October 11, 2016

Moisture Festival Roots

Notes from a conversation with the Festival’s Ron W. Bailey 

By Steve Wacker

The story of how Moisture Festival came into existence is drawn from many threads. It’s summarized quite nicely on the Moisture Festival website, but what about the motivations of the principals? How did they hit on the notion of varietè? A few months ago we heard from Festival cofounder Tim Furst, who brought a great deal of experience to the table from his years with the Flying Karamazov Brothers. A recent conversation with Festival Artistic Director and cofounder Ron W. Bailey shed a bit more light on how it all came together.

RB at Rainbow with the Dynamic Logs
It’s fairly well known that Bailey and Maque DaVis (long-time Fremont performance art finagler and one of the instigators of the Fremont Solstice Parade) were inspired by the Oregon Country Fair (OCF). But when Bailey first attended OCF, his primary performance experience was as a street musician in Seattle, playing in places like the Pike Place Market with the Dynamic Logs, a band of some renown in the late 1970s. So how did a Seattle street musician get turned on to varietè?

“The first time I went down there (to OCF) I was with a friend, and it’s a great little gathering – they do a lot of vaudeville circus stuff,” said Bailey. “It’s in the woods, and they have music and vaudeville, but it really comes to life at night, after the public has gone home in the early evening. The people who work there hang out in the woods at night, performing and playing music, and it’s a rare and beautiful scene.”

Inspired by acts like the Flying Karamazov Brothers, Bailey and some friends with circus skills started combining street music with circus performance. This concept evolved over time, and came to include members of Bailey’s family. They called themselves gutter performers because of their origins as street musicians. However, because they also had a sense of style and knew that everything sounds better in French, they became known as the Royal Famille Du Caniveaux. (Yes, caniveaux is French for gutters.)

Bailey has been attending OCF and performing there since the early 1980s, and over the years he has met a lot of people in the varietè arts. One person he met early on was Tom Noddy (known to Festival fans as the Bubble Guy), and a friendship developed. Through Noddy he met the gifted and hilarious German clown Hacki Ginda, who had started a varietè/comedy festival in Berlin. By the early 1990s, the Royal Famille Du Caniveaux had been to Europe a couple of times and performed at street fairs in Barcelona and Amsterdam. It was around that time that Noddy and Bailey got the opportunity to fly to Berlin and experience the festival that Hacki Ginda helped establish.

“There was a varietè theater called the Chameleon, and a small circus tent as well as a medium-sized one, right in the heart of Berlin,” Bailey recalled. “Empty storefronts and basement rooms also became performance venues. There were jugglers from Africa, varietè acts from around Europe, and it was just a ball – some of the funniest stuff I’ve ever seen – great shows. People would mingle in the bars and cafés after the performances, and Tom and I were thinking, ‘Man – is there a way to make a festival like this happen in Seattle?’”

Back at OCF, Bailey and DaVis used to run into each other and say “I wish we could think of some way to bring the energy from OCF up to Seattle.” But OCF was out in the woods, and such a different scene – they weren’t able to figure out how to do it. “When I came back from the festival that Hacki put on, I said to Maque ‘I think I know how we can do it. We’re going to have a comedy/varietè festival.’ And he was like ‘Okay – let’s try it.’”
Du Caniveaux and Friends photo by Michelle Bates

OCF is almost like a carnival midway or a small village, with vendors and crafts in addition to performance venues. “What Hacki did in Berlin was show me what a really good varietè show was like, with really good acts,” Bailey said. “He sets the tone, and he has this way of disarming everybody and making them feel comfortable, but he was presenting it. We wanted to combine quality of performance with the funkiness of OCF – we didn’t want to get it too tight or refined.”

Bailey noted how the looseness of the OCF performers enhanced their connection with audiences – almost like a signal, a willingness to have some fun. “If anything, it’s like what you get from playing on the street. The people are like ten feet away from you, you’re looking them in the eye, you’re seeing them smile, you’re seeing them laugh, you see them get the jokes or appreciate the music, or start dancing, and there’s a certain power in that. When you go from the street into the theater, you don’t want to lose that.”

