By Patricia Guthrie
Big ambition, tiny place.
That’s how Canadian musician Harpdog Brown described an upcoming multi-day outdoor music festival when playing at Porter’s Pub House early last year.
“When he got up to play, he described the festival as, ‘It’s just a little big thing,’” recalled festival organizer Keegan Harshman. “He meant it’s a big thing in a small place. We liked the sound of that. So it became Little BIG Fest.”
Twenty bands from Whidbey and Seattle are scheduled to rotate on and off two stages from 5 p.m. Friday, Aug. 2 to midnight Sunday, Aug. 4 at the site off Crawford Road a few miles from downtown Langley. The venue opens at noon on both Saturday and Sunday.
Tickets range from $10 to $54.
The family-friendly event takes place in the shady, sprawling forest, field and pond surrounding the converted airplane hangar of catering company, Roaming Radish, and its restaurant Porter’s Pub House, which serves deliciously different from-scratch casual fare.
Both are businesses of cooking couple Jess and J.P. Dowdell.
Jess said she’d always envisioned adding a music festival to the list of activities that take place on the restaurant grounds, which include weddings, receptions and fundraisers
“It worked out really well last year,” her husband, J.P., said of the first festival. “It will be exponentially more fantastic this second year, I’m sure.”
Porter’s Pub House will set up an outdoor beer, wine and cider site and cook up tacos for the festival; it will also remain open for food and drinks.
Numerous artisans, including Whidbey Wonders store representing 30 artists, will set up booths and coffee and doughnuts and other food vendors are also setting up. Another new feature this year is a Family Zone featuring face painting, lawn games and musician Bekah Zachritz of Bekah Bee Music.
A Healing Zone near a pond will feature yoga, massage and sound healing with didgeridoos and gongs.
Last year’s event featured 16 bands on one stage over three days, attracted a few hundred people and went rather smoothly despite its rushed planning, Harshman said.
“The first year, we did in about three months of planning,” he said. “This year, I’ve got a great team of helpers and we’re using two stages and setting up different areas of use throughout the woods.”
Bands won’t be competing for ears on the Meadow Stage and the Crossroads Stage.
The line-up allows each band to play between 45 minutes to two hours of music on one stage while the next act sets up on the other stage, said Harshman, who plays bass guitar and owns the Langley store, Blue Sound Music.
He’ll be playing in three of the bands — Nathaniel Talbot, Piper and the Planets and Open Water. Other locals include South Whidbey High School graduates Eric Vanderbilt-Matthews in the band General Mojo’s and Sidney Hauser of SmackTalk; Derringer Darlings, a folk duo, are from Oak Harbor.
South Whidbey band, Pete, is Friday night’s headliner. Saturday features Seattle’s Polyrhythmics, an eight-piece band that plays an array of funk, soul, psychedelic rock, R&B, progressive jazz, and Afrobeat. Sunday, McTuff, a Seattle instrumental band that includes a real live Hammond organ, closes the festival as the final act.
The name Harshman is synonymous with music on South Whidbey. His father is Chris Harshman, long-time band and jazz music teacher and director at South Whidbey High School and his mother, Dyanne Harshman, is a musician and early childhood educator at Whidbey Island Waldorf School.
A 2010 graduate of South Whidbey High School, Harshman ventured away for a few years traveling and playing in various bands, gigs and festivals in San Luis Obispo, Calif. before returning home to raise his own family.
“I got to play with an amazing community of musicians while I lived in California. When I moved back to Whidbey I missed a part of that culture, atmosphere and camaraderie, and thought, instead of searching for it why don’t I try to help bring a taste to this awesome community on Whidbey,” said Harshman. “It’s my spark, and with the help of the community, it’s a fire that can thrive.”
Keegan Harshman grew up attending the annual Choochokam Music & Arts Festival that attracted thousands of people to Langley every July for 41 years and ended four years ago. While there’s talk of reviving Choochokam, Harshman’s vision is to provide a festival that honors the passion and professionalism of musicians and inspires youngsters.
Enough money needs to be made to fairly pay musicians and bands, he said. Any profit will ideally go toward music education scholarships for local high school students.
“It’s not just a music festival,” Harshman said. “It’s a gift to the community that can grow. Seeing people play their hearts out on stage is inspiring to people of all ages.”
A ticket to big fun
Little BIGFest: Aug. 2-4; outdoor music and arts festival at Porter’s Pub House/Roaming Radish, 5417 Crawford Road, Langley.
Tickets: Friday, $10 using promotion code, LOCONIGHT, or $10 at the door.
Saturday and Sunday one-day ticket: $27 preorder or $35 at the door.
Weekend pass: $49 preorder, $59 at the door. Kids 10 and under free with adult.
Order tickets: https://littlebigfest.brownpapertickets.com.
No pets are allowed. Parking is on site. Camping available at Whidbey Fairgrounds and Whidbey AirPark.
For more information, visit www.Littlebigfest.org.