Dancing to the music on the street

June 23, 2009

By David Hayes

 A youngster shows his appreciation of a live performance at Pedestrian Park by leaving a tip in the band’s drum case. File photos

A youngster shows his appreciation of a live performance at Pedestrian Park by leaving a tip in the band’s drum case. File photo

Six years ago, Michael Johnson took on the city Arts Commission’s task of transforming Issaquah into an arts destination. The resulting ArtWalk drew crowds to downtown Issaquah once a month. Live music at strategic locations along the route kept them refreshed on their journey.

The music proved to be so popular, Johnson decided to concentrate efforts on expanding into a musical arts destination during summer months. The street performances are Music on the Streets.

Now in its third year, the primary location to catch live entertainment is Pedestrian Park, the grassy knoll at the corner of Front Street and Sunset Way. A second location, Stage 195, is in front of the artbyfire gallery, located at 195 Front St.Johnson books small acts that perform everything from pop, country, blues and folk music. The first year, he got 25 acts to participate. That’s doubled since.

“We try to keep the acts as family friendly as much as possible,” he said.

Beginning June 25, Johnson has regional talent lined up to perform Thursday through Saturday nights.

This year, the city chipped in and refurbished Pedestrian Park, updating the benches and landscaping, creating a nice spot for a stage, Johnson said.

“The way the park looks now, we’re getting a really nice following and it’s gaining momentum,” he said.

Craig Dye, a musician from the Preston/High Point area, has participated each year of Music on the Streets. His music features blues mostly, with some folk rock and reggae slipped in. With decades of experience in the music biz on the East Coast, Dye said Music on the Streets presented the perfect opportunity to get back out there and play.

“I think it’s great. Music is a wonderful thing, no matter what it is — Stones, Musak — music is the universal language,” Dye said. “Anytime you’re out there and can enjoy some music is great. And it’s even better with local musicians.”

Dye said he’d love to see Johnson’s budget increased to book enough acts to have five or six up and down Front Street. Johnson said the Arts Commission provides $2,500 and he’s gotten many of the downtown merchants to chip in another $2,000.

Word is getting out. Johnson now gets more e-mail requests from regional musicians asking to participate than there are slots to fill. Placing ads on craigslist has proven a boon for scheduling, too.

Johnson said he’s also noticed that not only does pedestrian traffic pause to listen to the street performers, so, too, do drivers who’ve stopped at the traffic light.

“It’s funny to see them drive up with a curious look on their face, then they smile,” he said. “They roll down their window to listen and have a good time. It’s one of the few times I’ve seen when drivers don’t mind waiting for or even missing a light.”

He said the music program has helped local businesses as well. He has spotted diners from Jak’s coming outside and enjoying the tunes while waiting for their tables.

Johnson asks musicians to play for two hours. Sometimes, they get inspired and play three. And on rare, but increasing occasions, nearby businesses will invite musicians to continue playing at their establishments.

Johnson is in talks with some establishments to host a location, expanding the number of stops for Music on the Streets.

If you go

See a complete list of performers involved in Music on the Streets at www.downtownissaquah.com.

Reach Reporter David Hayes at 392-6434, ext. 237, or dhayes@isspress.com. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.

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