Twin Peaks Festival Diary: Inside The Fandom That Brought A Show Back To Life
Loving 'Twin Peaks' is no longer an act of nostalgia.
Ahead of the show’s return to screens in 2017, Andy Hazel visits the annual Twin Peaks Festival in Snoqualmie and North Bend, Washington. Though the festival’s been running since 1993, this is the first time that loving Twin Peaks hasn’t been an act of nostalgia.
“Junkee, 6.54pm July 21st and I’m entering the Festival of Twin Peaks. 135 miles south of the Canadian border, 270 miles from the state line. I’ve never seen so many fans in all my life. As W.C. Fields wouldn’t say, I’d rather be here than in Melbourne. 72 degrees on a slightly overcast day…”
I’ve just arrived at the Salish Lodge in Snoqualmie, Washington — better known in popular culture as the Great Northern Hotel, a key site in the TV series Twin Peaks. Right now, the Lodge is home to around 80 fans and it quickly becomes apparent this festival is almost more about the fandom than the show. Pre-festival communications have been going on for months via a closed Facebook group, and many people know each other from previous years. This event has been going annually since David Lynch held the premiere of his film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me in the nearby town of North Bend in 1992.
Just as Twin Peaks blurs the real with the unreal, the Twin Peaks Festival blurs the official with the unofficial. Events are spaced with hours in-between to allow people to socialise and travel between the locations, spread out between the towns of North Bend, Snoqualmie and Fall City. Looking at the schedule I’m apprehensive about how much time needs to be spent just sitting around with other festival-goers. It seems like this whole thing relies on the assumption that I’ll make friends.
What if they’re all ‘comic book store guy’ nerds?. What if I’m jetlagged and just don’t feel in the mood for an overly-chatty person who’s only here because of an obsession with some poor Twin Peaks cast member? What sort of person even pays thousands of dollars to travel across the US (or around the world) to look at some film locations and spend a few minutes with some actors?
I’m at an out-of-festival gathering at a bar — the first of many which are sprouting up on the closed Facebook group — when I spot a few cast members from the show who are just sitting around like the normal people they are. Balancing the urge to run up and thank them profusely for existing with the urge to run away and scream into my fist, I approach the immediately-charming Charlotte Stewart (who played Mary in David Lynch’s first film Eraserhead and Betty Briggs in Twin Peaks). Delighted to meet someone from Australia, she squeezes my shoulder, asks intently about my trip and manages to make my nerves vanish in a few seconds. Kimmy Robertson (Twin Peaks’ Sheriff Department receptionist Lucy) is chatting animatedly by a large window, outside of which the famous waterfall crashes, green streaks through her hair.
It’s an appropriately surreal experience; seeing dozens of people with various Twin Peaks-related t-shirts and the show’s characters together like this. It’s a rare opportunity to see a tattoo of an actor and the actor themselves in one place.
Unfortunately, any chance of getting leaked information about season three is swiftly ruled out. “Oh, I’d get sued,” Robertson tells me in her instantly recognisable voice. Like Stewart, she seems more interested in getting to know fans, and the conversation quickly turns to Australian fauna. I do however get a few glimpses into the future episodes from locals and fans who drove to North Bend on hearing that the new season was filming. One speaks about a key cast member being filmed walking past a dive bar, eyepatch swinging around her neck. Another recalls seeing a levitating golden spade that floats in a shop window.
No one has any idea what this means, or if they do (and some key festival personnel are definitely in the know) they’re not saying. Plenty more gossip and insight exists about the forthcoming season for those who want to track it down, but most of the fans here are happy to have the stories revealed as creators David Lynch and Mark Frost intend (which so far amounts to a cast list and a trailer). Mark Frost’s upcoming 368-page book The Secret Lives of Twin Peaks promises to fill in the events of the missing 25 years between seasons two and three. It’s promotion includes a clue-laden photo and trailer, released earlier this month and is currently being pored over by fans.
Just as meeting a hero can be a deflating experience and solving a mystery can kill the appeal, meeting the show’s hardcore fans can be a loaded experience. Thankfully everyone seems to be looking outward, rather than creating a slightly larger clique. People want to know about each other. Smiles of recognition follow a well-timed quote, trivia is shared, talk of spoilers is almost entirely ignored as friendships are formed at lightning speed. There’s an underlying assumption that someone here is someone worth knowing.
