By Gregg Morris
It’s a breezy Thursday afternoon, just prior to the 2017 summer solstice, and Stacy Koff is running around a 150-acre ranch turned festival site problem-solving the day’s shortcomings. Almost simultaneously, Koff gets a text from a headlining band, a call on the walkie-talkie from her site manager Jef Hinkle, and a visit from the fire marshal. After successfully tackling the moment’s issues, she takes a deep breath, squints her eyes, and tries to remember what she was doing before the mini-crises.
“Multi-tasking is just part of the job,” explains the brown-haired, blue-eyed Koff. “It’s funny that the fire marshal was just here, considering the fact I am basically a fireman, putting out fires all day.”
The fires continue throughout the day. Questioning vendors, delayed deliveries, and an uncooperative Mother Nature all have their hands in sparking the tension of running the 4 Peaks Music Festival.
And then the music starts . . .
Almost in synchronization with the first note, smiles begin to creep onto the faces of Koff and the 200+ staff and volunteers busily tending to the many facets of a successful festival. In fact, Koff can’t help but add a hip-shaking dance move to her quick pace.
Dressed in festival attire of calf-height, hand-sewn moccasin boots, leather skirt, purple tank top, and a wicker cowboy hat, Koff seems ready to solve a problem or work her way through the crowd to dance. The radio clipped to her pink utility belt remains on and her iPhone rarely leaves her right hand.
In the background, the guitarist rips through a particularly lively solo as the rest of the band follows suit. A smile breaks through the stress on Koff’s face as she reminds everyone around, “This is why we do what we do.”
Music has always evoked strong emotions in Koff. It began with her first show—Neil Diamond at Los Angeles’ Greek Theatre—and has continued through the thousands she’s attended since. Her strong hippie resume includes more than 130 festivals, 14 Grateful Dead shows, and 89 Phish shows . . . and counting.
“Music not only appeals to every sensory mechanism in my body, I can feel it in my blood and soul,” explains Koff. “It’s the positive, uplifting feeling of escape you can’t get anywhere else.”
Koff, the Early Years
Koff grew up in Malibu, California, at a time when the Southern California town was still a small surfing community, before becoming a playground for the rich. The daughter of a financial estate planner dad and a stay-at-home mom, Koff and her younger brother learned early on the value of a close-knit family. As a testament to their idea of family, all of the Koffs live within 10 minutes of each other in Bend.
After high school, Koff went on to the University of Denver, partly for the school and partly for the mountains surrounding the city. There she received her bachelor of arts in communications, with a minor in graphic design. And there she developed her love for the outdoors. This love took her to Telluride, Colorado, to begin her adult life.
“I went to Telluride to be closer to the mountains and rivers, and live in a small community with a pace of life that moves with me,” says Koff.
Life in Telluride not only furthered her attraction to the mountains but also introduced Koff to the inner workings of festivals. She began by volunteering at the internationally known summer events centered in the small mountain town, such as Jazzfest, Mountain Film, and the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. An infectious attitude and desire to be entrenched in the midst of all the excitement eventually led to Koff being hired as art director for Jazzfest.
After six years in Telluride, Koff looked for a change. Still wanting to live in the mountains, but never forgetting her first love of the ocean, she chose Bend with its proximity to water as the town in which to settle down.
As art director, Koff learned to create perhaps the most important aspect of a festival—ambience. She noticed some of the attendees weren’t even aware of the bands, instead only coming to have a good time with their friends. Koff brings this understanding each year to the shaping of the 4 Peaks Music Festival, named for the tops of the Cascade Mountains visible from the original festival location in Tumalo. Over the last decade, 4 Peaks has become her full-time job, and then some.
“Nothing could’ve prepared me for what I am doing now,” says Koff. “Running an entire festival is a huge undertaking. I have to look simultaneously at the big picture and all of the little things that accomplish our vision, including ambience and a good vibe.”
The Birth of 4 Peaks
The combination of a love for music and a background in festival organization meant Koff could hardly contain herself when her friend and original 4 Peaks partner Eric Walton asked a simple question in 2006.
“Do you have any interest in putting on a small backyard music festival at my house in Bend?”
It may have begun as a small gathering of friends, but 4 Peaks quickly grew in vision, aided by the shared dreams of the five original partners. They believed 4 Peaks was exactly what Bend needed for its economy, music and arts scene, and family life.
Another friend offered up a Tumalo property on an August weekend in 2007 and they were ready to roll. Forty acres, two stages, 15 bands, a kids’ area, and food and craft vendors made up the venue, while the site property transformed into a sea of RVs, cars, and tents. Kids ran and played as the moms hula-hooped around them. Some attendees focused on the regional bands who performed; others simply enjoyed the sunshine and friends surrounding them.
