We kicked off the next leg of our vanlife journey with Descend on Bend, a large-scale van meetup in the Oregon outback rife with art and inspirational living. The festival kicked off September 2nd and ran through the morning of September 6th, and those four full days were packed with partying. We took plenty of pictures and met plenty of people, and we’re excited to share our experience at Descend.
A big draw for me was the amount of artists and craftspeople present at Descend. Three days of the weekend had a two-hour block dedicated to a Makers Market where merchants were invited to set up around the main stage and peddle their creations. Most artwork was Descend or vanliving-oriented, including jewelry, posters, and some wooden crafts, but many setups were also selling food and homemade organic hygiene items. Our favorites were two kids – one was a girl selling cookies to save up for her own bus someday, and the other a boy selling fly lures that he was tying right in front of you.
A significant portion of the art present at Descend came in the form of vans themselves. Roughly 1,000 vans made it out for the festival, and we saw all manner of rigs. Minivans and Honda Elements, school buses, campers, and of course cargo vans like our Nissan NV2500. Numerous vehicles had extensive hand-built elements or intricate paint jobs. A particularly impressive build came in the form of a log cabin built as a truck-towed tiny house camper.
Each evening featured several hours of incredible independent music acts on the main stage – and outside of the main stage.
Two key acts that blew us away included the why-are-they-in-the-desert funk outfit The Humidors who made a huge impression among the rest of the largely acoustic-oriented folk artists. The other act we loved was Trego, a good old-fashioned rock group including some horns and a cello. The main stage shows drew big numbers each night, and being situated next to the sponsor beer garden tent from Worthy Brewing didn’t hurt either (their Worthy NW IPA rocks, by the way).
Off the stage, typically as an after party once the main stage artists wrapped, groups popped up all over for late night activities. One huge circle of vans in particular held their own potluck one evening – open to all, of course – and each night hosted a side concert spearheaded by multi-instrumentalist Daniel Park. That guy rocked his acoustic guitar and electric violin with a looper and brought out every cover he could to get people moving. It was great, and those evenings really highlighted the off-the-cuff community element that Descend cultivated well.
During the day, Jamie and I would walk around and find people everywhere sitting on their cobbled-together stoops with guitars and beers, running impromptu jam sessions with their new best friends.
Speaking of new best friends, as two travelers new to the Pacific Northwest, we were excited to make so many new friends on the road. In fact, the first leg of our van journey was fairly fast-paced and isolated; this was our first meetup of any kind. Coming out of it with a large handful of new connections feels awesome, and we (finally) feel very grounded in this lifestyle.
The unconditional acceptance is simply wild. Each day we would arbitrarily run into someone new, maybe getting water or grabbing a bite, and every time it would turn into, “Well, follow me and meet my friends!” Our circle of contacts grew exponentially by the day, and we met influencers we had seen before online, low-profile weekend warriors local to the area who have invited us to visit them at home, and of course the dogs. So many dogs! Famous dogs!
We’re very grateful that we fell into a solid group of travelers. The van lifestyle gives everyone a very solid starting point for conversation, and the connection is immediate. We even had a crazy small-world moment when we met someone who attended our alma mater at the same time we did!
The Random Cool Things
- Each day was fueled by a robust coffee van serving cold brew, all espresso-based drinks imaginable, chai, and even milkshakes
- On our first day, we found a van with a sign reading “Come play me in cribbage,” so I did… again and again
- On the last night, the Worthy Brewing tent “didn’t want to bring anything back,” so they started selling flats (24 beers) for $20
- The final full day of Descend each year involves numerous vans and dirtbikes riding into a deep nearby crater, setting up ramps, and doing jumps. Our van is nowhere near that adventurous…
Thanks Descend, we hope to see you next year!