After meeting several seasoned festival-goers, we pile into cars and head to the pre-festival mixer at the Fall City Roadhouse (aka The Roadhouse). The meeting and greeting continues as more Twin Peaks Festival family members arrive.
The festival officially kicks off at 9am at Mount Si High School, North Bend, a building that doubles as Twin Peaks High School in the show’s pilot. The main room has stalls selling fan-made merchandise and it’s fascinating to see how deeply these cast/fan connections go. There have already been several short films and videos that combine the skills within the fandom and the creative urges of a cast member and they’re all displaying their wares.
Connie Woods, who played ‘the new girl from One-Eyed Jacks’ is producing Deerly Beloved: an animal rights documentary with Sherilyn Fenn (aka Audrey Horne). Mädchen Amick (aka Shelley Johnson) directed a music video for her daughter Mina Tobias with help from “Twin Peaks brain” Josh Eisenstadt who himself has made films that feature some of the series’ production crew and Mulholland Drive’s Bonnie Aarons — another guest of the festival.
Gary Bullock (Sheriff Cable from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me) is signing photos and selling his sci-fi romance novel Elsewhen. Copies of Charlotte Stewart’s surprisingly racy book Little House in the Hollywood Hills are moving fast. Author and podcaster Brad Dukes is selling his definitive book, Reflections: An Oral History of Twin Peaks. He-was-there-first legend John Thorne is selling back issues of Wrapped in Plastic and a book of the magazine’s best essays. Other stalls have knitted beanies, themed accessories such as owl-shaped soap infused with David Lynch brand coffee and rare production continuity photos.
Given that Charlotte Stewart has also starred in Little House on the Prairie and had major roles in several soap operas, I ask whether she’s tired of talking about the show. “When people ask me about Twin Peaks, they’re asking for the first time,” she says. “They don’t know that I’ve answered their question 25 times before and it’s the only way to do it. I’m 74 and I’ve been here five hours already today. I just love being around these people.”
The first official event of the day is the trivia competition. 16-year old champion Spencer Collantes is vying for his third-straight victory and questions range from “what is the name of the diner owned by Norma Jennings?” to “what is the number of the bank vault that explodes in the final episode?” Collantes delivers calm, authoritative answers to the most obscure questions and the audience laugh in disbelief. He wins, of course, and enters the hall of fame. Next year someone else — maybe someone who was alive when the show was first on — will have a chance at winning.
Josh Eisenstadt, a man who has virtually memorised the entire dialogue of the series as well as other Lynch productions, then takes a convoy of fans to Leo and Shelley Johnson’s house. While most of the series was filmed in California, the pilot and Fire Walk With Me were filmed in and around North Bend. The excitement at visiting this obscure location among the 20-odd fans is as palpable as it is mockable. We find where the camera once stood and snap happily away, pausing to photograph some elk grazing nearby.
With more location hunting scheduled tomorrow, we head back to our accommodation in North Bend (where the main streets include Bendigo Boulevard, Ballarat Avenue and Sydney Avenue) to prepare for the celebrity banquet and costume contest.
After we assemble in the Snoqualmie Ridge Golf Club, the banquet begins with a heartfelt toast to Catherine Coulson (The Log Lady, who passed away last year). Charlotte Stewart reads a cryptic message from David Lynch for the festival: “Many items can have more than one purpose. Even a table can have more than one purpose”. Then, Russ Tamblyn (Dr Jacobi from the series as well as Riff from West Side Story and Doc from Drive) stands to share something with the group: “Before I came here, maybe two days before, I got a letter from Showtime,” he says. “It basically said, ‘Hello Russ, I understand you’re going to the Twin Peaks Festival. We’d ask you to remember one thing: shut the fuck up’.”
Cast members then share stories of production, and memories of working together on other projects. Non-Twin Peaks guests include Laura Harring, who starred alongside Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive, Bonnie Aarons who played the bum behind the diner in Winkies in the same film (but will probably be better known for playing the nun in The Conjuring 2) and David Lynch’s studio manager, sound department head and collaborator on the musical project BlueBob, John Neff.
The celebrities judge the costume contest. There are 27 entrants this year and the very worthy winners have recreated the iconic Rolling Stone cover featuring Mädchen Amick, Sherilyn Fenn and Lara Flynn Boyle. While they pose for photos afterwards, Amick herself arrives to strike a pose with the starstruck winners who spend the next 30 minutes walking around speaking variations of “well…that just happened!”
