Now in its 43rd year of existence, the annual Fremont Solstice Fair has always served dual creative and constructive functions within its quintessentially quirky, Lenin-loving neighborhood. Willfully scheduled to coincide with the summer’s longest stretch of sunlight, the Solstice Fair itself is a benefit for the Fremont Chamber of Commerce and a simultaneous celebration of the ‘hood’s socially conscious vibe, inherently mischievous aesthetic, and ribald sense of humor.
From body paint-baring bicyclists and the colorful parade of handcrafted floats that anchor Saturday’s activities, to the eclectic, artisan wares purveyed at the weekend-long, open-air market and the groove-oriented live music programming, everything about the Fremont Fair has always spoken to a sense of healthy hedonism, albeit one oriented towards a baby boomer crowd, laced with a liberal sprinkling of Burning Man aficionados and outsider-oriented artists.
While the Waterfront Stage’s free music line-up (curated by Fremont venue Nectar) reflects that traditional sonic energy, festival programmers have wisely diversified their musical offerings on the new Redhook Main Stage to include top-tier acts from the fields of artful indie rock, folk, pop, hip-hop, and punk. The inaugural schedule includes a slew of compelling Northwest artists that I can unequivocally recommend. Here are my top picks:
The Young Evils (Friday, 5:30pm to 6:15pm)
Co-band leaders Troy Nelson and fiancée Mackenzie Mercer got engaged last year on the final day of business at the beloved Queen Anne branch of Easy Street Records, where they originally met. Pledging life-long love amongst the impending ruins of an independent business being demolished by the forces of gentrification is actually an appropriate metaphor for their sound: catchy, boy-girl harmonics, buoyed by creative pop structures, but underpinned with a dark current of resigned morbidity. This is perfect pop music for cynical Solstice romantics.
Tacocat (Friday, 6:45p to 7:30pm)
Their name is a palindromic, and their shiny, punk-pop compositions are also intelligent and infectious, both backwards and forwards. Long Beach, CA native Bree McKenna (bass) and vocalist Emily Nokes (formerly from Butte, MT and currently employed as The Stranger’s music editor) bonded in a graphic design class and began churning out danceable polemics inflected with riot grrl-riffing rants about female troubles (both romantic and gynecological) with humor and heart.
Built to Spill (Friday, 9:30pm to 10:45pm)
I can’t really think of a better band to watch against the background of a summer sunset in Seattle than Doug Martsch’s Boise, ID-based institution. Considered the godfathers of the soaring, guitar-driven soundscapes that led inspired younger outfits like Modest Mouse to pursue intricate compositions and artful arrangements that were still rooted in the foundations of rock and punk, Built to Spill shows are unfailingly enchanting, mixing free-form improvisation with classic favorites from their landmark albums Perfect From Now On and Keep it Like a Secret.
The Physics (Saturday, 8:00pm to 9:00pm) and Blue Scholars (Saturday, 9:30pm to 10:45pm)
Perhaps the smartest booking move by Fremont Solstice Fair programmers this year was the pairing of what are arguably the city’s strongest hip-hop acts on the same evening. The Physics are one of this region’s most critically celebrated ensembles, delivering an unencumbered flow that celebrates hometown pride with quick-witted clarity, while the more politically-oriented Blue Scholars (a play on the term “blue collar”) frequently address the struggles between socioeconomic classes, reflecting on themes of youth empowerment, inter-racial strife, the values of questioning authority, and yes, the positive benefits of marijuana. Since 2002, they’ve been standard-bearers of the Seattle hip-hop community, opening for De La Soul, Slick Rick, and Kanye West.
Hannah Levin is a Northwest writer and DJ. Her articles have appeared in popular Seattle publications, such as The Stranger, Seattle Weekly, and City Arts. Her regional and national work has appeared in SPIN and RollingStone.com. She is the host of Seek & Destroy, a weekly heavy metal show on radio station KEXP.