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Music Without Borders: Music Fests Surround Olympia

By Tucker Petertil, 8/11/10

Summer’s here and the time is right for dancing in the streets…or at least in the fields. And in the next couple of weeks there will be two nearby, down to earth music gatherings that’ll offer ample opportunities to do just that.

August 13-15, the 2010 Skok Valley Music Rally will occur at the Skokomish Valley Grange Hall and nearby 40-acre property outside of Shelton. It will feature High Ceiling, Z Kamp, Erev Ravs, Tilted Stilts, Special Purpose, and many more.

Then August 20-22, the seventh annual Helsing Junction K Records Sleepover will take place on the grounds of Helsing Farms, a Rochester area organic farm and CSA. This relaxed music fest will feature LAKE, Tender Forever, Kimya Dawson, Polka Dot Dot Dot, Joey Casio, Arrington De Dionyso’s Malaikat Dan Singa, and many other acts.

Local singer/songwriter/guitarist Danny Kelly has performed every year at both of these festivals, either with a band or as a solo artist. We met up at his downtown studio to talk about these festivals and his part in the story of Olympia music.

Danny had just returned from a trip with the Cascadia Freedom Caravan, a group of musicians and activists who traveled to Detroit for the US Social Forum, an event that happened simultaneously with the G20 World Economic Forum in Toronto. The Caravan’s purpose was to highlight the contrast between the wealthy rulers’ plans for the world and the needs of the rest of the population. The trip was an eye-opener, Danny said. “In downtown Detroit I saw beautiful art deco skyscrapers abandoned and boarded up and blocks and blocks and blocks of abandoned buildings and factories.”

Nearby 1.2 billion dollars was spent on security. It’s the most Canada has ever spent for three days in its history.”

Danny Kelly, photo by Joel Kluger

Danny was excited about a group from Maine he had met in Detroit called the Beehive Collective, who will also bring their show to Helsing Farm for the Sleepover. They create enormous portable murals to illustrate stories, such as the True Cost of Coal, which their storytellers present to the audience in multimedia performances.

Danny was also a major force in Heliotroupe, a psychedelic dance band that for decades were an important part of the Olympia music scene. “We started the band in 1982, one year after the inauguration of Ronald Reagan and the band was always involved with raising money for various issues. We played a lot of benefits and I’m still doing that,” Danny said.

Besides being a community activist, Danny is also a big advocate for dance music. “It’s super-important to have a safe place for young people to go and dance and be together.” Danny, who hails from New Jersey, moved back east for part of the nineties after experiencing the dark side of hard drugs in the Pacific Northwest. “It got so bad here, that I went back to New York and took five years to get better… I got clean and sober in 1996.”

After that he relocated to Seattle and would visit Oly to play some Heliotroupe reunions until the band finally called it quits a few years back. Danny next started the band Set and Setting, named after a Timothy Leary quotation about the importance of location and frame of mind while using psychedelics. “(Set and Setting) was fully psychedelic. We were eating mushrooms and recording for 5, 6, 7 hours.” Unfortunately that band didn’t last long, and now Danny and his partner Karen Hancock (of Knot Pine Box and Saba) plus a fellow named Rayza have started a band called the Raviners, named after the rural location of their cabin.

I’m dedicated to playing music. That’s why I moved back here.” He’s also three quarters of the way through recording a new solo album and busy planning his set for the Skok Valley Rally.

The Rally has been spearheaded by a fellow named Trail Black and the Shelton band, High Ceiling. “There’s about 40 or 50 acres of land, there’s 3 days of camping, music all day outside and then when it gets cool and dark the music moves into the grange hall and goes til 5 or 6 in the morning,” said Danny, who is equally excited about the Helsing Sleepover. “Anybody who has been to it looks forward to it all year because it’s so simple, so small, so local.”

In the current economic malaise, music festivals have gone to ridiculous lengths with single concert tickets easily topping $100 and upwards of $1,000 for VIP. sections. In contrast, Helsing Junction charges $30 for four days of music, camping, organic food and general lowkeyness, and the Skok Valley Rally is $32. ◙

Find more Danny Kelly info at, Helsing Sleepover info at, and Skok Valley Rally info at

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