Any other year, the Spokane Community College campus would start to buzz about the Spokane Fall Folk Festival, which launches Saturday.
The two-day festival, which debuted in 1996, typically brings more than 100 performing groups and 5,000 attendees to town each year. But, it should come as no surprise, the continuing COVID-19 pandemic means this year’s festival will look a little different.
Instead of congregating on the SCC campus, audience members will have to get comfy at home for a series of video and radio performances.
“We were hoping we could have a very small festival with fewer performers, limited audiences, but as the COVID rules and regulations in the state went through, we would have had to go to Phase 4 to do that,” said Sylvia Gobel, director of the Spokane Fall Folk Festival.
“We took our inspiration from the big Northwest Folklife Festival in May, which did a virtual festival, and the Tumbleweed Festival on Labor Day in Richland did a virtual festival. We looked at those and thought, ‘We can do this, too.’”
The festival team reached out to performers who filled out applications, told them about the virtual festival and asked them to submit a performance video. Many responded that while they would like to participate, they wouldn’t be able to practice or record because of COVID-19 restrictions.
Even still, about 35 performers submitted footage, and the festival team also was able to record about a dozen performers themselves in an outdoor setting with a minimal crew.
“We have singer-songwriters, dance groups, storytellers, performances geared toward kids, bluegrass, Celtic, taiko drummers, marimba bands, dance groups featuring Japanese, Bulgarian and square dancing,” Gobel said. “I’m really, really pleased with the variety.”
From Saturday through Dec. 30, pre-recorded sessions from performers, including Maple Ridge Band, Little Red Shed, Sidetrack, Arvid Lundin and Deep Roots, the Angus Scott Pipe Band, the Spokane School of Highland Dance, Lyle Morse, Brad Keeler, Dennis Glidden, Hunter Koss, Steven King, the Spokane Bulgarian Dancers, Coeurimba, the Silver Spurs Youth Folk Dancers, Spokane Taiko, the Spokane Bon Odori Japanese dancers and Hank Cramer, will be available to watch on spokanefolkfestival.org.
On Saturday and Sunday, Fall Folk Festival fans also can listen to broadcasts of previous festival performances on Spokane Public Radio, KPBX 91.1 FM. Broadcasts air 11 a.m.-1 p.m. on Saturday and 1-3 p.m. on Sunday. SPR’s Verne Windham will produce and hosts these broadcasts with help from SPR’s Carlos Alden, Janean Jorgenson, Neesha Schrom Crosen and Steve Jackson.
This radio retrospective replaces the live broadcast Spokane Public Radio typically does from the festival.
“They came up with the idea, and we thought it was wonderful,” Gobel said. “I’m very, very excited to hear who they’ve chosen from their past because they’ve recorded all those broadcasts, so they have an archive of all those radio shows.”
The performances aren’t the only part of the Spokane Fall Folk Festival moving online. This year, vendors will be selling wares via the festival’s website through Dec. 30.
Vendors participating this year are Milagros Morales and Sandlandpurl, selling apparel and clothing; Corazon Scarves, Sig’s Creations and the Sewing Niche, selling cloth and fiber art; DandyLion Crystals, One of a Kind by Design Beaded Jewelry and Sandlandpurl, selling jewelry; the Corner Door and Uke Straps, selling leather goods; Creativearts, selling metal and sculpture art; Crazy Cool Cajon, selling musical instruments; Ling Bower Art Studio and Ginny Brennan, selling paintings; Ken Scott, selling pottery; and Bob’s Bees and Creativearts, selling woodwork.
A number of nonprofit organizations also will be represented online this year. They are Finlandia, Inland Northwest Luthiers, Sons of Norway, Spokane Handweavers’ Guild, Spokane Public Radio (KPBX) and Vasa Order of America-North Star #145.
“It’s so important for communities to support their local musicians,” Gobel said. “They’re not on TV. They’re not on the radio and, especially now during coronavirus, they’re not playing in coffee shops. They’re not playing at the farmers markets, so it’s really, really important to support local musicians. If they have a website and they’re selling CDs, maybe go check it out. When we’re back to normal times, always be sure to support local musicians because they really deserve it.
“The biggest comment I ever get at the festival is people coming up to me and saying, ‘I never knew there were so many talented musicians and groups in Spokane. I never knew we had such a variety.’ And we do. Remember that and seek it out and support them whenever possible.”