stopped by the library, where we met up with younger daughter, Ellie’s, boyfriend, and then we went and took some photos with the big squirrel.
(Photo by Gabe Bogner)
(Photo by Gabe Bogner)
Afterward, we headed across the street to the Civic Center, where the carnival vibe was in full effect, and we grabbed some grub. After that the group split up (Ellie and Gabe took off, and Frankie, the older daughter, went home to change into some lighter clothes because it was getting a bit hot.) Meanwhile, Mariah and I went and looked at the artist booths, which were pretty cool, and we also walked around looking for the trolley that was supposed to take folks on a tour of the various squirrel bridges in town, but it had broken down and, sadly, wasn’t running. (Darn.) We didn’t let it get us down, though. Eventually, our older daughter returned, and she and Mariah went around and looked at everything again, while I sat at a table in the civic center and drew some pictures. Occasionally, Mariah and Frankie would return to my table with various snacks and goodies, and we basically goofed around and enjoyed the up-beat atmosphere.
Eventually, we got hungry enough to eat some REAL food, so we trotted across the road from the Civic Center (which is basically a giant circle of grass and trees in the “center” of town), and we hit the new pizzeria that just opened up in the recently refurbished Monticello Hotel. The food was pretty good, and the place was air conditioned, which was double good! (Mariah thought the atmosphere was better than the food, but I thought it decent.)
After we finished our dinner, and Frankie’s husband, Alec, met up with us, we headed over to the beer gardens where the concert was already getting started!
There were three bands on the ticket for the night, starting with a Portland, Oregon, band called The Strange Tones. They were a decent, blues-tinged, rock outfit with a slightly noir vibe. They weren’t too bad, although I’m not much of a fan of blues-rock—which is more my fault than theirs. The crowd seemed to like them.
Next up was a Creedence Clearwater Revival tribute band from Olympia, Washington, fronted by a fellow named Randy Linder. Again, the band was solid, and the crowd seemed to LOVE these guys. I suspect that, by this time, the BEER element of the beer garden had kicked in, PLUS the band had the advantage of playing songs that the crowd already knew. For most people, hearing something they already know is a real plus—for me, it kind of backfired. I am a fan of CCR, having grown up listening to their music. Unfortunately, I also have a rather discerning ear, so when I hear somebody “trying” to sound like John Fogerty, but failing to carry it off, it grates on my nerves. He kind of had the growl of Fogerty, but without any of the power or passion that the CCR singer brought to his music. Mariah said it best, “It’s like he’s cosplaying John Fogerty.” Exactly. It was a strained imitation, and clearly not a comfortable voice for him to sing in. (He couldn’t sustain any of the notes, and it just wasn’t very “musical.”) In his defense, though, he did say something that I found pretty funny. After about the third of fourth song, he says, “Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve wanted to play at some big Squirrel Festival. I finally made it…” That’s pretty good.
The final band of the night was Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, from Eugene, Oregon—and they kicked ass. For those who haven’t heard them (is that possible?), the Daddies play a slightly punky swing / ska / jazz-rock combination, which was great to hear live. There were a few minor technical issues. It sounded like the guy running sound was overdriving the mids and lows for a bit, and there was some unpleasant speaker crackling as a result, and at one point the vocals cut out for a few seconds, but eventually everything got sorted, and the band played admirably through it all. The vocalist, Steve Perry (not the Journey guy), was in great form, and the band really rocked. They reached back into their catalog, too, playing cuts from their early 90’s albums, as well as fan favorites, like “Zoot Suit Riot” and “Dr. Bones.” My daughter, Frankie, loved every second of it (I got a photo of her and her husband dancing), and Mariah and I were both happy (although we were getting tired. We’re old and normally in bed by then.)
The Longview crowd, which asked for an encore from the CCR tribute band for some reason, wasn’t as all on fire for the Daddies as they should have been, and a large chunk of the people in attendance slipped away before the final set was over. Mariah pointed out that the beer garden had been open and serving folks since 2:00 P.M., so it might have had more to do with people being wasted than anything to do with the band, but it was still frustrating to see a great performance go underappreciated by the folks in town. (I’ve lived here for four decades, and it doesn’t surprise me when stuff like this happens, but it is pretty annoying.) Oh well. At least the band got paid!
So there we go… Squirrel Fest was a good time, and if you’re in the Northwest next August (if the planet hasn’t burned down by then), it’s worth stopping by little Longview to check out the event. In addition, if you get a chance to see the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies live, it’s TOTALLY worth it. They are high energy, funny, and a pleasant change from all that blues-rock that seems to saturate the local music scene (every freakin’ bar band in town…EVER – SINGLE – ONE…is a goddam blues-rock band—or some metal / punk hybrid. It’s disgusting… We don’t even bother to go out anymore, unless we know someone that’s playing in the band…) (I’ve digressed a bit. Sorry.) Final thoughts: Squirrel Fest=Fun. Cherry Poppin’ Daddies=Awesome. Longview=Drunk, but at least they’re trying. I’m definitely giving them points for trying!
—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Supreme Bunny Lord of The P.E.W.)
[P.S. – All photos taken by Richard F. Yates except the two attributed to Gabe Bogner!]
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