Cheney Free Press -

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Musical matrimony

At first odd fellows, Blue Waters Bluegrass Festival shows Medical Lake and the music genre are a good fit


August 10, 2017

Paul Delaney

Kevin Brown, who wears multiple hats for the Blue Waters Bluegrass Festival in Medical Lake, is seen in the relative quiet of Waterfront Park last Monday, before it becomes a music venue.

Kevin Brown still vividly recalls the awkward birth of the Blue Water Bluegrass Festival some 16 years ago.

"I actually went to that first meeting and I kind of remember it was all these Medical Lake people and a bunch of bluegrass people staring at each other trying to figure each other out," Brown said.

The group ultimately jelled well and the event took off, Brown, who serves as both association president and its musical director, said.

While Brown tends to be one of the more prominent faces associated with the festival, "We've got a strong committee, but it's never enough people, we're always spread way too thin," he said.

Why Medical Lake and bluegrass music?

"Denny McDaniel - who recently passed away - kind of spearheaded this back in 2002," Brown said. It was the desire to do some summertime event, not an affection for bluegrass, that birthed Blue Waters, he added.

There was a thriving bluegrass community already in the area so some contacts were made and the picking and strumming began.

"From the bluegrass side, people fantasized about a festival but never knew where or kind of had the impetus to get going," Brown said. "It was kind of a nice marriage of ideas."

That union seems to be perfect for Medical Lake, a bedroom community for Spokane with a sleepy reputation.

"It's a pretty wide umbrella (of people) actually, even in the bluegrass world at large," Brown said. "It's a big tent, there can be everyone from far-left hippies to the evangelical, home school on the other side to everything in between and everyone gets along for the love of the music."

There's passion in Brown's voice for the event, but also for the genre of music. He hosts a weekly show on public radio dedicated to it. Brown's day job is as a software writer for an energy storage company in Liberty Lake.

Blue Waters is one of about a half-dozen similarly sized festivals that take place across the Northwest, Brown said.

There are some that are smaller, but the surprise came in learning where one of the biggest festivals takes place.

Every February "Wintergrass" takes place in, of all places, Bellevue, Wash. or what Brown called "The most un-bluegrass place imaginable," at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.

"You would never think that would go as a bluegrass festival; actually it's a huge event that draws people nationwide," Brown said. "It kind of blows all your idyllic pictures of (playing) a banjo on the porch."

But Blue Waters boasts its own special notoriety in that it is the largest with in about 100 miles, Brown said. "Some of them come and go, we've been going 16 years."

Longevity is a tightrope act.

If attendance is bread, then sponsors are the butter and they always seek more corporate support.

"Big sponsors give you some breathing room rather than having to rely on the gate," Brown said. Northern Quest has been behind the festival since its inception, but the casino had to trim some of that help in recent years.

The festival is more reliant on attendance to break even than they would like to be, Brown said. And they would like to find ways to increase that gate locally.

If the festival does finish in the black, funds are distributed to a variety of Medical Lake charities.

Another beneficiary is area youth who have opportunities to immerse themselves in the music. "That's a way we give back," Brown said.

The festival operates a variety of clinics involving both teachers and some of the bands.

"We just say they need to be able to do a little bit of something either fiddle or guitar," Brown said. "It may be just a few chords or a little bit of fiddle."

Bluegrass by nature is a real participatory style of music, Brown said, and that playing along is encouraged across the genre. The jams can include those who play fast, and well, or those without those skills who know a few chords and follow along.

Blue Waters Bluegrass 2017

Ticket and schedule information is available by visiting:



Paul Delaney can be reached at


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