“It was the performing on the street that made me think ‘This is the kind of energy that I like to get from the audience.’ That’s why I loved the kind of stuff that was going on at OCF. When we decided to do the Festival, everybody understood that kind of chemistry. We wanted it to be like that, as if we were performing on the street. We wanted the energy of OCF, but we wanted to present the varietè acts in a good way, with good lighting and sound.”

It’s hard to describe what people sitting in a room laughing together does for making them feel like they know each other. But that’s what happens each spring at Hale’s Palladium when the Festival rolls around. “The vibe in the Palladium is a phenomenon,” Bailey says fondly. “Part of its charm is that it’s just a brewery warehouse with wooden ceilings and walls, and so when there’s applause in there it brings the house down. And when people are laughing it just echoes off the walls.”

So there you have it – a bit more background on how the Moisture Festival came to be the rollicking and awe-inspiring event that it is. Homegrown in the Pacific Northwest for your enjoyment – may your next Festival experience be an enriching one.

Seattle's Moisture Festival of Comedy/Varietè, founded in 2004, is the largest and longest running comedy/varietè festival in the world. Learn more at http://www.moisturefestival.org/. Thanks to Kirby Lindsay for background information.

August 29, 2016

Moisture Goes to Glasgow

Our intrepid vaudevillians have returned from Glasgow, Scotland.  Through four shows the team raised over £5000 to benefit the Britannia Panopticon Trust working to restore the world oldest surviving music hall. We'll have stories out soon, but in the meantime here's a teaser of the trip:

Full Article Here

August 26, 2016

Moisture So Bazaar in Redmond

Moisture Festival packed up the wagons journeying to Redmond for So Bazaar, a pop-up night market held on three Thursday evenings in August. We had so much fun on a gorgeous summer evening. Huge thanks to the City of Redmond for including us in this fabulous community event.

Next up for us will be our October Auction & Fundraiser then our rocking New Year's Eve Party, stay tuned for details.

All photos James McDaniel Photography.  Thanks James!

Henrik Bothe warming up the crowd

Ding-A-Ling Circus with Show Pony Mr Fantastique 
Mr. Fantastique's Fan Club

The incomparable Saffi Watson

Fun with Godfrey Daniels

Wonderful Redmond Crowd

Show Band Snake Suspenderz

Henrik Bringing Down the House with his Plate Spinning
Did someone say Mobile Food Rodeo?!

July 25, 2016

How Moisture Festival Came To Hale's Palladium

By Steve Wacker

Today’s Moisture Festival fans probably don’t give much thought to the performance space known as Hale’s Palladium or how the Festival grew into it. It’s not too involved a story, actually, but it shines a light on how a community-minded business organization was able to find a way to support the community.

The Festival is successful in part because it focuses on fun – it believes in shared laughter as an important aspect of community, and it also supports independent artists. We all love to laugh, but multiplying the mirth is one of the Festival‘s core challenges as it continues to expand its audience. Although it’s now spread across multiple venues, the Festival’s beginnings were much more humble.

One of these days we’ll reach into the wayback machine and find out more about what inspired the Festival’s founders, but one thing is clear: performers need a space in which they can perform. They need a setting in which to establish a scene – they need a venue.

When the first Moisture Festival was held in 2004, the venue was a tent in the heart of Fremont, near where the Redhook Brewery was located at the time. Phil O’Brien of Hale’s Ales recently related a story that Moisture Festival co-founder Ron W. Bailey is also fond of telling.

Being the savvy and entrepreneurial impresario that he is, Ron knows that appropriate liquid refreshment can help lubricate the machinery of mirth. During the flurry of activities surrounding the inaugural season of the Festival, someone mentioned that Mike Hale was a generous guy and had something of a reputation for supporting community spirit. So a request was made – could you spare any beer?

By this time (2004) Hale’s was well established in Seattle. Mike Hale founded the company in 1983 in Colville WA, in the far northeastern part of the state, and he consolidated all operations in the current Fremont location in 1996. (Hale’s is still independently owned, by the way, and is run by a close-knit group of people who are proud to continue the tradition that Mike established.) And for many years, one of the ways that Hale kept in touch with his brewery’s customers was by making deliveries himself.

First Moisture Festival Tickets - 2004
So amidst the hubbub of the first Moisture Festival, someone came in with a keg of beer and asked where he should put it. After that detail was worked out, Ron W. Bailey said to the deliveryman “Say thanks to Mike Hale for us – we really appreciate it.” The deliveryman responded with “I’m Mike Hale! You’re welcome!” And a relationship was born that continues to this day.

