Juan de Fuca Festival to draw all-ages crowd to downtown venues

PORT ANGELES — What will make this long weekend memorable, Dan Maguire believes, is something beyond which bands are here.

To Maguire, who became executive director of the Juan de Fuca Festival of the Arts in July, the event is about people getting together: young, middle-aged and elderly people meeting, relaxing, seeing friends they haven’t seen in years — with all that live music as a soundtrack.

This Fuca is the 18th annual in Port Angeles, coming of age with more than 80 concerts outdoors and in, a street fair full of art and food vendors, a slate of dance and music workshops and, as always, free admission for children 12 and younger.

Center of it all

The hub is the Vern Burton Community Center, 308 W. Fourth St., but the festival fans out around downtown, with shows at the Elks Naval Lodge and, new this year, the upstairs art gallery-playground called Studio Bob.

The festival opens at noon today and carries on until 10 p.m. at the primary venues — and then slips into four downtown spots.

Hosting after-hours gigs by festival performers, such as jazz chanteuse Halie Loren, both Saturday and Sunday nights will be Wine on the Waterfront, the R Bar, Bar N9ne and Bella Italia.

Change in focus

The addition of Studio Bob and the late-night venues represents a changed focus.

Maguire and the Juan de Fuca Festival board have opted to take two long-standing Lauridsen Boulevard locations — the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center and Community Playhouse — off the map.

Maguire wants a close-knit festival, and those places are too far outside the downtown, he believes.

Before he began orchestrating all of this, Maguire stepped back to reconsider the Fuca.

Starting point

“I spent a lot of time looking at what my predecessors did and what kind of groups they brought. And what struck me,” he said, “is that it’s a folk festival — in the broadest sense.

“To me, that means not slick . . . and that was my starting point.”

The Fuca is “unusually diverse,” Maguire added.

The festival has traditionally included bluegrass, blues, rock ‘n’ roll and music from western and eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa, Canada, the Caribbean, Port Townsend and Port Angeles.

But Maguire, noting that the festival’s budget has stalled in recent years, doesn’t shrink from saying he wants to make the event more “commercial.”

The former CEO of the Clallam County YMCA, Maguire has worked in the nonprofit sector for 25 years, and he’s well-acquainted with the tension that exists between “the mission and the money,” as he puts it.

In a nonprofit, “you’re idealistic, you’re out trying to change the world; you don’t want to talk about money. But you can’t lose money,” at least not for long

So Maguire went looking for popular acts — acts that draw crowds on the music-festival circuit and that will bring in the younger, itching-to-dance demographic.

He found them: Poor Man’s Whiskey for tonight, Blame Sally and Delhi 2 Dublin for Saturday night and the Paperboys for Sunday night on the main stage at the Vern Burton Center.

He booked Hot Club Sandwich in the Elks Lodge ballroom Saturday night and Ranger and the Re-Arrangers there Sunday, for plentiful, dance-friendly Gypsy jazz.

At the same time, Maguire chose other kinds of performers for the more intimate venues, such as Trio Voronezh, which will fill the Chamber Stage with Russian music at 8 p.m. Saturday, and Shoehorn Conley, a man who will both tap-dance and play saxophone on that stage at 1:30 p.m. Sunday.

Yet there’s a paradox in play, he said.

People scan the festival poster for names they recognize. They decide, based on the bands, whether it’s worth the $15 to $55 for a Fuca pass.

“But I find the whole community thing, the village thing, is more powerful” than any particular act, Maguire said.

The arts festival inspires the gathering, creating a weekend unlike any other throughout the year, he believes.

The street fair and the outdoor performances in front of the Vern Burton center are free for all, Maguire added.

They give people a chance to drink in the variety of art being made here.

Outdoor events

Among the 11 outdoor events are Sequimarimba’s noon concert and the Shula Azhar dancers’ performance at 2 p.m. Saturday, the Black Diamond Fiddle Club’s gig at 1 p.m. Sunday and the Sequim African Drumming Group’s open workshop at 1 p.m. Monday.

For Nancy Vivolo, a Juan de Fuca board member and a volunteer since the first festival in 1994, the event is a celebration of what Port Angeles has to offer, including the small establishments where festival musicians will do their after-hours sets.

“You can float from venue to venue” to sip a beverage here and get on the dance floor there, she said.

Vivolo also values the effect Fuca can have on younger community members.

There’s a generation of them now, she said, who don’t know of a Port Angeles without Fuca and the surrounding arts community.

Not everyone is happy with this year’s venue changes, Vivolo acknowledged.

She said it’s time to try something new, though; the fine arts center and playhouse could be brought back into the lineup at some point.

Like Maguire, Vivolo wants to see a commingling of people from various walks of life enjoying the arts together.

“Being around people, all the families, just being part of this whole experience, it inspires you,” Maguire added.

“As we move forward into the future, we want [Fuca] to be a larger experience.”

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Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3550 or at [email protected]

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