In the past 10 years, the Oly Old Time Fest has gone from ambitious idea to community tradition.
The four-day festival — with performances at the South Bay Grange and workshops at First Christian Church — is in full swing this weekend, with music, dancing and hands-on workshops for veteran players and absolute beginners alike.
This year, it will feel more festive than ever, said organizer Emily Teachout.
“Because it’s the 10th year, we wanted to do it up big,” Teachout told The Olympian. “We’ve added lounge acts in the late afternoon at the grange. That will be a good time for people to mingle and hang out while they enjoy some of our featured performers up close and personal.”
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Also new are food trucks (Olympia’s Arepa Latin Street Food and Centralia’s Taqueria La Mexicana), gelato by Sophie’s Scoops, 3 Magnets beer, Westwood cider, and sodas and sparkling waters by Faery Apothecary.
There’ll be more space for jamming this year, too. Attendees can play day and night in a large tent with heat and lights outside the South Bay Grange, where the lounge acts, Friday concert and evening dances happen.
“We hope that creates almost a street fair atmosphere,” Teachout said. “I think that’s going to change the feeling at the grange.”
The festival attracted about 700 people last year, with about half coming from more than 50 miles away, she said.
The Friday-night concert, which features big names in the old-time music world, always winds up selling out, she said, though there are typically some tickets left at the door.
Headliners this year are Riley Baugus, a musician, singer and teacher who’s played banjo on Alison Krauss and Robert Plant’s Grammy-winning “Raising Sand” and on the soundtrack of “Cold Mountain,” and Sabra Guzman, an award-winning guitarist, bassist and singer who’s played at some of the most prestigious old-time venues and festivals.
But it’s the hands-on components of the festival — workshops, jam sessions and Sunday’s open-to-all-comers cabaret — that mean the most to many of its long-time participants.
“That’s what old-time music is all about and how it originated,” Teachout said. “It was people in their communities entertaining one another and teaching one another and sharing traditions.”
“It’s a community event for the whole family,” said John Flory, a banjo player and maker who’s been involved with the festival since its beginnings. “It doesn’t matter where you are from or how old you are, if you’re into it, you belong.”
Flory played at the festival the first year or two as part of the now-disbanded Young Geezers and has been working behind the scenes ever since.
“I haven’t missed a single one,” he told The Olympian.
In fact, Flory nurtured Olympia’s old-time scene long before the festival began. Since 1990, he’s hosted regular jam sessions at his home near Littlerock, jams where he first met Teachout and many others involved with the festival.
He remembers Teachout’s daughter Maggie Neatherlin, now 17 and a senior at Olympia High School, playing at those sessions when she was too young to handle a full-size fiddle.
Maggie played at the first festival as part of the Grizzle Grazzle Tune Snugglers and has been an active participant ever since. This year, she’ll lead a workshop on Singing While You Fiddle and play a solo at the Friday concert.
Flory is thrilled and touched by how far both Maggie and the local old-time music scene have come.
“I can’t even put it into words how special this festival is to my heart,” he said.
Oly Old Time Festival
What: The 10th annual weekend of concerts, square dances, jams and workshops celebrates and spreads the word about the joys of old-time music.
When: Thursday through Sunday
Where: South Bay Grange, 3918 Sleater Kinney Road NE, Olympia, with workshops at First Christian Church, 701 Franklin St. SE, Olympia
Tickets: $5 for Thursday night’s kickoff dance, $20 each for Friday night’s concert and Saturday night’s dance; free for ages 12 and younger; free for workshops and Sunday’s cabaret.
More information: olyoldtime.org
7-10 p.m. Kickoff dance with The Bow Weevils
Noon-5 p.m. Workshops
5-6 p.m. Lounge act: Misty Mountain Pony Club
7-10 p.m. Concert with Brograss, Howard Rains & Tricia Spencer and Riley Baugus & Sabra Guzman
10 p.m.-midnight. Square dance with the High Waisted Ramblers
Noon-1 p.m. Kid Jam
Noon-5 p.m. Workshops
1-2 p.m. All-ages dance with The REDS
5-7 p.m. Lounge acts: Hawkproof Rooster and Crow Valley Stringband
7-10 p.m. Square dance with Howard Rains & Tricia Spencer and friends
10 p.m.-midnight. Honky-tonk dance with Misty Mountain Pony Club
1-3 p.m. Cabaret, with all invited to perform