Conversation, beer, and music for locals and beyond

Ural Thomas feeling pleasure, not pain, at Hood River Hops Fest.

Photo by Jim Drake
Ural Thomas feeling pleasure, not pain, at Hood River Hops Fest.

Saturday was kind of a double-whammy for me. After finishing up some volunteer work that involved picking up trash along Mill Creek in The Dalles with a SOLV-Blue Zones crew, my next assignment was to investigate Hops Fest, now in its 15th year, at the corner of 5th and Cascade, in Hood River. To my amazement, coming into town I found a parking space, (a metered area that does not contain a vehicle and is big enough for your car) around 4 p.m.

Sidewalks near the event were bustling with people coming and going, with a hub of activity at the main entrance across from the Full Sail Brewery. One of the friendly volunteers at the gate recognized me, and it took a minute to recognize Dave Van Cott (former News sales alum) greeting me. Another volunteer helped me track down Lee Perry, through the miracle process of “Texting.”


IN GEAR: Andy Roof, Julie Sarnowski, and Scott Crawford

Lee Perry, from the Hood River County Chamber of Commerce, is the main production manager for the event. How is the event going? “Great, we had a little rain come through, but I think it’s gonna be sunny the rest of the evening, so I think people are pretty happy,” Perry said. Most areas of the festival, especially under the huge tents, were packed. “Attendance looks good, we were just looking at our mug count, and it seems like it’s gonna be a really good year.”

And the beer? All-fresh, all the time. “This year, it’s all fresh hopped based, all the brewers brought beer that essentially they just made, it’s as fresh as you can get,” Perry said. So, exactly how fresh? “It’s so fresh, it was to the point that we had trouble getting descriptions of all the beers. That’s as fresh as it gets!”

Perry was no stranger to handling large events like this. “It’s my third year as production manager for Hops Fest. I have helped the chamber get sponsorships for other events, I’ve actually been doing events for 20 years,” Perry said. Along with a lot of local volunteers, Hops Fest seems to rely on Hood River to provide infrastructure support. “Yes, we can get a lot of people from Portland, it’s a nice day and people are coming out. We know that all of the hotels get booked up for this, which really adds a lot to our local economy here,” Perry said.

The background music for our conversation involved a local band, the Greenneck Daredevils, on a large portable stage, from the GorgeEvents company. Soul music followed from and Ural Thomas and the Pain from Portland. More on that later.

Besides a host of NW breweries (and wineries) on hand, it was fun to see that local brewery Double Mountain was on the Hops Fest scene in three ways: First, a beer selection from the antique converted van that served as a tap station. Second: A new Hopped Whiskey was available, made in collaboration with Hood River Distillers. Reports say the Apollo and Cascade hops “pays homage to the bright flavors of fresh hops with smooth citrus and floral flavors” of this 100 percent corn whiskey. The third way? Double Mountain brewer Matt Swihart was onstage playing banjo with the Greenneck Daredevils.


Alyson Castonguay enjoys the Hops Fest music.

The festival tends to bring out hops celebrants that go above and beyond the simple adorning of a hops hat/halo, as seen on many heads. Of course, I’m talking about the donning of full traditional German attire. By the way, this is the second week I’ve encountered this phenomena — with last week’s Oktoberfest the Hood River Elks’ Lodge. Where does one go to get lederhosen (leather pants) for men, or Dirndl dresses for women?”

“Amazon,” said local musician Andy Roof, who, with friends Julie Sarnowski and Scott Crawford traveled from Bainbridge Island. They were at Hops Fest for one main reason.

“Beer. And, to clearly state that we are Pro-Bavarian Culture.” Okay, maybe two.

The Hops Fest, being in its 15th year, has seemed to generate a culture of repeat visitors, and makes a good impression on first time attendees. Local resident Jim Aamodt, says he has been to every single one. “Yes, it’s been quite a while I’ve been coming here. It’s always a great event,” he said.

A retired couple from Bend had just come from another Oregon beer event to Hood River Hops Fest, for the first time. “We love this, it’s a very nicely done festival, but you can hardly get a hotel room. We’ve been to Hood River before and we can really see how it’s grown.” Where were they off to after this? The Sisters Brewfest, of course.

I’ll continue adding to the passerby comment list: “Having a fantastic time, really.” And: “Better than Portland.” Does that say it all? You’re welcome, Hood River County Chamber.

Now, lets talk about music. When the festival organizers say that it’s an all-ages festival — (well, 21 and over after 5 p.m., anyway), it’s nice to know that they’re including senior citizens — in the band line-up. Soul singer Ural Thomas is 79 years old. Decked out in a neon yellow shirt, Thomas seamlessly and effortlessly brought 50-plus years of classic horn-driven, old-soul singing experience through the sound system for a non-stop dance crowd. You may expect someone of that age to sit down on a barstool for a few songs, but constant movement, dancing and directly connecting with the audience prevented any such thing. Midway through the set, Thomas toasted the crowd with a full mug of beer and there wasn’t a drop left afterwards. I thought to myself, “If I did that, I’d be looking for a place to lie down right now.” Thomas finished the set, and then came back for several encore songs. Where does the energy to do that come from? And then, I remembered that I had interviewed the band’s drummer, Scott Magee, a few years ago, when the band played at River City. He said “He’s like a kid. You’ll see.” He was right.

The taps closed at 7:30 p.m. Announcements of safe rides home and hope to see you again next year were made. I hope everyone made it home safe and had as great of a time as I did.

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