Film review: ‘Welcome to Doe Bay’

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The annual Doe Bay Music Festival is one of the hottest brands in local music. It combines a beautiful, isolated, intimate setting on Orcas Island with excellent musicians of multiple genres — with an emphasis on folk and Americana — creating a unique community-based festival environment.

Doe Bay’s hook for festivalgoers is the environment it creates. Its intimacy and serene setting is something most music fans want out of a festival, yet so few get to experience what Doe Bay has to offer. It’s such a popular event that tickets are gone before the festival’s lineup is announced. Last year tickets were snatched up in two minutes. It’s been reported that it took a mere 15 seconds for Doe Bay to sell out this year, and those two sell outs happened weeks before the lineup was revealed.

The documentary Welcome to Doe Bay attempts to bring the Doe Bay experience to the masses and it mostly succeeds in not only documenting the rise of the festival but also acting as a primer for a specific part of the local music scene. Directors Dan Thornton and Nesib Shamah do a good job chronicling the festival’s grassroots beginnings and showcasing the talented artists who perform at the festival.

The message of the film is that Doe Bay is not your average music festival which features corporate sponsors, bloated big-name superstar headliners and expansive festival grounds.The directors tell Doe Bay’s tale through a series of vignettes that spotlight various bands (Champagne Champagne, Lemolo, Fly Moon Royalty and about a half-dozen more) who all perform at the festival. The vignettes are accompanied by some great live performances and several local music experts (Abbey Simmons, Jonathan Cunningham, Hannah Levine and others) and festival organizers talking about the musicians and the uniqueness of the festival.

The film’s single blemish is that it glances over the Doe Bay Fest’s biggest problem, which getting access to the festival. During a brief segment of the film, festival organizer Kevin Sur states that organizers have taken steps to make tickets more accessible for the non-rabid fans but unfortunately those steps haven’t helped. And that’s about all you’ll hear about how difficult it is for the average person to get tickets to the musical paradise featured in Welcome to Doe Bay.

During the film’s premiere at the Seattle International Film Festival Thornton and Shamah said they intentionally didn’t include a lot of information about the exclusivity of Day Bay due to its popularity. Thornton stated they “wanted to stay away from the politics.”  That was disappointing to hear and showed some strong bias by the filmmaker. The bulk of the film is spent showing the audience this amazing music experience and explaining why Doe Bay is better than other music festivals offered in the Northwest, but the filmmakers leave out the tiny detail that you will probably never get to experience what Doe Bay offers.

Shamah said the intent of the film was twofold. He wanted to tell the story of the Doe Bay experience while also delivering the message that anyone can put together a music festival like Doe Bay. He succeeded more with the former because while the film definitely shows hard work and dedication can help make an idea like Doe Bay Fest a reality, not everyone has Doe Bay organizers’ access to a remote island setting and their expansive local music Rolodex. Without those two ingredients Doe Bay wouldn’t be as successful as it is today.

Welcome to Doe Bay is a great film that does a good job documenting what has been a bright spot in local music for the past five years. The soundtrack is superb,  the setting is beyond beautiful, several wonderful local bands are showcased with excellent live performances, and the festival’s grassroots, community-driven vibe is heavily emphasized. It’s definitely worth checking out, especially if you ever want to attend Doe Bay, because unfortunately watching the movie will likely be the closest you’ll ever get to experiencing the real thing.

Welcome to Doe Bay screens tonight at 8 p.m. at SIFF’s Uptown Cinema. The screening is a benefit for the victims of the Cafe Racer shoot and will include a performance by Damien Jurado. Tickets cost $11 for the general public and for $9 SIFF members.

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Travis Hay

About Travis Hay

Travis Hay is a professional music journalist who has spent the past 14 years documenting and enjoying Seattle's diverse music scene. In 2009 he established Guerrilla Candy and is currently the site's editor and publisher. He has written for various media outlets including MSN Music, the Seattle-Post Intelligencer, Seattle Weekly, Crosscut.com and others and was the founder and editor of defunct music site Ear Candy.