There are 30 public events happening between July 4 and August 4 at Centrum, 11 of which are free. Choosing the best among some 240 artists who will sweep through Fort Worden State park during that time may not be easy, but the following is an inside scoop from the staff about who not to miss:
Ever heard of flatfoot buck dancing? Satisfy your curiosity with a performance by Thomas Maupin of Tennessee, whom the National Endowment for the Arts named a National Heritage Fellow just a few months ago for his mastery of the art, which is somewhat related to clogging. Maupin will dance during the Fiddles on the Fourth concert on July 4 at the McCurdy Pavilion at 1:30 p.m. Tickets are $16, $26 and $32. Centrum provides free youth tickets for all its concerts for students aged 18 and younger.
In addition, there is a rare chance to see musicians from the Tejano fiddling genre. Tejanos are Mexican-Americans who live in southern Texas. Fiddler Belen Escobedo is a master of the disappearing artform and she will be boarding her first plane in order to reach Port Townsend. She and two of her fellow Tejano musicians will play during the Fiddle Tunes Finale on Saturday, July 7 at 1:30 p.m. General admission: $16, $26 and $32.
Following Fiddle Tunes is the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference. Each night of the conference from July 15-21 features a free reading session from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Wheeler Theater. If you can’t make them all, carve out Tuesday and Friday evenings. Tuesday features Melissa Febos, a former New York dominatrix and author of “Whip Smart” (St. Martin’s Press 2010) and the essay collection, “Abandon Me” (Bloomsbury 2017), which The New Yorker called “mesmerizing.” Friday features Ilya Kaminsky. Kaminsky was born in Odessa, in Ukraine, in the former Soviet Union in 1977, and arrived in the United States in 1993, when his family was granted asylum by the U.S. government.
The following week welcomes Jazz Port Townsend with artist faculty Jazzmeia Horn and George Cables. Horn, of New York, is a rising star who won the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Vocal Jazz Competition in 2015. She is staying at Fort Worden State park with her children during the week. You may see her perform at the McCurdy Pavilion on Saturday, July 28 at 1:30 p.m. or later that same evening during the Jazz in the Clubs concert series in the Fort Worden Chapel. The McCurdy performance tickets cost $32, $43, and $56. Clubs wristbands are $25 per night.
Cables, meanwhile will be returning as a Jazz Port Townsend faculty member for the 35th time. Cables, 73, also of New York City, says Port Townsend “feels like home.” He has inspired and mentored many workshop participants who later became established musicians. He remembered seeing vocalist and pianist Diana Krall pass through the workshop in the late 80s. Following her time at Centrum, Krall wrote a letter to former Port Townsend mayor Barney McClure, who managed Jazz Port Townsend at the time.
She wrote, “I wish to thank you for all your help and encouragement in P.Town (sic). The clinic was absolutely wonderful and I was very fortunate to be able to spend a week with such incredible players…To think a couple of months ago, I was ready to consider doing something else.”
Cables will perform during Jazz in the Clubs in the Chapel building on Friday at 10 p.m. and then on Saturday, July 28 at 7:30 p.m. at the McCurdy Pavilion. That Pavilion concert tickets cost $28, $38 and $48.
The following week, true blues fans won’t want to miss these two musicians: Jontavious Willis, a young up-and-coming star taking a week off the TajMo tour to come to Port Townsend, and Jimmy “Duck” Homes, a proprietor of one of the oldest juke joints in Mississippi.
Willis grew up singing gospel music at the Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church with his grandfather. At the age of 14, he came across a YouTube video of Muddy Waters playing “Hoochie Coochie Man” and was hooked. He set his course on the blues and four years later he was playing on Taj Mahal’s stage. Willis will perform Friday, August 3, at 8 p.m. in Fort Worden’s JFK building during the Blues in the Clubs concert series. (Wristband $25) He will then play Saturday August 4, at 1:30 in the McCurdy Pavilion ($27, $40, $48) and then back in the “clubs” on Saturday August 4, at 9:15 p.m. in the Wheeler Theater.
Holmes is a deep-roots folk blues musician who plays in the blues tradition described as American-primitivism, a repetitive and monotone style that is ethereal, gritty and rough. He was influenced by Jack Owens and Skip James who were part of the Bentonia School of blues musicians influenced by Henry Stuckey. He is one of the oldest active purveyors of the Bentonia country blues tradition. Holmes’ first performance is during the “clubs” series Friday August 3, at 8 p.m. at the Wheeler Theater (wristband $25). He will then play Saturday August 4, at 1:30 in the McCurdy Pavilion ($27, $40, $48) and then back in the “clubs” on Saturday August 4, at 9:15 p.m. Rainshadow Recording studio within the Fort. Tickets and info at centrum.org.