In 1976, John and Micki Perry moved to the Tri-Cities from the Hudson Valley of New York, an area with a very active music and folk community. They found no equivalent here and, after ten years, decided they had to join with others to make it happen. It took some time for the right mix of people to find each other but, in 1987, an informal group began to form: Bret Cannon had produced some contra dances, Jim Honeyman had produced some bluegrass concerts, and the Perrys had opened for a Dan Maher concert produced by Patty Stratton. The sound company that had helped with that concert (Crystal Midnight) donated $150 as start-up capital for the new organization. The first two 3RFS concerts featured Utah Phillips and John Gorka.
The 3RFS attained legal non-profit status in Washington state in 1990 under the leadership of Mark Horn, and federal non-profit status in 1991. Each year brought more organization and the involvement of more people. The first 3RFS coffee houses began in 1990. They were produced first by Jeannette Lockhart, then, in 1996-99, by Robin Hill and, beginning in fall 1999, by Sally Butler. Contra dances became a regular part of the 3RFS schedule in 1991 with Bret and Cheryl Cannon as producers.
Sound production costs for the early concerts were high. Then Frank Cuta, an avid fan, began loaning his sound system and volunteering as concert sound engineer, beginning with a Bill Staines concert. Later John and Micki Perry gave themselves a sound system for their 25th anniversary and started using it for coffee houses and contra dances.
The first newsletters and mailing labels were done on John and Micki's old dot-matrix printer. Then Mary Hartman took on the job of editing the newsletter, and Jim Zimmerscheid took over upkeep of the membership and mailing lists (thereby saving John and Micki's marriage!). The 3RFS logos came about as the result of a contest. The winning designs were submitted by Theresa Grate, a professional graphics artist. Theresa also volunteered to do the page layout for the 3RFS newsletter, Folk Talk. Theresa's logos now appear on the newsletter, on notices of 3RFS events, and on a group of t-shirts designed by Gary and Laura White.
In the fall of 1995, John Perry remarked that it would be great if 3RFS could eventually have a site on the World Wide Web. Judi Gibbs, a professional technical writer, overheard the comment. Although she had never written for the Web, Judi volunteered to create the Web site and set out, with then husband Alan, to learn HTML. The site went on line a few weeks later in December 1995.
In 1996, 3RFS presented a workshop at the Northwest Folklife Festival (NFF) on forming and operating a local folklife society. The workshop was repeated at the next two NFFs. By sharing what we learned during the early years of our own organization, we hope to encourage the formation of sister groups in other communities.
As 3RFS has matured, more people have become involved. The board of directors has assumed a more formal structure and has held planning sessions to define long-term goals. These efforts have resulted in formal policies and organization. Other advances are standard performer contracts, booking agent authorization, purchase of computer software, liability insurance, and the realization that someday we may have paid staff.
In 1996-99, the 3RFS received grants from the Tri-Cities Corporate Council for the Arts, including support for the first-ever Tumbleweed Music Festival, August 30-31, 1997, and the second and third Tumbleweed Music Festivals in 1998 and 1999. These festivals were coordinated by Janet Humphrey and produced by an army of 3RFS volunteers. Tumbleweed Festival has become an annual event. The festival continued in 2000, coordinated by Kendal Smith, and has been produced each year since then.
Do you recall additional significant events, or significant people, in the history of 3RFS? Your additions/corrections to this capsule early history would be most welcome.