Future of the Pacific Northwest Folklore Society, by Stewart Hendrickson

Update, 9/22/16: Since running this article I haven’t seen a groundswell of volunteers. This time I’d like some advice and feedback: What are we doing well? What could we do better? What new directions could we pursue? How can we improve the way we promote concerts? Ideas for new exciting performers to book. New articles for the NW HOOT – any volunteers to write them? Please respond through comments or email, and meet me at the Couth to talk over a cup of coffee or tea (my treat). Thanks, Stewart

The Pacific Northwest Folklore Society was founded in 1953 by Walt Robertson and friends in the University District of Seattle to support the understanding and development of the folklore and folk music of this region. After a rough beginning during the turbulent years of the McCarthy “Red Scare,” the Society became inactive by the early ‘60s. Fast forward to 2007. Don Firth and Bob Nelson, two founding members of the Society in 1953, and I decided to revive it. Our first event was a house concert with Jeff Warner, a world-class folklorist and folk singer from New Hampshire. He had trouble finding a venue in Seattle, and we thought it was time to revive the Society in order to present and preserve the more traditional folk music and provide a venue for traditional folk musicians, particularly those from our region. Don Firth has now passed on, and Bob Nelson is no longer active in the Society. I will turn 80 next year and am not sure how much longer I wish to continue. We need new people to help carry it on.

We began monthly Coffeehouse Concerts in 2008, first in a small coffeehouse near Green Lake, then at a café in Crown Hill, at the Wayward Coffeehouse (now gone) in Greenwood, and finally at the Couth Buzzard since May, 2010. We also began occasional Sunday afternoon concerts at the Everett Public Library in 2009.  Over those years we have presented local performers such as the Canote Brothers, Squirrel Butter, Pint & Dale, Tania Opland & Mike Freeman, Morgan & Graves, Reggie Miles, Carolyn Cruso, Sarah Comer, Alice Stuart, Kate MacLeod & Kat Eggleston, Dale Russ, and many others. We have also attracted some outstanding nationally-recognized performers such as Claudia Schmidt, Kate Power & Steve Einhorn, Debra Cowan, Curtis & Loretta, Small Potatoes, Eleanor Ellis, Cindy Mangsen & Steve Gillette, in addition to Jeff Warner. We even presented three international artists, Brian Peters from England, and a prize-winning country blues duo, Max DeBernardi & Veronica Sbergia, from Italy. The Couth  Buzzard is now a sought-after intimate venue for many outstanding musicians. As I look back, what we began in 2007 has far exceeded my modest expectations. We fill an important niche in the local live music scene, and we need to continue.

At this time, I am the Pacific NW Folklore Society. I produce all the concerts, which includes booking, publicity and promotion, as well as serving as the concert host. I maintain two websites, the main site, and the bimonthly e-magazine, NW HOOT. We have no formal membership, but send monthly concert announcements and the NW HOOT over the internet to more than 280 subscribers. Financially, we survive on individual donations, and the rest I subsidize from my own pocket. All the money from our concerts goes to the performers, they deserve it! Fortunately we get a free venue at the Couth, but I do send them money from time to time to support their ASCAP fee and to show our appreciation for what they generously provide. I do this as a labor of love, but I definitely need help and eventually more people to take over when I am no longer able to continue.

So what do we need?

Fortunately I have enough computer skills to set up and maintain the two websites. I recently built new websites for the NW HOOT and the main site. Constant Contact is a great help in maintaining our email lists and getting information out to subscribers. But I could use help with social media; I don’t do Facebook, nor do I have the time for that. I need more help with concert promotion; I’ve learned what I do over the years, but I am open to new ideas.

The NW HOOT began in 2008 as a print newsletter with articles of interest to the folk music community in addition to our concert announcements. After about a year we switched to an online version. We have had a variety of writers over the years, but Bob Nelson and I have written most of the recent articles. We need more writers with articles about the local music scene, different genres of music, performing, interesting musicians, stories of local folklore and history, and more. Send me your ideas and contributions.

