Richland folk fest pays tribute to power of music

The 23rd annual Tumbleweed Music Festival in Richland Labor Day weekend pays homage to a folk music legend who would have celebrated his 100th birthday this year.

It seems fitting for the Tri-Cities to celebrate Pete Seeger, an American folk singer who won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. The banjo-strumming Rock and Roll Hall of Famer is the inspiration for the birth of the Tri-City folk music advocacy group.

Micki Perry and her late husband John Perry founded Three Rivers Folklife Society, or 3RFS, in 1988 after befriending Seeger in the 1970s.

“It was such a magical time to get to know someone that we had always admired and looked up to and whose music we loved,” said Micki, who is now in her ’70s, but still serves as Tumbleweed’s program chair.

John, who worked in the nuclear field, moved his family from Beacon, New York, to the Tri-Cities in 1976 to pursue a job with the Washington Public Power Supply System.

The couple helped to form 3RFS after discovering there was no official folk-centered group in the area.

Back in Beacon, the Perrys had been loyal followers and close friends of Seeger and his wife Toshi.

The Perrys were directly involved in many environmental activism efforts, including the Seegers’ Hudson River Sloop Clearwater nonprofit, which advocated for the cleanup of the then heavily polluted Hudson River.

In 1966, in association with the Clearwater Sloop campaign, the Seegers started an annual environmental music festival that is still held each summer; it’s now called the Great Hudson River Revival.

The Tumbleweed Music Festival began in 1997.

Folk music rose to popularity in the 1960s. Micki defines it as “a huge umbrella that embraces blues to bluegrass, Celtic to old-time, and singer-songwriters writing their own stuff.”

Seeger, one of those talented musicians, died Jan. 27, 2014, at the age of 94.

In honor of what would have been his centennial birthday, the theme of this year’s Tumbleweed Music Festival is “The Power of Song,” a nod to both the title of the 2007 PBS documentary on Seeger’s life and influence, as well as music’s ability to inspire social change.

Several of the workshops at this year’s festival pay tribute to his legacy.

Festivalgoers will have the opportunity to attend workshops such as “For Pete’s Sake: Singalong,” “Songs of Hope and Community,” “Pete Seeger Kids Songs,” and more than 30 others.

This year’s Tumbleweed festival features more than 100 free-to-the-public acoustic concerts taking place across two indoor and five outdoor stages.

A variety of musical artists will perform, from amateurs to traveling professionals, with a new concert beginning roughly every 40 minutes on each stage.

“If you come to Tumbleweed, you’re sure to find some music that you will love and not know you needed in your life,” said David Carson, who has been volunteering at the festival for about 16 years and is this year’s festival lead coordinator.

Since almost all of Tumbleweed’s performances are free—except for the $14 Saturday night headliner concert fundraiser featuring Cosmo’s Dream, The Drunken Maidens, and Tom Rawson and Ellen van der Hoeven, and a $10 Sunday evening contra dance—Howard Amon Park will remain open to the public throughout the weekend, enabling parkgoers to go about their holiday activities with live music as their backdrop.

The festival is put on by the nonprofit 3RFS “to support folk music and bring music and events to people,” according to Carson.

3RFS is all-volunteer-run. It organizes and sponsors non-smoking, alcohol-free monthly musical and artistic performances and open mics at local coffeehouses, as well as contra dances, song circles and more.

“When it comes down to putting on the festival, our volunteers are the bedrock and the lifeblood,” Carson said.

Volunteers can sign up on the Tumbleweed festival website.

With an estimated 4,000 festival attendees per day and growing gradually year by year, Tumbleweed seems to be going strong, Carson said.

For the first time, this year Tumbleweed will broadcast live footage from the free performances on Twitter and Instagram as part of an effort to connect with the younger generation.

Tumbleweed organizers agreed that engaging youth has become an ever more pressing challenge as the years progress and the folk generation ages.

Micki noted that most of the performers also are older, in their ’50s and ’60s.

“It’s something that most folklife societies are trying to deal with …,” Carson said. “Once (youth) do come, and experience Tumbleweed and hear something they like, they are more likely to come back.”

“It’s why we started having Friday night concerts about four years ago,” Micki said.

“(The) concert is made up of younger, up and coming performers…maybe as many as 10 groups performing this year,” Carson added. “We’ve been trying to work out some ways to reach out to a younger crowd.”

One way is by getting Tri-Tech Skills Center students involved.

“We go to Tri-Tech and try to get people involved in their music and broadcasting audio visual program to help with the sound and be emcees and we have the open mic stage, which is run by the Tri-Tech kids, and we have kids from the culinary classes helping in the kitchen,” Micki said.

Carson said it costs about $35,000 to put on Tumbleweed each year, which goes to paying performers and overhead expenses. He said money is raised through a combination of sponsorships from the city of Richland, individuals and local organizations, as well as other fundraising efforts.

In addition to concert revenues, Tumbleweed swag is sold at the information booth, and $5 raffle tickets are sold for a Fender guitar. A silent auction will be in the Richland Community Center.

Attendees are encouraged to catch Ben Franklin Transit bus No. 25 to get to this year’s event, as parking will be limited due to a nearby construction project.  


Tumbleweed Music Festival

When: Begins at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 30.

Performances run from 11 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 31 and Sunday, Sept. 1 during Labor Day weekend.

Where: Howard Amon Park, adjacent to Richland Community Center, 500 Amon Park Drive.

Information: tumbleweedfest.com; Facebook @tumbleweedfest. Three Rivers Folklife Society: 3rfs.org; 509-946-0504.

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