Elwha dam removals — ‘eTown’ crowd roars out approval at Port Angeles radio show [**Gallery**]

PORT ANGELES — When asked, the fans didn’t merely cheer. They roared.

Saturday night at Port Angeles High School’s Performing Arts Center, the national radio show “eTown” held court, bringing the California indie-rock band Cake, Texas Music Hall of Fame artist Eliza Gilkyson and singer-songwriter-banjo man Danny Barnes together for a historic party.

The “eTown” program, taped for later broadcast on some 300 radio stations across the country, will tell Port Angeles’ success story: Two nearly century-old dams are being removed, to restore the Elwha River to health.

And this nearly sold-out event, capping a week that included the Elwha River Science Symposium and ceremonies with state and federal officials, turned out to be one exuberant night.

The show began with cohost Helen Forster asking the audience to do an applause sound check.

As she gave her cue, the 1,156-seat auditorium erupted in gusto.

“I love that,” Forster said.

Next, her husband and cohost Nick Forster introduced Cake, whose new album “Showroom of Compassion,” was No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart.

With a set of new songs, Cake frontman John McCrea stirred the crowd up further, though he didn’t yet see the big sign held up by Emilee Wood of Port Angeles: “Cake for my birthday,” it read in multicolored letters.

Wood came to the concert to celebrate not only dam removal but also the start of her 24th year.

Saturday night’s proceedings went on to interviews, including one with Rep. Norm Dicks, the Belfair Democrat who has been pushing for the Elwha River Restoration for some 20 years.

Dicks, whose 6th Congressional District includes Clallam and Jefferson counties, said he recalled a town meeting in Port Angeles circa 1992 when 115 of the 120 people attending stood up to express opposition to dam removal.

Since then, Dicks said he has been among the many seeking to show how environmental restoration can coexist with economic development.

He took the opportunity Saturday to rib Republicans, especially the tea party, who would cut things like the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We’re all in this together,” Dicks said. “Getting rid of the EPA is not an option.”

Jon Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, joined Dicks on stage to advocate for America’s wild places.

A great cheer rose up when he invoked the name of Olympic National Park.

When it was Gilkyson’s turn, she played a song that, to her, is about man and Mother Nature as lovers, walking hand in hand through meadows “kissed by the sun.”

The song, “Greenfields,” was written by her late father Terry Gilkyson, also composer of “The Bare Necessities” for Disney’s “Jungle Book” movie.

Gilkyson spoke about her work on behalf of environmental and political causes, including undocumented immigrants’ rights with the Workers’ Defense Project (WorkersDefense.org), and led the crowd in sing-alongs of her songs “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” and “Wildewood Spring.”

Then, as in every episode, “eTown” presented the E-Chievement Award.

Mike Town, a teacher at Redmond High School, received the honor for inventing the Cool School Challenge (CoolSchoolChallenge.org), a carbon footprint-lightening program that has spread to some 400 schools nationwide.

The Redmond High students are saving their school $40,000 per year in utility bills, Town said.

The environmental science teacher is also known for his work for the Wild Sky Wilderness, a 106,577-acre expanse north of Skykomish.

Wild Sky was designated a national wilderness area in 2008.

For the finale of the Elwha River restoration of “eTown,” all of the musicians — Cake, Gilkyson, Barnes, the Forsters — converged for a song most recently made famous by Talking Heads.

“I don’t know why I love you like I do / All the changes you put me through,” the song begins.

Then, as a phalanx of dancers gyrated just below the stage, the performers plunged into the groove of “Take Me to the River,” that soul classic composed by the Rev. Al Green.

Saturday’s recording of “eTown” will be broadcast as two episodes in late November or early December on stations including KMTT-FM, the Tacoma station heard in parts of the North Olympic Peninsula at 103.7 FM; the programs may also be heard on KONP AM 1450 and FM 102.1, if station manager Todd Ortloff works out an agreement with the producers.

More information, as well as streaming audio of the show, is at www.eTown.org.


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

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