Thursday, June 27, 2013
WALLA WALLA — The 12-hour blues festival known for great music, a picturesque farm setting and signature lowboy trailer stage is about to rock the wheat fields northeast of town.
On Saturday, the third annual Rockin’ the Lowboy will take place at a farm off Sapolil Road. Coordinators hope more than 500 people will attend the event that keeps on going, even when the weather doesn’t cooperate.
“We had a little storm issue affecting us. That was a big deterrent. So we didn’t reach our 500 goal last year,” said Abigail Schwerin of Wee Willy Enterprises, the nonprofit that holds the Lowboy as a fundraiser.
Though Lowboy’s numbers were low last year, its fame is growing faster than spring wheat, thanks to the storm.
“At least the storm was a huge success, as far as getting controversy,” Enterprise co-founder Michael Locati said, noting that last year’s attendees are still talking about getting caught in a deluge and huddling under a large tent until the weather cleared — and it did, after about 20 minutes. What followed was a beautiful sunset that led to a near cloudless night for some damp, but happy attendees.
But there is more to the Lowboy that just a fun time.
“We want to find teenagers or somebody who may be challenged in some way who wants to learn music,” Schwerin said. “We want to be in that position where we can provide instruments and a way to get them into musical instruction.”
The first Lowboy in 2011 saw fewer than 200 participants. Funds raised that year were enough to cover the event, make some venue improvements for the following year and bring in bigger names, in hopes of doubling or tripling the numbers. But the storm took a big toll on day-of ticket sales last year, in which roughly 300 people participated. Although the funds were lower than expected, that didn’t keep Wee Willy Enterprises from completing its mission.
“When it comes down to it, that is the reason we do this. Yes, it is going to be a really fun event. But we want more people to come so that we can have more funds to distribute,” Schwerin said.
The Walla Walla Blues Society has a similar mission to help youths learn music. But times have been tough lately, and member Mike Hammond said they were all out of guitars and have been for quite some time.
Not too long ago, Hammond, who also owns Melody Muffler, was chatting with a client about music. Like most proud grandparents, that client started talking about the musical talent of his granddaughter, Riley Hardy, 14.
“Riley’s grandfather was just talking about her and bragging about her playing music. And I asked about her and what she plays. And he said she has this broken guitar. And I just kept asking questions. That was just a meant-to-be situation, that one was,” Hammond said. Except there was no guitar to give.
So Hammond went to the fledgling nonprofit in town that is also dedicated to youths learning music.
“We were out of guitars, so I checked with Bill (Schwerin) and Abby (Abigail),” Hammond said.
In response, Wee Willy Music Enterprises bought a new guitar for Hardy, who is said to be happily strumming it these days.
“What has been kind of cool since we (did this) is that we have actually come across some friends and customers around town that know (Riley),” Schwerin said.
It’s the type of match that Schwerin wants to see happen over and over. But they need good weather and at least 500 tickets sold to pay for the event and have enough left over to buy more instruments.
And once again, coordinators are bringing in bigger regional performers in hopes of bringing in more people.
“We really like to support local musicians. But we are bringing in more regional talent and less individual acts, more bands and longer sets,” Schwerin said.
The lineup includes Pappa Frita & The Hot Mustard, Tommy Hogan, Gary Winston & The Real Deal, the Coyote Kings with Mush, the Wasteland Kings and headliner The Randy Oxford Band.
Lowboy officially takes place Saturday from noon-midnight. Tent and RV camping are free at the farm Friday and Saturday nights, so the party could go on much longer. RV hookups are not provided.
This year, there will also be more vendors, including food vending by The Bank & Grill Catering Company of Milton-Freewater and Sour Grape Frozen Yogurt of Walla Walla.
As in previous years, the Lowboy stage will be made of a lowboy flatbed trailer that comes from the Locati farm. The trailer is also how the concert got its name.
“In the first year, we were trying to figure out what we were going to use for a stage,” Locati said, noting he kicked around the idea of using one of his many flatbed trailers.
The lowboy, however, offered a 20-foot by 10-foot stage. “I have different types of trailers, but this one is low to the ground. So I said, ‘I got this lowboy ...’”
The name stuck.