Summer Music Festivals

Confucius said, “Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.” Summertime in Western Washington is alive with ways to experience music—street fairs, concerts in the park, county fairs and music festivals. From the Olympic Peninsula to Tacoma to Seattle, music festivals feature classical, jazz, hip-hop and everything in between.

At the Olympic Music Festival, the sweet smell of hay mixes with the exquisite sounds of classical music. Located near Quilcene on the Olympic Peninsula, the festival is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. Alan Iglitzin, a founder and member of the Philadelphia String Quartet, originally intended the property to be a summer retreat for musicians—a place to rehearse and enjoy the serenity of the fifty-five acre spread. He soon discovered that Northwest audiences were interested in enjoying chamber music in a pastoral setting. In 1984, the Olympic Music Festival was born.

What began as a three weekend festival has grown to twelve. This year’s performances begin on June 27 and continue through September 6.

With something for every chamber music lover, the festival presents a wide range of composers, from Dvorak to Schubert to Mendelssohn. Compositions by Beethoven will be featured the second weekend in July; works by Brahms the first weekend in August.

For early arrivals, there are footpaths to explore and donkeys to feed. Rusty old farm implements dot the landscape and tables are available for picnickers. For sale in an old milking shed are CDs, coffee, wine, souvenirs, and carrots for the donkeys.

In Tacoma, over fifty-thousand travelers will explore the world without leaving the shady, leafy oasis of Wright Park. The 24th annual Ethnic Fest takes place July 25 and 26. Coordinator Lori Crace says “We all get together and celebrate our differences and what we have in common, and appreciate what is special and unique about other cultures.” Participants celebrate the richness of ethnic diversity in the Tacoma area by experiencing dozens of activities. The event is a sensory adventure. Festival-goers can savor food from around the globe, admire exotic arts and crafts and enjoy the sounds of native music.

Culturally authentic musical performances will take place on two stages throughout both days of the festival. Some are returning acts; others will be performing at Ethnic Fest for the first time. Among the genres represented will be Irish, reggae, Japanese, gypsy jazz and African.

Gaelic group Crumac entertains with time-honored Irish music. Upbeat and light-hearted, their performances are defined by spirited banter and audience participation, contributing to the crowd’s lively mood. The trio plays Uilleann bagpipes and whistles, fiddles, and guitars. Their repertoire includes lively jigs, flings and reels. All three band members have northwest ties.

Though Alex Duncan has a background encompassing all types of music he is mostly influenced by reggae. Characterized by a strong syncopated rhythm and lyrics of social protest, reggae is a style of Jamaican popular music blending blues, calypso, and rock-’n’-roll. His high-energy excites; his uncommon dedication to the sanctity of human life makes him a noteworthy artist in our time. The Beat Magazine wrote “Self confidence is one of the most important assets in the music business and this clearly dedicated artist shows he has that in abundance by setting high standards and continually surpassing them.”

One World Taiko is a Japanese drum ensemble which combines Japan’s age-old tradition of animated, spirited festival drumming with contemporary jazz rhythms. The group performs a modern style of Japanese drumming that blends intensely energetic movement with pounding percussion. Dancing while playing an assortment of drums, the entertainers’ energy fills the stage. Included in their repertoire are traditional pieces and original compositions embracing their own imaginative rhythms, arrangements and dance moves, adding a modern spirit to the venerable tradition of Taiko.

The high-energy combo, Ranger and the Re-Arrangers, is led by Bainbridge Island’s fiddling sensation Ranger Sciatta. The group plays intriguing melodies in an upbeat, unique “gypsy jazz” style. Sciacca’s featured violin solos have been described as “sizzling”. The band features an exceptional jazz improviser, Dave Stewart, on mandolin. The remaining three members of the five-member, all instrumental band excel at their respective instruments—bass, rhythm guitar, and percussion. Ranger’s creative leads complement the group’s steady, swinging rhythms. Influenced by the style created in the 1930s by Django Reinhardt and other European string players who embraced American jazz, their music is exhilarating and inspiring.

North of Tacoma lies Seattle, where it seldom rains on Labor Day weekend. Yet the word Bumbershoot is thought to be a combination of the “umber” (from umbrella) and “chute” (from parachute). It’s meant to be a metaphor; the festival is an umbrella for all the various arts and performances it includes.

Since 1971 Bumbershoot has drawn artists representing the best in film, comedy, spoken word, dance, theatre, visual arts, and music. It’s North America’s largest urban arts festival and one of the largest in the world. Over 150,000 visitors are expected to converge upon the seventy-four acre Seattle Center.

Regional favorites to international superstars like Sheryl Crow will perform in a variety of settings. Some venues are large, others small; some indoor, others outdoor. The home of the 1962 World’s Fair boasts a top-notch opera house and an outdoor stadium.

The Temptations. The Four Tops. Gladys Knight and the Pips. Soul artist Raphael Saadiq counts all of them among his greatest influences. With uncommon ability, he’s been able to meld their sounds with his to create his own style of passionate soul music. Some pieces have an insistent driving beat; others have a smooth balladry sound. Fusing the best of traditional and contemporary R&B, he’s an artist continuing a tradition that goes back to the ‘60s.

Michael Franti wears no shoes. In an anti-poverty protest, he gave up footwear, initially for three days, and never went back. Except for occasionally wearing crocs or flip-flops, Franti has been shoeless for almost ten years. His music reflects his support for a wide spectrum of peace and social justice issues, voicing his political observations through music. His band, Spearhead, complements his captivating, sensual singing voice, blending hip hop with a variety of other styles including funk, reggae, jazz, and folk. More recent compositions combine affirming lyrics are set to swelling rock chords. “I think over time, we’ve created a sound that’s unique to our band,” he notes.

De La Soul’s style is “anti-rap”. Creative and innovative, the three man jazz-rap group bucks current trends and remains true to itself. The three musicians create hip-hop that mocks the work of the latest overnight sensations and their often ostentatious charades. Though they’ve been disparaged for their refusal to embrace violent themes, they’ve received a Grammy and high praise from critics. De La Soul’s sounds are novel and refreshing.

A summer-long music extravaganza awaits. Whether you prefer classical, international or pop, put on your shorts and sandals, pack up the sunscreen and enjoy. As Ronald Regan said, “Life is one grand, sweet song, so start the music.”

Mary Morgan

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