PORT ANGELES — When you put together a festival — one stretching over four days at five venues — you need to be able to dance.
You’ve got to balance the familiar with the new. You must do a two-step with agents and artists.
The jig, the waltz, the swing, even flamenco: All of these went into the mix as Kayla Oakes, a dancer-choreographer-teacher turned foundation executive director, called on her skills to book the 27th annual Juan de Fuca Festival.
She has announced the lineup for the Memorial Day weekend event along with several new facets: a redesigned main stage, a large-scale youth art installation downtown and a slew of performers yet unknown in these parts.
That’s what the Juan de Fuca Festival is about, Oakes believes: reveling in the music of artists you’ve gotten to know from previous years while discovering new ones.
Forty acts, from Latin soul and R&B to rock ’n’ roll, Americana, Celtic and African music, are scheduled May 22-25 in and around the Vern Burton Community Center, which will have a new look.
Nearly 80 performances will happen there and at the adjacent Chamber Stage, the Naval Elks Lodge downtown and the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center up on East Lauridsen Boulevard.
“I’ve been blown away by the enthusiasm and interest that we have had from artists this year,” said Oakes, who received more than 130 applications from performers.
There are returning artists, bluesman David Jacobs-Strain with Bob Beach, the Sam Chase and the Untraditional, Locarno and the Shook Twins among them.
Then there are singer-storyteller John Craigie, the African-Colombian group Soyaya, the rock and blues band Shaggy Sweet, the jazz-swing outfit Hothouse West and the country swing band Gus Clark and the Least of His Problems.
Local and regional artists include the Backwoods Hucksters, the Hot Llamas, Jack Dwyer, Crushwater, Chandra Johnson and Devin Bews and, for the first time, chamber music ensembles from the Port Angeles Symphony.
Tickets are at their lowest price now through April 30: $75 for a four-day pass. And after many years of free tickets for children 12 and younger, the festival is now free for kids 14 and under.
Beginning May 1, single-day tickets will go on sale: Friday or Monday for $35 each and Saturday or Sunday for $45 each. Full-festival pass prices will rise to $85 until Day 1 of the event.
At the gate once the festival is underway May 22, passes will sell for $95.
With all passes, students with school ID and active military service members receive a 25 percent discount.
For income-qualified attendees, the Juan de Fuca Foundation’s financial assistance program offers half-price tickets.
Applicants are asked to request the discount and provide proof of income at least two weeks in advance.
Donors to the foundation provide for this program, and information is found under the “Community” link at JFFA.org.
That website has abundant information about the festival, the Juan de Fuca Foundation’s season concerts this spring and its summer youth camp.
The foundation is also presenting the Port Angeles Concerts on the Pier series June 17 through Sept. 2; that lineup will be announced April 15 on the website.
More information is also at the foundation office, 360-457-5411.
May’s Juan de Fuca Festival also has a free street fair and a showcase of local food, wine and art; all of this wraps around the Vern Burton center at Fourth and Peabody streets. On the lawn there, yoga classes will happen that Saturday and Sunday. Inside the Vern Burton workshop rooms, paint-and-sip art classes are offered for adults while paint-and-slurp classes are open to those under 21.
At the same time, the event is unlike many music festivals around the country.
Since its beginnings it has operated on a manageable scale, making its venues accessible to audience members who want to be seated, dance or both.
The performance spaces are relatively small and the mood mellow, so festival-goers can be close to the performers without getting jostled by a Seattle-sized crowd.
This is the first festival for which Oakes has served as artistic director.
She succeeded retired director Dan Maguire in late 2018, so the 2019 event was a mix of acts booked by him and by Oakes.
This year, she’s stepping out there, trying new things and inviting people to do the same.
“Live music is so powerful,” she said, and “one of the most magical things about the Juan de Fuca Festival is the opportunity to sample and discover.”
We sometimes limit our own exposure to music and artists we might end up loving, she added, due to preconceived ideas about genres and styles.
Yet at a live event, it’s possible to connect with artists — and feel those barriers come down.
Bassist Paul Stehr-Green of Port Angeles, known for his playing with Joy in Mudville, will be part of the Juan de Fuca Festival this year with the Backwoods Hucksters.
He’s a new member of that American roots ensemble, begun in Seattle many years ago by Cort Armstrong and Sean Divine.
The Hucksters, also featuring blues violinist Jon Parry and drummer Eric Bogart, are looking to deliver a rousing set on Sunday of the festival.
Playing live is a conversation, Stehr-Green has said — and at a festival like this, it’s a supercharged one that can transform those present.
“It’s especially cool to watch a crowd catch that wave,” he said, “and help build it even higher.”