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Dick Meyer might be done, but the music will play on at New Traditions Cafe

Former Traditions Cafe owner Dick Meyer — a champion of community, fair trade and music of nearly every kind — is retiring after 23 years and countless concerts at the Olympia institution, now known as New Traditions.
Former Traditions Cafe owner Dick Meyer — a champion of community, fair trade and music of nearly every kind — is retiring after 23 years and countless concerts at the Olympia institution, now known as New Traditions. Courtesy

Music has long been a tradition at Traditions Café, and though times they are a-changing, the tunes will go on.

Former owner Dick Meyer — a champion of community, fair trade and music of nearly every kind — is retiring after 23 years and countless concerts at the Olympia institution, now known as New Traditions.

Two years ago, he turned the fair trade store over to new owners Jody Mackey, who’s worked with him for two decades, and Stacy Muget, a former fair-trade wholesaler, and a few months ago, they took over the café, too.

Before the end of the year, Meyer is scheduled to introduce his last concert— with Jim Page and Orville Johnson, two of the many topical folkies the café has hosted over the years.

He has spent an “unfathomable number of hours every week” making the music happen, he told the Olympian, producing 60 shows a year and hosting many traveling musicians in his home.

He’s gone above and beyond in other ways as well, paying musicians 80 percent of the money collected at the door and opening the space for free to many community events, including Sunday jam sessions.

“At the jazz jam, there are three backup musicians who play the whole time,” Mackey told the Olympian. The trio, which accompanies other singers and musicians at the monthly jam, get $35 each.

“They said, ‘What if we don’t get enough donations?’ ” she recalled. “Dick said, ‘Oh, I’ll cover that,’ even though he’s not making any money off of the jazz jam. He’s just about supporting people.”

During more than two decades at Traditions — and for two decades before that at Tacoma’s Antique Sandwich Co. — Meyer has been a monumental if modest figure on the South Sound scene, holding a space where music is made.

“Dick is the father of this sweet community,” Mackey said.

Among the well-known members of the community are The Righteous Mothers, the funny folk foursome playing Saturday night.

The Olympia- and Seattle-based quartet has been playing at Traditions since it opened and has played a show there nearly every year since.

The Mothers’ first paying gig was at the Antique Sandwich in the early ’80s. At the time, the Tacoma café was an important folk venue, said Clare Meeker of Seattle, one of the Righteous.

“We owe a great debt to him because he gave us that stage,” she told the Olympian. “He gave so many of us that stage.”

The music Meyer has brought to Traditions includes “all sorts of acoustic stuff,” as he puts it, with jazz, swing and world music well represented, but there’s long been an emphasis on folk with a strong social-justice slant.

“The Righteous Mothers played the Saturday following (President) Trump’s election,” Mothers’ manager Lynn Grotsky told the Olympian. “It was supposed to be a great celebration, with the U.S. electing our first woman president. Instead, it was the hardest concert they had ever put on.

“It turned out to be an amazing community therapy session filled with tears, fears and much-needed bouts of hysterical laughter.”

If music was Traditions’ hallmark, the café also hosted meetings, lectures, poetry readings and theatrical performances. For many events, Meyer offered the space rent free.

Mackey and Muguet envision the concerts and gatherings continuing, and the duo has already produced one concert, Deep Energy Orchestra on Oct. 20. That group was a new one to Traditions, but Mackey intends to continue hosting regulars as well.

At the moment, though, the Traditions’ typically extensive calendar of events stops abruptly after the Dec. 29 show with Page and Johnson.

Meyer, though, will be playing more music than ever. Long more a music fan than a musician, he took up mandolin a few years ago and plays in an informal trio.

That, along with spending more time with family and traveling more, are among his plans for the new year.

“I wanted to leave while I still have the energy to do other things,” he said.

Music at New Traditions Fair Trade Café

Longtime owner Dick Meyer, known for his devotion to music, community and fair-trade ethos, will step down a he’ll turn the café’s legendary musical program over to the new owners.

Where: New Traditions Fair Trade Café, 300 Fifth Ave. SW, Olympia

More information: traditionsfairtrade.com, 360-705-2819

Concerts

Cosy Sheridan, folk singer-songwriter-guitarist — 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16. $15, $10 for students and those with low incomes.

The Righteous Mothers, funny and political folk quartet — 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17. $15, $10 for students and those with low incomes. Sold out.

Dana Lyons, funny environmentalist singer-songwriter — 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1. $15, $10 for students and those with low incomes.

Bryan Bowers, singer, autoharpist and storyteller — 7:30 p.m, Saturday, Dec. 15. $15, $10 for students and those with low incomes.

Tingstad & Rumbel, Grammy winning instrumentalists performing holiday tunes — 7:30 p.m. Dec. 21 and 22. $25, $20 for students and those with low incomes.

Jim Page and Orville Johnson, topical folk singers and musicians — 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 29. $15, $10 for students and those with low incomes.

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