The history of the 4 Peaks Music Festival — a multi-day roots-rock, bluegrass and jam band concert held four of the past five years on a ranch near Tumalo — is kind of like a really fun roller-coaster ride.
Organized by a group of enthusiastic, music-loving friends, the festival's 2007 debut made a big splash, attracting nationally touring bands like Animal Liberation Orchestra and Trampled By Turtles. The 2008 festival was only slightly less ambitious.
Then the economy and difficulty attracting sponsors shelved 4 Peaks in 2009. Uncertainty about the site of the fest, spurred by neighbors' noise complaints, didn't help.
In 2010, 4 Peaks returned at a considerably smaller scale, a one-day party with a smaller lineup. And last year's edition expanded back to three days, with New Monsoon returning to headline.
The 2011 4 Peaks festival felt like organizers had finally found their groove.
And this weekend, they'll do it again, bringing in national headliners and branching out musically, while still limiting ticket sales and keeping things nice and family friendly.
In a way, the 2012 4 Peaks feels like where this festival should've started.
Organizer Stacy Totland agreed.
“I feel like ... we're at the band level (in terms of regional and national name recognition) that we want to be at,” she said. “And what's nice is that ... because of our advance sales this year, next year we can plan a little better, grow it a little more, have more local bands on the side stage, and be back to where we were the first two years.”
To avoid having to get a special permit from Deschutes County, tickets to this year's 4 Peaks are capped at 500 total, including band members, crews, event staff and others. And after dwindling slowly over the past few months, those 500 spots officially sold out Thursday.
The fest's price tag — $80 for early birds and $90 more recently — includes not only the music, but parking and camping, too. Also planned: An area for kids with “fun crafts,” Totland said, plus food (Chef Du Jour, The Pizza Cart, The Codfather) and drinks (Three Creeks Brewing) available for purchase. Outside alcohol is not allowed.
This year's lineup is arguably 4 Peaks' most diverse yet. There are a handful of rootsy, jammy bands returning to the festival — Poor Man's Whiskey, Hot Buttered Rum, Everyone Orchestra among them — and some new up-and-coming names within the psychedelic string-band scene, such as Fruition and Dead Winter Carpenters.
And this year, a few of the headliners are going to stretch things a bit: Tonight will bring in the funky, organ-fueled JGB band, a continuation of the Jerry Garcia Band led by keyboardist Melvin Seals, and Saturday will shed a little sunbaked California soul on 4 Peaks in the form of Bay Area smoothies Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers and crunchies The Mother Hips.
For Totland, having JGB, Bluhm and the Hips on this year's bill is proof that 4 Peaks' big splash five years ago is paying off, despite the ups and downs since.
“We got ourselves on the map,” she said, “so it's nice to be back and see that people are still into it.”