Mark Frost once described arriving in North Bend, Washington as “looking through a prism”. He and Lynch found so much of what they had envisioned when they developed the town of Twin Peaks that North Bend has become a de facto real-life version. The town and its small businesses are as much a part of Twin Peaks as the forest, the looming cloud-capped mountains, Snoqualmie Falls and the winding roads. But all these places are also part of the lives of locals.
“I think it’s had a terrible effect on the town,” one business owner tells me. “But I can’t really talk about it. I’m really not interested.” When pressed, he mentions the increase in traffic, the inequality generated by the influx of money into the town and the way the show overshadows the lives of the town’s residents.
Bill, whose family have been residents since 1908, runs the antique store opposite Twede’s Diner. He disagrees. He leased a building as well as other items to the production in 1989 and again last year. “All the businesses in the valley benefit,” he says. “I don’t think the town suffers at all.” Like the cast members, he’s been asked not to talk about season three. Even after pleading, Bill refuses to identify any of the items he leased as props.
Cagle, another local who works at the North Bend gas station, agrees with Bill. “There are a few grumbles, but I think the benefits outweigh the negatives. It makes it harder to get around but I think other businesses [besides those featured in the show] benefit. The problems are mostly just during the festival.”
The festival’s bus tour takes us to some of these places. First stop: Reinig Bridge, aka Ronette’s Bridge, where Phoebe Augustine’s Ronette Pulowski walked, zombie-like, into Twin Peaks after her and Laura Palmer’s night of horror. Less than 100 metres away is Sparkwood and 21, where Laura Palmer jumps off James Hurley’s bike and disappears into the woods. A short drive takes us to the Twin Peaks Sheriff Station where we take turns pretending to be the receptionist, Lucy. A real-life receptionist for the business that took over the building laughs as we take photo after photo of the empty ‘police conference room’ and reception area. Outside the front of the station is the remnants of the Packard sawmill — Twin Peaks’ industrial heart.
Other sites include the Roadhouse, the Bookhouse, Snoqualmie Falls (the waterfall from the opening credits), Ed and Nadine’s house and Ed’s Gas Station. All are immediately identifiable in a way that seems incredible for a show shot in 1989.
Back in North Bend, we prepare for one of the festival’s highlights by carb-loading at Twede’s where a hot wings competition is taking place. Tonight, the North Bend Theatre plays host to a short film competition, a screening of Mulholland Drive with cast members present, and a rare concert from Julee Cruise.
Rumours abound that Julee won’t be performing. Her transport was delayed, there are difficulties and she’s renowned for stage fright. The start time of 7pm comes and passes. The queue along Bendigo Boulevard grows and it’s past 8pm by the time we get inside. Trailers for Twin Peaks-related films are playing. Mädchen Amick premieres a preview of her music video. Eventually Mulholland Drive starts. People sigh, and some leave for one of the festival parties. Those that remain resign themselves to the pleasures of watching one of Lynch’s best films in one of the area’s most beautiful cinemas. But 30 minutes into the film, it stops dead. The house lights come up, a microphone returns to the stage and the festival organiser walks out.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Julee Cruise.”
The room erupts. Cruise walks onto the stage, into a spotlight in front of the red curtains. Against a backing track, she peals through a set of songs from Twin Peaks. Opening with ‘Rockin’ Back Inside My Heart’, an accidentally perfect choice given the premise of the film that was playing minutes earlier (“She’ll never go to Hollywood”), a Catherine Coulson-dedicated ‘Questions in a World of Blue’, and a flawless take on ‘Mysteries of Love’ from Lynch’s Blue Velvet. Her voice is still gossamer thin and it’s a struggle not to use words like ‘ethereal’ and ‘sublime’ to describe her performance.
Though she has technical troubles, is consistently interrupted by the click of camera shutters and spends most of the time looking as though she’d like to vanish, the performance is — flaws and all — curiously perfect. When she hits the celestial heights of ‘The World Spins’, a song that pre-empts one of the most brutal and gruesome murders in television history, it’s hard to suppress tears, which many are unable to do.
“There were a lot of mistakes and you were all right there,” she says after her second standing ovation.
Today is another chance to bother generous cast members, visit locations, and experience the combined effects of caffeine overload, a hangover, sleep deprivation and too much pie. The weather is inappropriately warm and beautiful and everyone is incredibly friendly as we congregate on the last day — a picnic in Ollalie State Park.
