By JAMES EIK
Sounds of sweet, soulful music will fill the air in Medical Lake during the Blue Waters Bluegrass Festival.
The festival returns to Waterfront Park for an 11th year, featuring a number of talented bands and musicians. Between 800 to 1,000 people will flock to the city Aug. 10-12.
This year's festival, outside of the lineup, hasn't changed much from 2011. It will still feature strong headliners and local acts throughout the day, appealing to a wide variety of tastes and styles.
Among the headliners this year is Dirk Powell. Blue Waters' music director Kevin Brown said Powell is a respected record producer and musician, whose credits include contributions to several films. Meanwhile, he also worked with Loretta Lynn, T-Bone Burnett and Sting, although his last solo album, “Time Again,” was released in 2004.
Powell's style falls under a broad spectrum, incorporating some Cajun elements into bluegrass music.
“It's an old frailing-style that's an old Appalachian Mic Mountain style. A lot of younger bands have been doing more of that,” Brown said. “He's also an amazing fiddler.”
And, if any early indications prove correct, buzz for Powell's set will draw an impressive crowd.
“I've heard a lot of people around the Northwest are coming specifically because Dirk Powell has been so popular in Northwest festivals,” Brown said.
Audiences will be able to hear two completely different sets, as Powell will perform Saturday at 8 p.m. with the Foghorn String Band, from Portland, both of whom played together in the past. Then, Sunday at 1 p.m., Powell will go solo on stage.
Another well-respected bluegrass group appearing is the Quebe Sisters Band from Fort Worth, Texas. The three sisters have earned a number of accolades since their start in 2000. Among their performance highlights include the Grand Ole Opry, the Kennedy Center, the Lincoln Center in New York City and Cowboys Stadium.
With very up-tempo music and a commanding stage presence, the group isn't one to miss.
“They have great harmonies and they do great fiddle arrangements of old Texas swing style,” Brown said. “It's where jazz and country meet.”
Brown said the best feedback in the past has come from fiddle-based groups, as the Inland Northwest has a large contingency of young fiddlers. The Quebe Sisters perform at 7 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.
The Josh Williams Band is also coming to the festival. In 2009, the group won Emerging Artist of the year from the International Bluegrass Music Association. Described as having smooth vocals and a great stage presence, the band holds a similar style to the bluegrass elements of last year's headliner, Mountain Heart.
A large number of food and merchandise vendors will also be at the festival, offering a diverse array of meal options to keep stomachs full.
“We are set for an exciting weekend with a number of new craft vendors, and having our wonderful food vendors returning,” Blue Waters vendor coordinator Steve Meltzer said in an email.
Audience members can fill their food palate with Mexican, Middle Eastern, barbecue, seafood and other options. A new vendor for this year is Jimbo's Circus, which will feature a range of Italian cuisine, spicy sausages and other fare. Medical Lake's LinDeBee's diner will also return.
Challenges in this year's festival stemmed largely from the loss of Northern Quest Resort and Casino as a sponsor. Brown said changes in management at the casino and the Blue Waters board contributed to the loss, but he's optimistic they'll return next year.
To fill the void, the board made their best effort to seek out multiple smaller sponsors, in addition to some cost-cutting measures. The quality of the music itself, however, remains unscathed.
Bands performing at Blue Waters in previous years have commented on the size and quality of the festival. Many note that it still retains a “mom and pop” feel, one where bands can connect with the audience.
“There's always been a great, friendly feel to it,” Brown said.
A dedicated group of volunteers, who labor throughout the year to make it successful, makes the three-day event possible. Brown said the festival can use additional help, and always welcomes new faces interested in making the festival a success. Contact information can be found on the festival's website, http://www.bluewatersbluegrass.org, or on its Facebook page.
Those interested in volunteering during the weekend can email volunteer coordinator Bruce Shaw at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At the end of the day, when the bands have left, it's nearly impossible not to feel good. With a strong set of musicians lined up for 2012, signs are pointing to another successful year.
“Bluegrass is just great live music,” Brown said. “Sure, you can hear it on the stereo, but it's completely different hearing it live. Blue Waters is the best opportunity to do that in the Northwest.”
James Eik can be reached at email@example.com.