This Weekend's Folk Festival Has Many Local Musicians Pickin' But Not Grinnin'.
By Molly Who
YOU WON'T SEE any out-and-out fist fights as the typically gentle acoustic musicians take to the stages of the 10th annual Tucson Folk Festival this Saturday and Sunday, May 6 and 7. But don't be fooled by the placid atmosphere.
As headliner Jesse Colin Young sings about smiling on our brothers, a great irony will be lost on him and most festival visitors. The Tucson Kitchen Musicians Association (TKMA), the non-profit organization who brings the free festival to us each year, has a history of internal problems involving, among others, whether headliners like Jesse Colin Young should be playing at all.
Young, as you may remember, was part of The Youngbloods in the '60s. They had the big hit "Get Together," which most people recognize today as part of a Pepsi commercial where two truck drivers get into a fight juxtaposed against the anthem of love.
The local Coke-or-Pepsi debate bubbles down to this: If Tucson is so wealthy in acoustic talent, why is TKMA spending several thousand of its limited dollars to bring external headliners to its stages?
The "half-empty glass argument" is that it's the only way to get Tucsonans into their cars and downtown to El Presidio Park, next to the City Hall building. And once these supposedly reluctant folks get there, the premise is that they will then check out local talent, plumping up otherwise thin audiences.
But the glass that longs to be filled suggests that it is Tucson musicians who should be showcased during this festival. And the money--normally spent on the headliner--could be divvied up among the radically underpaid but highly talented Tucson regulars who have put their slick summer sweat into the effort year after thankless year.
To top off this carbonated caterwaul, TKMA has pissed off quite a few of its local musicians this year by asking that a $10 non-refundable fee be included with every application to play at the event. The idea was to offset some of the costs involved in putting on the fest, which, to TKMA's credit, is never a small feat.
But think about it. Here are our very own venue-deprived acoustic wizards being asked to pay for the possibility of the privilege of picking at a festival where someone else--not a Tucsonan--gets paid with the pennies of our poor, penalized players who should have been praised in the first place.
So what happened as a result? Some local faves have turned their backs on the festival altogether.
"I have played at every folk festival since the first one," says Don Reeve, one of Tucson's finest guitarists. "I'm a professional musician, I have to make a living doing this. I really haven't minded donating my services in the past, but be it 10 cents or 10 bucks or 100, paying to play is where I draw the line."
Phil Stevens, another local player says, "If they want to have concerts, have concerts, if they want to have a local folk festival, have that. Not only are they asking Tucson musicians to be doormats, but they're asking them to pay for the privilege."
That's downright tragic. Even more tragic are those like me, who in stubborn desire to see the good times, good vibes and good Tucson music continue in the form of the festival, bend over yet again in the name of community spirit.
So who is to blame? Well, TKMA as a body can't be faulted entirely, because in spite of all these problems, it turns out a fun weekend for the community. But it seems unusual that an organization that is made up primarily of local musicians focuses its attentions and monies elsewhere.
Since I've already opened the can, I might as well get myself sticky by bringing up an old nasty. Gerry Glombecki, one of the early powers behind TKMA, has long since turned his back on TKMA activities. One point of his has never left my mind. "TKMA" he claims, "suffers from low self-esteem."
It's a compelling, sobering comment. It speaks to the fact that TKMA is possibly shooting down an opportunity to help us love one another and use that as a starting place to promote Tucson music right now instead of waiting for Jesse Colin Young or Al Stewart or Odetta to do it for us.
C'mon people. Go to the folk festival this weekend, but do it because you want to support the wealth of homegrown acoustic there. Aren't you sick to death of being told we have no culture here? Aren't you offended that there are some people who think you have to be baited with sell-out musicians in order to pay attention to Tucson's own?
I'll be at El Presidio Park this weekend, by the soda vendor. But it'll be a brief stop just to find out what brand they're selling this year. Then I'll be heading over to listen to groups like Bwiya-Toli, singer/songwriter Anne English or the mother-son duo of Stefan and Emilie George. Hopefully Tucson will fill the park in appreciation of its own native sparkle, flavor and effervescence, instead of just coming down for the flat, out-of-date name brand.
The Tucson Folk Festival takes place this Saturday, May 6, from noon to 10 p.m. and Sunday, May 7, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. at El Presidio Park, downtown.
If you want to bring vision, energy and support to Tucson music, attend TKMA open meetings at 7 p.m. Monday nights at the Southwest Center for Music, 2175 N. Sixth Ave. Memberships to the organization are $10 bucks for a single person and $15 dollars per household. That gets you a monthly newsletter, ticket and event discounts and--best of all--voting rights in the organization. Call 326-0923 for more information.
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