Mike Hale was able to perceive how the Moisture Festival could enhance the community. Whether he had a vision as grand as that of Ron and Tim Furst we don’t really know – but the connection was made, and his company ended up being a major supporter of the Festival.

Hale’s Ales primarily used the space behind its brewing operations as a warehouse, but had established a tradition of using it each year to hold a Christmas party for their customers. When the Moisture Festival became aware of the space, they asked if they could use it to stage a benefit. One thing led to another, and it has since evolved into Hale’s Palladium, a community performance space that’s available for rental.

One of the Palladium’s regular tenants is the Fremont Players, a non-profit community theatre group dedicated to producing authentic British Panto every holiday season. And of course the other regular tenant is the Moisture Festival, along with its mission of spreading merriment and laughter throughout Seattle.

So now you know how Hale’s Ales, the longest running independently owned brewery in the Pacific Northwest, came to support the Moisture Festival. Thanks to Mike and everyone at Hale’s Ales!

Seattle's Moisture Festival of Comedy/Varietè, founded in 2004, is the largest and longest running comedy/varietè festival in the world. Learn more at http://www.moisturefestival.org/.
Thanks to Kirby Lindsay for background information. 

June 21, 2016

Godfrey and Friends at the Fremont Solstice Parade

On Saturday, June 18, the Fremont Neighborhood was awash in costumes and floats, celebrating the return of the sun in the annual Fremont Solstice Parade, hosted by the Fremont Arts Council.

The parade begins!
photo by Rachael Suryan

The Godfrey Daniels Family participated in the parade, and we have some pictures to share with you. Did you get any photos of them? Post in the comments!
Board Member Shirley Thom with Godfey Daniels
photo by Rachael Suryan

Hello, Fremont!
photo by Rachael Suryan
Fremont Solstice Parade
photo by Rachael Suryan

June 14, 2016

It's All About Sharing: A Look Into the Moisture Festival Share System

Moisture Festival co-founder Tim Furst on how the Festival’s unique share system came about

By Steve Wacker

Laughter can be private, but it’s best when shared. And as it turns out, the Seattle Moisture Festival’s unique compensation system is also based on the concept of sharing. 

As awareness of the Moisture Festival increases, its various venues generate increasing amounts of merriment. We laugh at the comedy, as well as at self-consciousness and stuffiness. But how does such a system – which operates on a shoestring budget and is almost completely run by volunteers –  manage to bring together such amazing artists every year to perform for us lucky Seattleites? That is, how does it work? 

photo by Sandy Lam Photography
Part of the answer lies in the egalitarian philosophy the Festival maintains with regard to how performers are compensated. In a recent conversation, Moisture Festival co-founder Tim Furst said that the Moisture Festival’s share system is one of the things that sets the Festival apart and makes it possible. “We decided to deal with all performers equally as individuals, and to give every performer one share for each show in which they perform,” says Furst.

It works like this: All income goes into the same pot. At the end of the Festival, after all hard expenses are paid (such as transportation, insurance, theater rental, and food) and enough money is put aside to cover the year-round operating costs, the remainder is divided among all performers and some of the key technical people. In this way, the value of a share is set AFTER the Festival, after expenses are paid, which keeps the Festival out of debt. Performers are told they will receive a stipend that is based on how well the Festival does. Because all the money from all shows is pooled, it means that the performers are compensated equally, and not based on the ticket sales for a given night’s show. 

Furst also pointed out the share system means that Festival organizers don’t have to negotiate separate fees for every act, which would be a lot of work. For example, the 2016 season featured more than 125 different acts. Eliminating the need for fee negotiation saves the volunteer staff a lot of time and effort.  

Another unique aspect of how the Moisture Festival conducts business is the way it relates to performers. “We tell performers that if they’re booked at the Festival and they get an opportunity for a well-paying gig that they feel it’s in their best interests to take, it’s fine to cancel. We won’t hold them to their commitment if they need to take another gig.”

photo by Sandy Lam Photography
Furst was a full-time professional performer for more than 20 years (with the Flying Karamazov Brothers), and he knows what it’s like to deal with contracts, exclusivity agreements, and the like. “We don’t promote the Festival based on individual performers, and we let performers know they can perform in Seattle before, during, and after the Festival. We promote the Festival as a whole, and we arrange performers’ schedules around other things they might want to do in Seattle, such as catch another show, dine with relatives, or whatever. We want them to enjoy their time in Seattle.” 

