PENINSULA SPOTLIGHT: National radio show ‘eTown’ to tape in Port Angeles as part of Elwha River events

PORT ANGELES — If you join the party at Port Angeles High School this Saturday night, you’ll have Cake, and then some.

In a historic climax to this week’s “Celebrate Elwha” events, the alternative-rock band Cake will headline a taping of the nationally syndicated radio show “eTown” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Singer-songwriters Eliza Gilkyson of Austin, Texas, and Danny Barnes of Port Hadlock make it a triple bill with hosts Nick and Helen Forster.

Tickets to the event in the Port Angeles High auditorium, 304 E. Park Ave., are $20 at www.ArtsNW.org and at Port Book & News, 104 E. First St.

Yet “eTown,” which has more than a million listeners on some 300 public and commercial radio stations, doesn’t live by music alone.

It’s certainly a sonic celebration around the long-awaited removal of the Elwha River dams, which began this week. But the “eTown” taping is also a community party and an energy exchange, promised Nick Forster.

He named the show some 20 years ago with intentional ambiguity: the “e” can stand for environment, education, entertainment, energy, Earth — but not electronic, he says. The “eTown” ethic is more about old-fashioned communication, through discussion and song.

Saturday’s “eTown” taping will run for about two hours, to be broadcast in late November or early December as two separate episodes, said Karen Hanan, the Arts Northwest director who brought the show to Port Angeles. The show is carried by the Tacoma station KMTT-FM 103.7; listeners can also find it online at www.eTown.org.

KONP radio in Port Angeles, at AM 1450 and FM 102.1, may also pick up the two episodes. Station manager Todd Ortloff said he’s working on a deal to broadcast them, though he doesn’t expect to carry “eTown” on an ongoing basis.

John McCrea, Cake’s lead singer and songwriter, is looking forward to his first trip to Port Angeles.

“You still have an ecosystem there,” he said.

McCrea and his band are known for their environmental consciousness: They record in a solar-powered studio in Sacramento, Calif., and drive biodiesel-fueled bus to a portion of their concerts.

McCrea predicted Cake will play some of its most familiar music — hits such as “Short Skirt Long Jacket” and “Never There” — plus songs from its new CD, “Showroom of Compassion,” Saturday.

Cake will come on stage first, Forster said, and then the band will take turns with other performers until the finale, when they all get together for a song.

Also on the show’s agenda: an interview with National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis and the presentation of the “E-chievement Award” to a Washington state resident. The honoree’s name won’t be announced till Saturday; all Forster would say is that this Washingtonian is one who has rallied his or her community around a solution to an environmental problem.

Gilkyson and Barnes will come in after Cake, with their takes on building community through music.

The 61-year-old Gilkyson, a Texas Music Hall of Fame inductee, plans on offering music from her “Beautiful World” and “Roses at the End of Time” albums; she also said she’ll invite the audience to harmonize with her.

“It’s really fun to hear people sing,” said Gilkyson.

Then there will be “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” her song based on the W.B. Yeats poem. It’s a “rally the troops” number, she said.

In addition to her “eTown” performance, Gilkyson will sing at the invitation-only ceremony at the Elwha Dam on Saturday morning.

“I come from a long line of fishermen . . . and rivers are absolutely my favorite ecosystem. I have lived along many,” she said.

Barnes is a Texan like Gilkyson, though he’s lived in rural Jefferson County for about 14 years. He’s an offbeat songwriter and banjo player whose latest record, “Pizza Box,” features Dave Matthews.

As for the Elwha River Restoration that inspired his “eTown” gig, “I think it’s great; I’m excited,” Barnes said. “It’s great to see the fishery being supported.”

“The dam ceremony up there is a nice win,” added Gilkyson.

Yet she worries, at times, that environmental and community activists will burn out in the wake of so many losses.

“We need to have solidarity with each other in these times,” she said. When people stick together, “we’re able to maneuver through a difficult time, and stay sentient. If we shut down, we can’t care. We can’t love. And then we’ve really lost.”

But this is a time to celebrate, Gilkyson said, and “our group” — environmental activists — “knows how to have a good celebration.

“It means a lot to be part of a community that tries to work things out together,” she added. “That is where our hope lies.”

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