Spokane Fall Folk Festival Embraces the Virtual World

It’s become a sign of the times. Annual festivals we are accustomed to attending annually have had to cancel their events or make drastic changes. After discussing and agonizing for months, the Spokane Fall Folk Festival Committee made the decision to go virtual in 2020.

Little did the committee know what the process would entail. Once the decision was made, they quickly realized that there was a steep learning curve involved. Who was qualified to do this? What format should they use? When and where will the performers be filmed? How long will editing take? Who will put it up on the website and monitor it for any problems that might arise?

A fair bit of research was done by several members of the committee, looking at formats other music festivals were using, the costs, and the quality of the finished products. We discovered that since we were going to be posting the performances on our website, we were going to have to purchase music licenses, which caused us a bit of anxiety. “When we realized all that was involved it boggled our minds and frankly scared some of us,” reported one of the committee members.

Once the committee picked a format, the next hurdle was the logistics of selecting performers and finding a place to record them. Fortunately, one member of the committee has been involved in the recording and music industry for many years. He was able to advise them about the needed sound equipment, find techs to help him set up and in the end, provided a wonderful location to record some of the selected groups. Another sound tech did remote recordings, including one outside St. John’s Cathedral in Spokane.

The first recording sessions were scheduled for mid-September. The five days before the recording sessions Spokane was engulfed in the smoke from the wildfires. “What-if” discussions were held and contingency plans developed. Fortunately, it rained enough to clear the air but not interrupt performers from recording. Subsequent recordings were scheduled and, in the end, some of the groups performing arranged their own sessions and sent the tapes to the committee. In the end, over 25 groups will be posted to the website.

Another hurdle was publicity and advertising. Early in the pandemic invitations to submit graphic designs for the annual poster contest were sent out. The committee selected a winner. The designer was a real trooper when we needed to make changes in the design like adding the word “virtual” and the details of when the Festival is going to be online.

Since the early beginnings of the festival, posters have been printed and distributed to locations in the Spokane area. Because of the pandemic, our printing sponsor had to close their print shop so a new source had to be located. Fortunately, another local business was able to pick it up and got the posters to us quickly. Adjustments had to be made in poster locations because many have closed or are not accepting them this year. Next came advertising. All of Festival’s past media outlets have come through and print media is once again able to help get the word out.

Another challenge was vendors. The Spokane Fall Festival has a reputation of arranging for a variety of vendors for the two-days in November. Many of them are sole entrepreneurs and nonprofits who have suffered some difficult days this year. A committee member contacted the vendors to find out if any of them would be interested in advertising their goods on the Festival website. About a dozen of them responded “yes.” People will be able to access them on the website until December 30, 2020, just in time for Christmas shopping.

For the past 20 years or so, KPBX, Spokane Public Radio has broadcast a live show at the Festival. When it was determined that the Festival was going virtual, KPBX came up with an alternative for the radio. They will be broadcasting a Festival Retrospective featuring performers from past years. The retrospect will be broadcast on Saturday, November 14, 2020, 11:00 am to 1:00 pm, and again on Sunday, November 15, from 1:00 to 3:00 pm.

It has taken a strong “village” to put the Folk Festival together this year. Due to the perseverance of a committee willing to venture into unknown territory, the festival will survive in these unusual circumstances. Hopefully, in 2021 it will be back as a live, vibrant event in November.

The 2020 Virtual Fall Folk Festival will be available on their website, https://www.spokanefolkfestival.org, from Saturday, November 14 until December 30, 2020. For questions, contact the website or call (509) 828-3683.

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