In addition, the Moisture Festival philosophy is to treat all performers equally. “We have a full range of performers, from people just starting out to seasoned professionals who typically earn thousands of dollars for their performances elsewhere,” says Furst. “We’ve had Cirque de Soleil performers get in touch and say that they have a week off, and that they’d like to come out. Also, each performer gets a full share. It’s not one share per act, but one share per performer. In traditional vaudeville, different size acts would get paid different amounts, and a performer’s experience might also affect their pay. With Moisture Festival, it’s truly a one-size-fits-all model. You perform, you get a share. You do lights, you get a share. It’s served us well.”

The idea for the share system emerged in about 1976, says Furst. “A number of performers would come to the Oregon Country Fair (OCF), some of whom would receive a stipend, but basically performers were paid in accordance with their ability to pass the hat at their own shows. Then a number of us who performed on the one vaudeville stage decided to put on a big combined show, which meant we would all be passing the hat for the same show. We had lengthy discussions about how the “hat” should be divided, and we decided that we should just split it equally among everyone who was in the show.”

Furst also noted that for a number of years, the OCF served as a gathering place for many new vaudeville performers, especially those on the West Coast. However, the OCF didn’t pay travel expenses and only provided small stipends. “There were some performers who couldn’t afford to spend a week in the woods with their friends and lose money, because it would cost too much to fly out and give up other work, so over the years the OCF became less of a gathering place for vaudeville performers. A number of us missed that camaraderie and wanted to create a gathering place for performers.”

photo by Sandy Lam Photography
This desire to create a gathering place was part of the inspiration for the Moisture Festival. Also, Furst had made many friends during his 20+ years of touring. “I wanted to provide a place for us all to get together and enjoy each other. For example, there are many vaudeville performers in New England, very few of whom had any contact with the West Coast. So we thought maybe we could connect similar performers and provide a place for them to hang out.”

Performers appreciate the Moisture Festival philosophy. “They don’t make very much money, but we pay their transportation expenses, and we house and feed them,” says Furst. “Feeding performers is not unique, but it’s not that common either. We provide a full dinner every night for all performers and tech people.”

As a touring performer, Furst learned that when he was treated decently – when basic needs were met – it was much more enjoyable. And if the performers are enjoying themselves, the quality of the performance is enhanced – the audience can feel it. “So I pushed hard in the early years. If Moisture Festival was going to work, and we were going to get performers to come in and perform without any guarantee, we needed to house them, feed them, and treat them well.”

Moisture Festival audiences can attest to the success of that philosophy. If the performers seem to really be enjoying themselves, that’s because they probably are. The Moisture Festival is unique, and we hope its success will continue for many years to come. "When I stopped touring after 20+ years, I missed spending time with performer friends from around the world. I thought I’d start a festival so I could get my friends to come to me,” says Furst. And we’re glad he did.

Seattle's Moisture Festival of Comedy/Varietè, founded in 2004, is the largest and longest running comedy/varietè festival in the world. Learn more at http://www.moisturefestival.org/.

Thanks to Kirby Lindsay for background information.

June 6, 2016

You're Invited: Happy Hour at Pecado Bueno Eastlake!

Join a cadre of Moisture Festival producers, board members, and Moisture makers for a fun happy hour at the newest location of our wonderful sponsor, Pecado Bueno! The first round of drinks is on us, and Pecado Bueno will provide a tasty spread. Come hear what's new in the world of Moisture and stay connected with us over the summer. 

WHEN: Mon June 27 5-7pm
WHERE: 2356 Eastlake Ave E

Pecado Bueno translates roughly to “sin well”. Taking taqueria to a new level, they buy high quality ingredients, using organic and local whenever possible, and make everything in-house. Their business philosophy also has a strong focus on community involvement, and we are so lucky to have them as part of our family!

This is the first in a series of almost kind of monthly happy hours, so if you can't make it in June, stay tuned for future events. Planning is in the works for a few more Happy Hour events over the summer, so even if it's the dry season, you can have a little Moisture in your life!