“Twin Peaks fans find different things to love about the show,” a festival-goer tells me. “Sure, it’s got everything: horror, comedy, drama, but there is something much deeper going on too.”
Dozens of essays have been written about how Twin Peaks is not only a landmark show for stylistic, dramaturgic and dramatic reasons, but how it and the accompanying film tell the story of the consequences of sexual abuse from the victim’s perspective. Laura Palmer is a martyr, then a subject of mystery in the show, and then the author of her own story in the film. It’s an odd premise for a series and film about which such obsessions have grown. The even gender split, the overrepresentation of queer culture and the tendency for so many people to return every year speaks to the reverence in which it is held.
After the picnic we get the chance to visit the Deer Meadow Sheriff’s station (where Chris Isaak’s FBI Agent Chet Desmond once punched Gary Bullock’s obfuscating Sheriff Cable). Gary Bullock himself looks on bemused while tour guide Josh Eisenstadt and Voyage to Twin Peaks director Scott Ryan re-enact the scene with unnerving accuracy.
Other sites we visit include locations from Fire Walk With Me’s recently-restored deleted scenes, the picturesque location where Theresa Banks’ body was discovered wrapped in plastic (a visit whose commentary unnerves several holidaying families enjoying the dappled sunlight on the riverbank) and the iconic moment where Laura Palmer gave the finger to James Hurley.
Back at the picnic site, Julee Cruise joins Gary Bullock, John Neff, Kimmy Robertson, Charlotte Stewart, Mädchen Amick, Russ Tamblyn, Bonnie Aarons, Connie Woods and Wendy Robie chatting in the sun and happily obliging requests for pictures and autographs. It’s a scene you could never imagine at Comic-Con.
The festival’s final event, Leland Palmer Karaoke at the Roadhouse, doubles as an Invitation To Drink. It’s packed, it’s raucous, it’s messy and it’s enormously fun. Festival organisers Rob and Deanne Lindley essentially corral this creative energy into some of the festival’s finest events and biggest surprises. It’s a difficult job and requires a very different skill-set to handling celebrities, negotiating with local business owners and informing and managing the expectations of festival-goers.
As we’re about to abandon the Roadhouse one last time, intent on disappearing off to parties in the Salish Lodge (or one particularly incredible AirBnB cabin in the woods), there is one last location to visit.
We pile into cars and drive up to an old logging road past Sparkwood and 21. After ten minutes of stumbling in the dark we arrive at a rock on the ground. Redoubtable tour guide Josh Eisenstadt refers to some GPS coordinates and announces: “Right here was where James and Donna buried the golden locket”. As we fail to locate the locket buried by last year’s visitors, spotlights flash through the trees. We’re trespassing and have been spotted.
“Last year there was a gunshot,” he says calmly. “I just yelled ‘Go for a pass, Bobby!’” He laughs at his own Twin Peaks quote. At the road-head we’re met by several police cars who watch as we walk past. When we get back to the cars, several have had their tyres deflated. Not all is well in Twin Peaks.
As we drift back to international airports, buses and cars that bound for distant cities and towns, we congregate one last time at Twede’s Café in a final unofficial gathering. Goodbyes are said, people hug and take photos as the staff struggle to keep up with orders for breakfast, coffee and merchandise.
Remodelled by David Lynch, the diner is the heart of the festival and one of the places expected to feature heavily in season three. It never stops being a thrill to be there and despite difficulties it causes for locals, it is rare to be able to visit a part of pop culture history (and now, future).
As we depart one by one, posts appear on the Facebook group as we battle with PFD (post-festival depression) and plans are made for next year’s festival which will no doubt feature new locations, new guests and new layers of mystery in which to revel.
Part of the appeal is now the excitement that loving Twin Peaks is no longer an act of nostalgia. The fan is now amidst the story itself, one that is now spinning out into — at the very least — a book and an 18-episode TV series. Those that attended the festival have all been quietly developing their own relationships with the show and many have built small businesses around its aesthetics. That it’s now returning feels almost too good to be true — which is pretty much exactly how I feel about the festival itself.
You can read more about the Twin Peaks Festival here. Season three of the series is due for release in April/June 2017 on Stan.
Feature image via Chris Hill.
Andy Hazel is a freelance journalist based in Melbourne who works at The Saturday Paper.