The first year was highlighted by a moment fans talk about to this day. On the last evening, Everyone Orchestra’s Matt Butler directed two stages full of musicians from the back of Walton’s pickup truck. The excitement in the crowd solidified Koff’s path to the future. This was what she wanted to be doing.
The last note had hardly rung out before the partners were planning the next year’s festival. They discussed what had worked and what hadn’t, how they could invite bigger bands, and perhaps most important, how they could do it again with less effort. Although Koff’s friends and family know the time and effort she earmarks for the festival has not waned by any stretch of the imagination.
The first couple of years, 4 Peaks had to battle the economic downfall that gripped the nation. Even the partners were not immune. Two moved for their careers, one decided to back out of the partnership to focus on work, and the last chose to give up his stake in the festival but remain on staff. As the country’s discretionary spending dropped, festivals were closing up shop and calling it quits. Undeterred, Koff kept 4 Peaks at a low operating cost and marched forward.
By 2012, the economy rebounded and Koff grew the festival back to its original mass gathering status (3,000 people maximum). Families and music lovers across the country flocked back to Bend and the 4 Peaks Music Festival.
Another change came in 2017 as 4 Peaks outgrew their original location. The want of expansion, in space not people, led Koff to relocate the festival to southeast Bend’s Stevenson Ranch. 4 Peaks left the same way it started, with a bang. Headliner Jackie Greene, undeterred by the wind and rain that forced all performances inside the tent, played through the night to an appreciative crowd. Yet another memory in the 4 Peaks vault.
The Kids Are Alright
With each new experience added to the festival—silent disco, yoga, new stages—Koff maintains the festival’s focus on family friendliness. Mom to an 11-year-old daughter, Koff knows the value in creating a safe environment for the children.
“As a mother myself, I know it’s important to share organic experiences with your kids,” says Koff. “One of our defining features is to make kids feel welcome, and it will always be vital to 4 Peaks.”
Koff can’t help but smile when walking past the kids’ area known as Kidlandia and seeing kids of all ages taking a ukulele or drum lesson, intently listening to a performer, or simply hanging out with friends.
“4 Peaks is a vacation-like place where you can enjoy your favorite music while spending time with your family and friends,” adds 12-year-old Ella Rider, who has attended the festival every year and will perform this year on the Kidlandia Stage.
Another point of pride for Koff is maintaining a connection with the Bend community. Most of the staff is local, as well as many of the artists, the yoga instructor, the craft beers for sale, and many of the food carts. In addition, 4 Peaks tickets are available for cash sales, without fees, locally at the Cosmic Depot.
“The Cosmic Depot loves to support 4 Peaks every year because it promotes exuberance and enjoyment among the members of our community, as well as bringing folks from all over to enjoy what has always been an awesome lineup of musicians,” says music lover and Cosmic Depot owner Christy Graham.
In addition, 4 Peaks books several local bands to round out the lineup. This year’s festival includes the Travis Ehrenstrom Band, Chiringa, Blackstrap Bluegrass, the Maxwell Friedman Group, and child performers gracing the Kidlandia stage.
“As we became a national festival, it was important to all of us to showcase Central Oregon’s awesome local talent,” explains Koff, who just married a local musician. “Whether it be the handful of local bands we invite, the kid performers, or our yoga instructor, we are all adding to this wonderful community.”
The same holds true for 4 Peaks’ commitment to local nonprofits. This year’s recipients include KPOV, Commute Options, the Environmental Center, Kids Center, and Brightside Animal Shelter.
Even while surrounded by music and happy people, running a music festival does come with its fair share of problems. The difficulties begin with the navigation of Deschutes County’s permitting process, for which 4 Peaks receives unanimous support, include the easing of concerns from surrounding neighbors, and end with the complications of playing host to national touring musicians.
“Trying to accommodate everyone—from artists to the community to vendors—is probably the most difficult part of my job,” says Koff. “Oh, and lack of sleep!”
The Future of 4 Peaks
As 4 Peaks continues to grow in popularity and national recognition, Koff insists she has no plans to grow it in size.
“We are focused on continuing what we are already doing, in new and exciting ways,” explains Koff. “We have no interest in becoming a huge festival, nor does our permit allow for it. We simply want to up the quality of experiences we provide.”
Staying true to her word, this year’s festival has doubled the size of Kidlandia, added a new camping reservation system, increased the number of hydration stations, and will provide even more local nonprofit support. As for Koff’s future in running the 4 Peaks Music Festival, there’s no plans to change that either.
“My passion won’t let me even think about doing anything else. It’s too much fun to see the end result.” •