THING fest leaves PT

Posted 11/22/23

There will be one less THING to do in Port Townsend next summer.

The Seattle Theater Group (STG), which sponsored three versions of its boutique music and arts fair at Fort Worden State Park, …

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THING fest leaves PT


There will be one less THING to do in Port Townsend next summer.

The Seattle Theater Group (STG), which sponsored three versions of its boutique music and arts fair at Fort Worden State Park, announced last week that it was pulling the festival from Port Townsend. The event, which will still be known as THING, will take place at another location in 2024 “with the same spirit and philosophy,” according to a company spokesperson.

“It’s unfortunate but not surprising to hear that THING won’t be returning to Port Townsend,” said Dominic Svornich, who operates the Salish Sound recording studio. “I know they struggled to sell enough tickets to make the festival viable, primarily because Port Townsend doesn’t have the necessary accommodations to house enough attendees to hit their target.”

Port Townsend City Council member Ben Thomas acknowledged that transportation insecurity was a drawback, saying he was really hoping to work with STG next year to give festival-goers the confidence to leave their car at home and use public transportation. 

“THING wasn’t just a music festival,” Thomas said. “It was more of a Chautauqua-style experience of old, with a great mix of entertainment, education, and art. No shade on the venerable Centrum festivals, but I think that diverse-format festivals like THING set a great model for future festivals.”

The first THING took place in 2019 and was termed a success, impressing many Port Townsend residents with its style and format. Jefferson County Commissioner Kate Dean was especially pumped, as it was for her “a birthday party in my backyard that included many of my favorite bands.”

A larger festival was planned for 2020. Quimper Sound owner James Shultz said that STG’s Adam Zacks showed him a list of potential performers that was “going to be amazing.” But the pandemic knocked out the 2020 and 2021 festivals. When it returned in 2022 it had lost momentum.

The festival drew 4,500 people a day in 2023 on multiple stages that were augmented by a robust regional crafts fair. This wasn’t quite enough to continue. In a press release, STG said that while artistic and community impact were significant the company recognizes revenue shortfall and some location accessibility factors as the primary reasons for pivoting away from Fort Worden.

“I’m disappointed,” said former Port Townsend Mayor Michelle Sandoval, who attended all three festivals. “I liked the sense of community. And while there was some grumbling about the inconvenience and ticket prices, STG managed to alleviate any problems.”

Sandoval said that STG provided free tickets to any residents who might be inconvenienced. And while the ticket prices seemed steep to some, there was always the opportunity to exchange volunteer time for free admission.

Shultz said he was excited that STG was committed to presenting one-off events, like the 2018 Modest Mouse concert that served as a test run for THING.

Shultz said he had more of a sales uptick in the days surrounding the Modest Mouse show than any of the THING festivals.

“You would think as the only record store in town my business would’ve gone dramatically up,” he said. “But it was very similar to a normal summer weekend. I think it’s going to make a more positive effect in our community to have a series of one-night-only headliner shows.”

Although camping is available at the fairgrounds, the demographic that the lineup targets doesn’t want to camp for three nights, according to Svornich. But it did prove that a larger-scale music festival is possible at the Fort.

“As we see more of our music venues close their doors in town, one-off events at venues like the Fort or the fairgrounds will become more and more important to retain the cultural landscape that so many have worked so hard to preserve over the recent years,” he said. “As Port Townsend becomes more gentrified and artists/musicians continue to move away due to lack of affordable housing and working wages, it’ll be interesting to see what pops up to fill the void that THING leaves.”

“It was really fun to see the inspiration that THING instilled in local volunteers, performers and organizations,” Thomas, the city counselor, said. “Hopefully we’ll take this as an opportunity to divert more energy toward locally-organized festivals like Departure Fest and Soundcheck, which originally sprouted in THING’s shadow and has already developed a personality of its own.”

The first Soundcheck occurred simultaneously with THING and was established as a way for locals to enjoy art without having to pay festival prices. It broke off in 2022 and took place on the preceding weekend. It will continue this year, according to event producer Gage Pacifera.

There are no solid dates for this year’s Soundcheck, but is expected to be a mostly free multi-venue event that blankets both Downtown and Uptown. It remains as “an important way to showcase our local creative talent,” according to Svornich.

“Soundcheck will continue to happen,” Pacifera said. “It’s important for the town’s creative district and for artists to be displayed. THING was a great event for the town that provided a high-profile cultural event, but its leaving won’t change our mission.”