You can’t stay on the sidelines for this one — if you come to the 28th annual Western Swing Music Festival, you should be prepared to dance your pants off.
The Northwest Western Swing Music Society is holding its annual music, dance and jam fest for the second time at the Enumclaw Expo Center from Aug. 9 – 12, bringing in big-name Western Swing musicians from all around the country to celebrate the music, as well as recognize a baker’s dozen of musicians who are being inducted into the NWWSMS Hall of Fame.
Society President Jeanne Yearian, who hails from the Renton/Maple Valley area, described Western Swing as a branch of rural music that started in the mid-western states in the early 1920s and ‘30s, pioneered by many musicians but most notably Milton Brown of the Light Crust Doughboys, who has been credited as the father of the genre.
“It’s had a hard time being accepted by country or by jazz, because it’s a mix of the two,” Yearian said. “It’s country jazz for dancing.”
One of the big differences between Western Swing and the big band music that was also popular at the time was the arraignments were put together with rural string instruments — steel guitars, twin fiddles, and the like — and drums were added down the road.
Additionally, Western Swing is highly improvisational.
Bob Wills, first a member of the Light Crust Doughboys and who some consider the King of Western Swing, was known for never wanting to hear the ‘takeoff’ solos of his lead players repeat during performances or jam sessions, and made that level of improvisation a requirement for being a part of his later band, The Texas Playboys.
“The dancers and the people listening help make the music,” said Yearian. “Their interaction with the people on stage, with the musicians, their feedback, that give-and-take, helps make the music.”
When the Dust Bowl hit, many musicians moved out to the west coast. When they had trouble being recognized as a genre of music, they eventually banned together to form the Western Swing Society in 1981 in Sacramento.
Now there are several societies dotting the country, including the NWWSMS in Lynwood, WA which was formed in 1983, and the Western Swing Music Society of the Southwest, which was founded in 1998 and has grown to be the country’s largest Western Music society, according to Yearian.
While the NWWSMS holds its monthly board meetings and jam fests at the Lynwood Eagles building, their annual Music Festivals were traditionally held at the Auburn Eagles until last year, when they first booked space with the Enumclaw Expo Center.
This year’s festival starts with a free Western Swing music workshop on Aug. 9 with Suze Spencer Marshall — who is related to members of two famous Western Music bands, The International Cowboys and The Sons Of The Pioneers — from 1 to 4 p.m., followed by a potluck at 5 p.m., and ends with a free jam and dance session from 7 to 11 p.m.
Another opportunity to learn with Spencer comes around on Aug. 11 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The ballroom opens Friday at 11 a.m., but music doesn’t start until 12:45 p.m. with an opening song by Southern Comfort.
Music will play until 11 p.m., and the day will end on a high note with Devon “Miss Devon” Dawson, who beyond the music scene is known for voicing the cowgirl Jessie from Toy Story 2 during live performances with the Riders in the Sky band.
Saturday opens at 11 a.m. with a couples dance lessons, and musical performances all through 11 p.m., with a break from 5:30 to 6:45 p.m. for an open steel guitar jam session.
Sunday is all about the hall of fame inductees, who will be honored in a presentation at 1 p.m., followed by a few more musical performances and, finally, a Western Swing dance contest at 5:45 p.m., complete with a cash prize.
General admission is $7 a day, or three-day admission for $20.
You can also reserve a table for 6 for $40, with the table having nearby access to the ballroom floor and gives attendees a private place to eat, rest and chat.
Lunches and dinners at the event will be catered by Rainier Catering, and will come with their own associated costs. For more information or to buy tickets, visit www.nwwsms.com/events.htm.