I try to book performers of more traditional music. My idea of traditional is very broad, and covers a wide range of musical genres: folk from many countries and  cultures, vintage blues and jazz, klezmer, swing, early country and tin pan alley to name a few, even contemporary music written in the traditional style – “in the tradition.” But I try to avoid a lot of singer-songwriters with nothing interesting to say, bluegrass, and just plain pop, there’s plenty of that in the local music scene. There’s a lot of good music from the past in danger of being forgotten, it needs to be heard and rediscovered. We should “Honor the Tradition” and build upon it in our new music. I need help in finding and booking exciting new performers and bringing them into our local music scene. I also need help in hosting concerts; sometimes I need to be out of town or feel too tired to come and serve as host. If you can help, let me know, especially if you can bring new performers and a larger audience to our venue.

It would be sad to see this Society and the music it brings to the community fade away in another year or two. Maybe it would be revived in another 30 or 40 years like the original Society.  But let’s try and keep it going, we’ve done well so far. We need new blood, younger faces (less grey hair), and new ideas and directions to pursue. If this has struck a note with you, please contact me and we can talk about it over a cup of coffee or tea at the Couth Buzzard. I am happy to work together with one or more people interested in taking over the Society. Over a period of time I could help in that transition.

Stewart Hendrickson

6 thoughts on “Future of the Pacific Northwest Folklore Society, by Stewart Hendrickson”

  1. I well remember that day in November of 1953, when several of us gathered at the HEC ED pavilion and founded the PNWFS. And just as Stew mentioned, the “Red Scare” of the 50’s discouraged any longevity. And I also fondly remember when in 2007, Stew approached Don Firth and I with the idea of a re-starting the PNWFS. Since then, Stew has been a human dynamo of planning and organizing activities: concerts, workshops, song sessions, etc. The present success of this organization is a credit to his perceptive and diligent work and guidance.

    As Stew mentioned, I have become non-active, due to increased age and other factors.

    I can only express my sincere and profound thanks to Stew for all that he has done for the perpetuation of traditional folk music in our region.

    Now it is time for others to step forward to help carry and continue the work. Please feel free to contact me with any ideas. bob nelson

  2. l think you and Bob and Don and other contributors have done a great job. I wish I could help but I really can not. Hopefully people will take over, but if they don’t, I think the main need is for an online presence for people to exchange songs, ideas, information about concerts, camps etc…I personally would get out of concert business if I had to cut back my work…others can take that over..Seattle Folklore Society puts on similar concerts it seems. Libraries could certainly put on their own, and coffeehouses could hire people if there was a source for who to hire..I think that is the main function I would like to see preserved…

    1. Thanks Mary. For the present, at least, we hope to keep the concerts going, but we do need to discover newer, exciting regional talent of the more traditional music, which is not covered by the Seattle Folklore Society or other venues such as coffeehouses, etc. I think we have a unique intimate venue in the Couth to share. But the other aspects that you mention are important, and I hope that we can broaden our coverage to a wider PNW region as I mentioned in my reply to Mike. Thanks, Stewart

  3. The Pacific Northwest includes more than coastal communities. Butte, Montana sponsors a folk music festival and an Irish music festival. There was a fiddling contest for the Idaho State Champion in Hailey, Idaho on May 7. The National Championship of Fiddling is in Weiser, Idaho “always the third full week in June.” As for another coastal community, check out http://www.alaskafolkmusic.org/festivals-events/. Even here in Pocatello there are folkies (besides me). My point is that there is more and the roots go deeper than many might think.

    1. Mike, I would love for the PNWFS to have a wider regional coverage, including Idaho and Montana. We do have several songs from Montana but nothing specifically from Idaho. I would appreciate if you or others from those states would contribute songs and articles that relate to your history, folklore, people and places, and also events and happenings that would be of interest to people in the wider Pacific Northwest. Also Alaska and Canada, and we need more from Oregon. I have to rely on you and others for that coverage. Thanks, Stewart

  4. I strongly urge readers and fans of this website to take clear notice of what Stew has said. Help and new energies are needed to keep this going. We know there are more directions we might explore, but your input is required now. Otherwise, one day you might well receive notice that the PNWFS with all of it’s activities is gone. bob nelson

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *