Abakis — from left, drummer Tomoki Sage, pianist Peter Freeman, singer-guitarist Aba Kiser and bassist Maggie Jo Chambers — will play the 1990s-themed Winter Benefit this Saturday night in Port Angeles. The event celebrates the 30th anniversary of the Juan de Fuca Foundation for the Arts. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Daily News)

Abakis — from left, drummer Tomoki Sage, pianist Peter Freeman, singer-guitarist Aba Kiser and bassist Maggie Jo Chambers — will play the 1990s-themed Winter Benefit this Saturday night in Port Angeles. The event celebrates the 30th anniversary of the Juan de Fuca Foundation for the Arts. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Daily News)

Winter Benefit this Saturday fetes 30 years of festivals

PORT ANGELES — Saturday night at the Naval Elks Lodge, Aba Kiser and her band will dive deep into the past to find the Cranberries, Matchbox 20, Sheryl Crow, Tracy Chapman and, yes, even Whitney Houston.

It’s all about celebrating the 1990s: the decade the Juan de Fuca Foundation for the Arts (JFFA) was born.

The Abakis quartet from Port Townsend will provide vintage live music for the 30th anniversary Winter Benefit, an event replete with dinner, ’90s décor, Juan de Fuca Festival memorabilia, a silent auction and the traditional Dessert Dash.

Tickets are available at JFFA.org for the party in the ballroom of the lodge, 131 E. First St.

“Doors will open at 5:30 p.m. with a champagne reception. We want this to be a great night out,” said Kyle LeMaire, JFFA’s executive director.

JFFA’s story began in 1993, back when Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” was a gigantic hit.

Karen Hanan, a lover of world cultures, wanted to explore music beyond the borders of her home in Clallam County.

So she got to work on the Juan de Fuca Festival of the Arts, a showcase of music, visual art and dance from near and far.

Saturday night marks the first time in three years that the JFFA Winter Benefit will happen in person.

Tables for eight near the stage, individual seats and “date night” tables for two on the balcony are available, with a choice of salmon, chicken cordon bleu or vegetarian lasagna for dinner.

And Hanan, the first executive director of the foundation — now chief of the Washington State Arts Commission — is among the guests coming to mark three decades of Juan de Fuca festivals and concerts.

Abakis, as it turns out, is not only a Juan de Fuca Festival alumnus but also the band that played the 2020 Winter Benefit just before the pandemic shutdown.

Singer-guitarist Aba Kiser, who recently starred in “Always, Patsy Cline” at Key City Public Theatre, said she’s fired up to make her return.

“I love JFFA. They’ve been really kind to us and to so many artists over the years,” she said.

Along with bassist Maggie Jo Chambers, drummer Tomoki Sage and pianist Peter Freeman, Kiser is assembling a set of ’90s pop to remember: “Kiss Me” from Sixpence None the Richer, Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason,” “Linger” from the Cranberries, plus hits by Fiona Apple, Portishead, Third Eye Blind and Nirvana.

“We’re going to have fun with it,” she said; “it’s my generation … I remember having to fight my dad, a classical musician, over why it was important to listen to pop music.”

When she first looked at a top-40 chart from that decade, she saw abundant of Whitney and Mariah Carey – and all she could say was “oh my God.” She’d have to embrace the challenge laid down by those grandiose singers.

Winter Benefit-goers are encouraged but not required to dig out their L.A. Gear sneakers and overalls, LeMaire said, along with their slang like “Whatever” and “As if.”

Regardless of what guests wear, they will have a chance to participate in a silent auction and the Dessert Dash, LeMaire noted. That activity is a kind of race for treats, including a chocolate filbert bourbon torte and a four-tier carrot cake.

The silent auction, meanwhile, features overnight stays in Victoria, tickets to Ballet Victoria, electric bicycle rentals in Port Angeles, tickets to “Into the Woods” at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, and bird- and whale-watching voyages on the Puget Sound Express.

“The décor is going to be all that bright ’90s look,” promised JFFA administrative manager Kari Chance. “We’re inviting people to relive the ’90s with us,” she said, adding she’s built special bingo cards for the night with classic expressions such as “Talk to the hand!”

More about the foundation’s activities, including the Season Concerts series and the May 26-28 Juan de Fuca Festival, can be found at JFFA.org. Performing artists who want to play at the 2023 festival – be they bandleaders or dancers or comedians – can find applications on the website.

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Diane Urbani de la Paz is a freelance writer and photographer living in Port Townsend.

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