Tumbleweed Music Festival

Richland, WA 99352


The Tumbleweed Music Festival's origin story begins in 1976, when John and Micki Perry moved to the Tri-Cities from the Hudson Valley of New York, an area with an active music and folk community, where they were close friends with Pete Seeger and his wife Toshi, and extremely active in the effort to clean-up the then heavily-polluted Hudson River, and also the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater non-profit organization.  In 1976, the Seegers, and the Clearwater Sloop organization, started an annual environmental music festival that is still held every summer, once called the “Great Hudson River Revival”, and in 2020 the Virtual Great Hudson River Revival.

In the 1980's, a community organization called SunFest was founded, which produced a series of summertime entertainment and family events at Howard Amon Park in Richland, WA. John and Micki were involved in the production of several of the SunFest concerts and festivals including an International Festival, a Children's Festival, a Chautauqua, and the first Ye Merrie Greenwood Faire. In 1987 they produced The Downriver Bluegrass Festival, aided by Jim Honeyman, who knew much more about bluegrass than they did. The first Down River Bluegrass Festival was held on Labor Day Weekend in Howard Amon Park and featured  folk acts on Saturday, and regional bluegrass bands on Sunday, culminating with the Sunday evening concert with the nationally-known  bluegrass act The Seldom Scene. The Down River Bluegrass Festival continued for two more years after 1987.

Also, in 1987, the organization that became the 3 Rivers Folklife Society came together.  It took some time for the right mix of talented and dedicated people to find each other, but by 1987 an informal group began to form. Before then, Bret Cannon had produced some contra dances, Jim Honeyman had produced some bluegrass concerts, and the Perrys had opened for a Dan Maher concert produced by Patty Stratton, followed by a brunch where folks interested in forming a folk society came together.  Crystal Midnight, the sound company that had helped with that concert, donated $150 as start-up capital for the new organization. The first two 3 Rivers Folklife Society (3RFS) concerts featured Utah Phillips and John Gorka. Soon we were holding monthly concerts, contra dances and coffeehouses and had a newsletter, Folk Talk to publicize our events.

Under the leadership of Mark Horn, 3RFS attained legal non-profit status in Washington state in 1990, and federal non-profit status in 1991.  Each year brought more organization, and the involvement of more people. The first 3RFS Coffee Houses began in 1990, produced first by Jeanette Lockhart, then, from 1996 to 1999, by Robin Hill, and, beginning in fall 1999, by Sally Butler, and finally by Alan Page.

3 Rivers Folklife coffeehouses and concerts became so successful that by the late 90's we were having two concerts a month, and we knew that many mostly Northwest artists wanted to be featured in 3RFS events and were building an audience. In 1997 we  felt the need to finally have a  festival to accommodate all those favorite regional performers, and also to fill a local vacuum left when SunFest went bankrupt due to over-extension of promises to some of the national acts they booked. Some of the lessons we learned from SunFest's misadventures were that to be financially successful it is important to focus on regional acts who can perform for nominal travel costs, along the lines of the Northwest Folklife Festival in Seattle, community sponsorship, including the City of Richland, is essential to assure ongoing success, and finally, that It is essential to have a solid base of volunteers to organize, produce, and operate the festival, limiting purchased services to the greatest extent possible.

In 1997 a core of dedicated volunteers emerged with a vision for a festival, and they became a  strong steering committee:  John and Micki Perry, Perry and Liz Campbell, Dave Oestreich, Theresa Grate, Gary White, Harry Babad, Jim Mock, Robin Hill, Mickie Chamness,, Frank Cuta, and Robert Phillips. Many are still active volunteers involved in the production of Tumbleweed. Janet Humphrey was Tumbleweed Chair for the first 3 years. Our generic Tumbleweed logo was designed for our 10th anniversary by Teresa Grate who also designed our 3 Rivers Folklife logo and did the graphics for Folk Talk for many years.

The Tumbleweed Music Festival is now an annual event in its 24th (25th) year, with an estimated 4,000 plus attendees per year. Each year that number grows, as does the number of performers and workshops.  Continued successful growth has been made possible every year by Tumbleweed's strong dedicated chairpersons and the dedication of hundreds of volunteers every year. Volunteers are our lifeblood to support folk music and bring music and events to the people.

One of the best features of the Tumbleweed Music Festival is the deep affection that so many people hold for it.  For many regional performers, and others from across the US, Tumbleweed is and remains their favorite festival.  Hank Cramer III, a Tumbleweed stalwart from the first festival, has said that it is “…the best folk festival in the country.”  When Tumbleweed happens each year, performers, volunteers, and audience members alike all speak of a feeling of a family reunion, of a true community with traditions and solidarity. Solidarity has grown organically  year after year, and the Tumbleweed planning committee and volunteers have striven to treat our performers well, to allow them to have the environment they need to best share their art and love with all of the rest of us.  For this, everyone involved in the organization is justifiably proud.

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