COVID-19 concerns force cancellation of 2020 event
For 32 years, the annual Winthrop Rhythm & Blues Festival persevered through fires, power outages, high winds, and other challenges to stage the iconic outdoor musical extravaganza.
But like so many other local events, the festival has fallen victim to the coronavirus.
In a press release issued Monday (April 20), the nonprofit Winthrop Music Association (WMA), which puts on the festival, said the 2020 event has been canceled.
“After careful consideration, and with a heavy heart, Winthrop Music Association is canceling the 33rd Winthrop Rhythm & Blues Festival scheduled July 17-19, 2020,” the release said. “This has been a very difficult decision but we must put the health and safety of everyone first, and the uncertainty surrounding the next few months has made planning untenable.”
Losing the three-day R&B festival, which draws big crowds from around the region, is another blow to the local economy and follows other cancellations or postponements. Earlier, it was announced that the annual Winthrop ’49er Days celebration and the Washington Outfitters & Guides Association’s ride to Rendezvous — set for early in May — were at least postponed, as was the scheduled April 11 opening of the Methow Valley Farmers Market. This week, organizers of the annual Methow Valley Rodeo said the Memorial Day Rodeo has been canceled and the fate of the Labor Day Rodeo is uncertain.
“The impact of the unfolding pandemic on blues artists as well as on members of our community has been enormous,” WMA board President Rick Northcott said in the association’s press release. “WMA will continue to do what we can to help support the Methow Valley and our music community.”
Northcott noted that despite challenges, the festival has “grown strong, become financially sustainable, and thrived as the largest and longest-running blues festival in Washington.”
“We couldn’t be more grateful for the support and faith of our fans,” said festival director Erika Olsen. “We urge you to stay healthy and safe in these times, and to look for ways to best help one another and care for your loved ones, friends, and community. We’re counting on emerging from this with an even better sense of what matters, and we will be back — July 16-18, 2021.”
Festival founder Jimmy Smith said in an interview last week that the event has been around long enough to span three generations of music lovers. But the WMA board discussion about this year’s event was pretty clear-cut, he said. Smith said the health and welfare of attendees and the hosting community are paramount. “Our No. 1 concern is the valley residents,” Smith said.
The festival got its start when Smith, who owned the Palace restaurant in Winthrop for two decades, and a few friends decided to hold an outdoor concert to promote the Methow Valley. The first festival was a one-day event at the Winthrop KOA.
The festival took place in a variety of venues before settling in at the Blues Ranch west of Winthrop. Over the years, the festival has hosted celebrated blues artists including Koko Taylor, Booker T & The M.G.’s, Elvin Bishop, Ike Turner, Little Feat, and Johnny Winter, and introduced up-and-coming acts to audiences.
The management has also changed. The festival has been run by the WMA since 2005.
“I never thought it was going to go for 30 years. We just wanted to promote Winthrop and have a little fun. We were just a bunch of hippies,” Smith said in an interview three years ago, on the occasion of the festival’s 30th anniversary.
This year’s lineup was to include JJ Grey & Mofro, Charlie Musselwhite, Joanne Shaw Taylor, Chubby Carrier & the Bayou Swamp Band, Vanessa Collier, Blues Caravan, the Bros. Landreth, GA-20, Too Slim and the Taildraggers, the Lloyd Jones Struggle and more.
Ticket holders have two options: donate the ticket amount to the Winthrop Music Association, or get a face value refund from Ticket Tomato. Contact Ticket Tomato at 800-820-9884 or email email@example.com to either donate or receive a refund.
Ticket donations will be placed in a fund to support the musicians scheduled to play this year, as well as to assist the Methow Valley community including The Cove food bank in Twisp.
WMA also has supported the Methow Valley School District Music Program, Methow Arts, Methow Valley Theater, Room One, Washington Blues Society Musician Relief Fund, Inland Empire Blues Society, Cascade Blues Association, Methow Valley AAU Basketball, and Tommy Zbyszewski Methow Valley Education Foundation scholarship.