PORT TOWNSEND — Right about now, the fort is fully warmed up.
Over the past week, Fort Worden State Park has been the setting for Voice Works, an immersion workshop-concert-dance camp celebrating singers and traditional cultures.
On its boot heels comes Fiddle Tunes, Port Townsend’s 41-year-old celebration of American music, and a camp that attracts 300 participants from around the world. The teachers and crew, also a well-traveled bunch, present three public concerts and one big dance inside of a week.
“It’s the perfect adult summer camp,” said Joel Savoy, who first came to Fiddle Tunes with his folks.
He was 3 when his parents, accordionist Marc and music producer Ann Savoy, brought the family here from their Eunice, La., home, and he’s been coming back ever since.
An acclaimed fiddler, Savoy is now artistic director of the event, in charge of picking players and teachers to create the big, bubbling Fiddle Tunes gumbo.
“Some of my earliest childhood memories are of the fort, the way the light looks, the air, the smells,” he said, adding that he savors too the way Fiddle Tunes mixes people and their passions.
One time, for example, when Cajun pedal steel guitarist Richard Comeaux and South African guitarist Hannes Coetzee met at Fort Worden, they carried on a conversation — “in different languages, neither one really understanding the other,” Savoy said, “but they were just so excited about each other’s music that they had to communicate somehow. … That’s exactly the kind of magic that happens up there.”
The public performances start off with Fiddles on the Fourth and players from a variety of traditions. Western swing from Colorado’s Junior Daugherty and Sean Pyrtle shares the stage with Tennessee buckdancing with Thomas Maupin, Daniel Rothwell and Casey Miekel.
Add in the Cape Breton sound from Dawn Beaton and Troy MacGillivray and old-time and Danish music from Iowa’s Bill Peterson and Dwight Lamb, and you have the show at 1:30 p.m.
Wednesday. McCurdy Pavilion, Fort Worden’s former balloon hangar, is the venue, and a barbecue will be going on that afternoon on the adjacent lawn known officially as Littlefield Green.
Come 7:30 that evening, it’s time for the Swing & Cajun Dance on the green, with a band that includes players from Louisiana, Washington state and Missouri. Up front is Cajun master Walter Mouton of the Scott Playboys, the Saturday night band at La Poussiere Cajun Dance Hall in Breaux Bridge, La., for 30 years straight.
“I never was one for the fame,” Mouton has said. “I was satisfied going out there, playing my music and watching the people enjoy it.”
After the dance: Fort Worden’s Old School 4th of July fireworks show. Around 10 p.m., the pyrotechnics will start their bursting over the beach. You can watch them from just about anywhere on the fort campus.
Through the week Fiddle Tunes energy does not flag, what with the workshops, dance classes, tutorials and jamming among students and teachers.
The Free Fridays at the Fort: Fiddle Tunes showcase is up next at noon on Friday on the Commons Lawn.
The next public event arrives Friday night with the Patriot Fiddlers concert. The 7:30 p.m. show at McCurdy Pavilion blends the Reed Island Rounders of Virginia with Suzy, Eric and Allegra Thompson of California; alongside are Irish music from Winifred Horan and friends and the Quebecois sound from David Simars and Stephanie Lepine.
Saturday means the Fiddle Tunes Finale, one last sonic sweep across North America. This get-together spills out of McCurdy Pavilion onto Littlefield Green, replete with Mo Chilli BBQ fare and a musical blend of cultures.
On the bill are Don and Cindy Roy, recently named National Heritage Fellows by the National Endowment for the Arts. The Roys, descendants of French families who emigrated from Canada to Maine, have been partners in life and music for close to four decades. Don has been playing fiddle since he was a teenager; Cindy’s known for her step-dancing piano accompaniment.
The Modock Rounders from West Virginia and Jeremy Rusu and Patti Kustorok of western Canada are also part of the finale concert; so is a rare chance to hear the Texas-Mexican style known as Tejano. Your guides are fiddler Belen Escobedo of San Antonio, bajo sexto master Virginio Castillo and Ramon Gutierrez, who plays the tololoche, an upright bass from the borderlands.
Savoy, for his part, can hardly wait to see it all. By the end of Fiddle Tunes week, he said, these musicians who started as strangers are jamming together, eating together and just hanging out.
When the players step onto the stage, Savoy said, “the performances are relaxed and loose … just sharing and having fun and making music with friends.”
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.