Unlike many festivals of its kind, the Oly Old Time Festival is about doing, not just listening.
Of course, the ninth annual festival, beginning Feb. 16, offers concerts and square dances, including performances by nationally acclaimed old-time duos Anna & Elizabeth and The Canote Brothers.
But the schedule also includes 10 hours of free workshops for musicians of all levels, along with choices for those who aren’t musically inclined. There are opportunities to jam, and the weekend wraps up with a cabaret at which anyone is welcome to perform.
“That goes back to the origins of this music,” said festival organizer Emily Teachout. “It’s music that people made in their homes and their community halls for themselves and each other.
“It predates the radio, so it wasn’t originally very performance oriented.”
The abundant free workshops set the Olympia festival apart even within the world of old-time music, Teachout said.
“That’s kind of the keystone of our festival,” she said. “A big part of our mission is making this music accessible and keeping it vibrant by continuing to pass it on.”
The Oly Old Time Festival welcomes children, too; those 12 and younger can attend everything free.
“Our festival has a reputation for being really inclusive,” Teachout said. “We’re known as being really family friendly and really encouraging the transmission of this tradition to kids.”
That spirit of inclusion comes through, and it’s part of what inspired Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth LaPrelle to return this year. The twosome — known for their harmony singing and for their “crankies,” illustrated scrolls of fabric or paper that they advance with the turn of a crank — were featured at the 2013 festival.
“We don’t do that many festivals, and we try to pick and choose our favorite ones,” LaPrelle, who lives in rural Virginia, said in a recent phone interview. “Olympia is one of those. Our experience was so warm and so celebratory and so friendly that there was no question about coming back.”
The festival is now produced by Arbutus Folk School, which teaches traditional skills such as blacksmithing, pottery and music and hosts old-time music concerts all year long.
“We felt like it was a perfect match for both of our missions,” said Teachout, who’s been involved with the festival since its beginnings and is vice president of the Arbutus board.
Such is the importance of skill sharing at the festival that those who come to perform are expected to teach workshops, too — including the headliners.
LaPrelle and Roberts-Gevalt will teach two singing workshops and another on making crankies. Their 2013 crankie workshop was so popular that the festival has hosted such a workshop every year since.
“They’ve instigated a crankie revolution in Olympia,” Teachout said. “Kids are using them for school presentations. One class at Lincoln (Elementary School) made a climate-change crankie and videoed it and sent it to the governor. We’re all excited to have them back.”
Since they last played in Olympia, the twosome, who are as devoted to unearthing traditional tunes as they are to their music and art, have attracted more national attention. In 2015, they were featured on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series.
Also featured Feb. 17 are The Canote Brothers, twin musicians who live in Seattle and are mainstays of the Northwest old-time scene. They tour nationally and teach at the American Institute of Fiddle Tunes in Port Townsend. They’re known as much for their humor as they are for their music.
“They’re kind of like the Click and Clack of old-time music,” Teachout said. “They’re like the long lost uncles you want at every Thanksgiving. They’re just hilarious.”
The Friday concert has sold out every year, Teachout said, and she expects that to happen again. The South Bay Grange, where the concerts will be held this year, seats 250. About 400 people typically attend some part of the festival, including devoted locals and those from afar.
“We’re drawing from as far away as California, Idaho, Utah, Alaska and British Columbia,” she said. “It’s great that the festival draws people from all over the West into Olympia for a whole weekend.”
Oly Old Time Festival
What: The ninth annual weekend of concerts, square dances, jams and workshops celebrates and spreads the word about the joys of old-time music.
When: Feb. 16-19.
Where: South Bay Grange, 3918 Sleater Kinney Road NE, Olympia, with workshops at First Christian Church, 701 Franklin St. SE, Olympia; and Arbutus Folk School, 600 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia.
Tickets: $5 for the Feb. 16 kickoff dance, $20 each for Feb. 17 concert and Feb. 18 dance; free for ages 12 and younger; free for workshops and Feb. 19 cabaret.
7-10 p.m.: Kickoff dance with the REDS.
Noon-5 p.m.: Workshops.
7-10 p.m.: Concert with The Bow Weevils, The Canote Brothers and Anna & Elizabeth.
10 p.m.-midnight: Square dance with Dibble Street Stringband.
Noon-1 p.m.: KidJam.
Noon-5 p.m.: Workshops.
3-4 p.m.: Concert with Professor Banjo.
4-5 p.m.: Family dance with The Bow Weevils.
7-10 p.m.: Square dance with Uncle Wiggily and friends.
10 p.m.-midnight: Cajun dance with Toulooloo.
1-3 p.m.: Cabaret, with all invited to perform.