PENINSULA SPOTLIGHT: Steampunk band to highlight Port Angeles Heritage Days’ first Steam Ball

PORT ANGELES — This is a weekend when the past, the future, the real and the imagined all converge downtown.

It’s Heritage Days again, that celebration of Port Angeles’ past today through Sunday, with a twist not seen before in this city.

The first Steam Ball, a community dance and concert with the Seattle-Tacoma steampunk band Abney Park, will fill the Masonic Temple, 622 S. Lincoln St., from 9 p.m. till midnight Saturday.

So just what is steampunk, and what’s it doing in Heritage Days?

To start, this is a musical subculture based on an imagined future: one without cars and trucks. Instead, life runs on steam power.

This corner of the world was once infused with steam. It fueled the ships that brought workers and settlers to the Olympic Peninsula around the turn of the 20th century.

Trains and logging equipment chugged on it too, transporting Peninsula timber out to the rest of the West.

Then there’s the -punk suffix. It’s another word for subculture, according to Captain Roberts, Abney Park’s lead singer.

When punks — and they can be any age, he says — come out to play, his band provides the soundtrack: a hybrid of the modern and the Victorian, an interweaving of rock ’n’ roll guitar, vintage violin and electronic drumbeats.

“We do a lot of sea chanteys and Gypsy dance numbers,” Roberts said, adding that some Abney Park instruments are quite aged while others are new but made to look 1,000 years old.

“Our music is a lot more Gypsy rock,” he said, “with a whole lot of acoustic instrumentation.”

And though Abney Park does do one punk-rock song, their act is not reminiscent of the Sex Pistols or Clash era.

“We have such a wide demographic, from little kids to hip teenagers to old men on walkers,” Roberts added. “It’s fun to come in [steampunk] costume,” such as a vintage getup with corset or cummerbund.

But it’s also just fine to come as you are, “and just enjoy watching everybody. The people-watching is amazing at an Abney Park show.”

Steampunk enthusiasts are friendly to newcomers, Roberts promised.

“They embrace everybody; they’re the least alienating crowd you’ll ever be part of. It’s impossible to feel out of place.”

By booking Abney Park for the Steam Ball, event co-chairman Drew Schwab was seeking to widen Heritage Days’ appeal.

“We were looking for something that would bring younger people … and wanted something fun that had not been done before,” he said. Yet there’s also a more seasoned generation that remembers “steampunk classics,” Schwab noted.

Those include Jules Verne’s “Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea,” “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” and television’s “Wild, Wild West.”

The Steam Ball band, meanwhile, was named after a park near the University of London, where Roberts went to music school.

It was also where he dropped out of school, thinking, “I’m better than all this.” It took him some years before he realized that he was a bit too full of himself.

But Roberts’ time as a composition and voice major do serve him well today; Abney Park’s music is “very orchestrated,” he said. Roberts will take the stage Saturday with a band of seven that includes his wife, Kristina, the pianist; his cousin, Jody Ellen, another vocalist, and “wizardly talented guitar player” Josh Georing.

Roberts himself plays “a huge barrage of bizarre instruments: bouzouki, button accordion, ukulele, harmonica and darbuka,” a Middle Eastern drum shaped like a goblet.

Tickets to the Steam Ball are $20 in advance at Odyssey Books, 114 W. First St, Anime Kat at 110 W. First St. and Twisted Mischief, 108 E. First St.

Online, www.northwestperformingarts.com offers tickets for $22 including credit-card charges. Any remaining tickets will be sold at the door for $25.

This is a rare chance to see a formidable steampunk band, added Richard Stephens, the Peninsula Daily News account executive helping to orchestrate Heritage Days.

Abney Park “is very big; they play all over the world,” he added. It just so happens that Stephens and Schwab have connections with SteamCon, the Seattle steampunk convention that has featured Abney Park.

The Steam Ball, Stephens noted, is the centerpiece for three days of activities around Port Angeles. These Heritage Days events include:

■ A murder-mystery game played out downtown, with kits available today from 6 p.m. till 9 p.m. at Studio Bob, upstairs at 118½ E. Front St.;

■ A “Snapshots from Our Past” display of historic photos of the Glines Canyon and Elwha dam construction, also at Studio Bob from 6 till 9 tonight, from 10 a.m. till 4 p.m. Saturday and 10 till 2 Sunday;

■ Courthouse clock tower tours with Clallam County Administrator Jim Jones, starting from the Lincoln Street entrance to the courthouse at 10 a.m. Saturday;

■ Historical walking tours of downtown with stops at underground locations, starting on the hour from 10 a.m. till 4 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. till 2 p.m. Sunday at The Landing mall atrium at 115 E. Railroad Ave., with admission at $12 for adults and $10 for children;

■ A kids’ carnival plus artisans’ demonstrations at the Conrad Dyar Memorial Fountain at First and Laurel streets from 10 a.m. till 4 p.m. Saturday;

■ “Tea with Teddy,” a high tea served at the Elks Naval Lodge, 131 E. First St., at 1 p.m. Sunday, with $20 advance tickets at Odyssey Books, 114 W. Front St., and Rissa’s Consignment, 316 W. First St.;

■ The Peninsula Railroaders’ model-train display at the Museum at the Carnegie, 207 S. Lincoln St.

For more details about Heritage Days, phone Odyssey Books at 360-457-1045 or the Port Angeles Downtown Association at 360-457-9614.

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