Looking forward to this year’s Worldfest
The California WorldFest returns to the Nevada County Fairgrounds July 12-15 for the 11th consecutive year. I caught up with festival producer Dan DeWayne in the midst of the planning for the festival and had a chance to learn more about WorldFest>
Q: I know you and your wife, Christine Myers, founded and manage the California WorldFest. What prompted you to start the festival? And why did you choose the Nevada County Fairgrounds as the place for the event?
I began my interest in music from around the world during my stint as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali, West Africa. I was enthralled with the different approaches to music in Mali and how integrated music was into the culture of everyday life. One of my fondest memories of Mali is the harvest celebration, with 16 drummers and 100 village dancers going all night long. In the U.S., festivals offer the same kind of “shared experience” in a community setting.
The Nevada County Fairgrounds is a perfect festival site for us; the beauty of the location and the helpful fairgrounds’ staff are unmatched. Our audience comes from all over the Western U.S., but most folks live within a couple hours drive of Grass Valley, and they know how beautiful the region is.
Q: WorldFest is such an eclectic festival, offering music from many different genres and countries. How does that make the festival different than events that focus on one style of music, i.e., a bluegrass, reggae, or folk festival?
The major difference is the audience comes to WorldFest knowing they won’t be familiar with some, if not most, of the artists. They know they are going to be exposed to musical approaches they may not have been exposed to before. With that comes the sense of exploring … sort of similar to when you are traveling without an itinerary. If you turn left, you will have one kind of experience, while turning right means a whole different experience. The sense of discovery that happens when you least expect it is a great plus for a festival like WorldFest.
Q. Most everyone has heard of the headliners of WorldFest like Ani DiFranco, Toumani Diabate’s Symmetric Orchestra, Eileen Ivers & Immigrant Soul, Jackie Greene and Tommy Emmanuel. But how do you choose the other artists, who are lesser known? And who are a couple of the artists you think might steal the show this year?
We try to have a mix of well-known artists coupled with those who may not be as well known yet, following up on the concept of discovery I mentioned before. Every country has great artists, some that may be locally renowned but not heard of yet in the U.S. I am always amazed by the level of talent that is available, and I think we are going to have to keep expanding the number of stages just to keep up!
Choosing the artists is one of the most difficult tasks we have. I look for that special “something extra” that grabs me as a listener. Pistolera is a red hot indie pop and old-school ranchero ensemble from New York. As soon as I heard their music, I was knocked out by the vocals of Sandra Lilia Vasquez and the urban attitude that was injected into Mexican ranchero influences. I think they are going to surprise folks. I am a fan of Blame Sally, too. I always like risk-taking songwriting, and Blame Sally reminds me of the Dixie Chicks in their willingness to say what they believe and back it up with fabulous harmonies and great instrumentals. Of course, there is always the possibilities of the unexpected … who knows what will happen when the Russians, Israelis, Malians and Joe Craven get together backstage? My personal favorite is the kids program with hands-on crafts, games galore, jugglers and the glorious Kids Parade that promises to make us all smile.
Q. Do you have difficulties getting overseas musicians to come to WorldFest?
WorldFest has a great reputation with the artists, and we don’t have much difficulty getting artists to come. We plan the event year-round and make sure the artists have all their visa documents in place before we announce they are coming. Most artists know that playing a festival like WorldFest gives them a chance to reach a large audience that leads to return tours for them.
Q. Do most artists like performing here in Grass Valley? If so, why?
Yes, they do … great location, beautiful trees, quality staff that treats them with respect, excellent sound crews, and a fabulous audience that loves to show its appreciation with standing ovations, dancing and great enthusiasm. Plus, a swim in the river is a great memory.
Q. What percentage of your artists repeat?
We bring back about 20 percent of the artists from the previous year and do have some that have been at WorldFest multiple times, including Tommy Emmnauel, Joe Craven and Alasdair Fraser. They all are crowd favorites and add tremendously to the feeling of family and community every time they play.
Q. How many people does it take to put on this festival?
We have about 500 volunteers and staff that come from all over the region to help. Many volunteers have been at WorldFest every year, and they are the key to making the event so welcoming.
Q. How does it rank in size/importance in music festivals nationwide?
I can’t really say anything about ranking festivals. Each has its own individual characteristics and each offers something special. WorldFest seems to be well thought of across the country, and an indication of its importance is how many great artists want to be on the bill. Maybe a better indication is we have never had an artist who has not wanted to return.
Q. How many artists are willing to coming from abroad to do play this festival?
This year we have artists representing Mali, Guinea, Brazil, Nigeria, Ireland, Australia, Russia, Venezuela, Mexico, Canada, the U.S, and more. We don’t have difficulty attracting nationally and internationally known artists. And the beautiful location has prompted many artists to bring their families with them to have fun, too.
Q. How has the festival grown in the 11 years it’s been going in Grass Valley?
WorldFest continues to grow each year, with more families and friends making it an annual event. One of the great growth areas for WorldFest is local; we now have hundreds of attendees that live in the Grass Valley and Nevada City area. One of the areas we are most proud of is the tremendous economic impact the festival has on the community, from restaurants, to hotels, to grocery stores, to gas stations.
Q. How many festival goers are you expecting this July?
We anticipate around 3,000 on Thursday, 4,000 on Friday, 5,000 on Saturday and 4,000 on Sunday.
Q. Anything to add?
We feel very fortunate to have had so much support for the California WorldFest. And, we can’t wait for this year’s addition to happen. As we tell everyone, grab the kids, pack the lawn chair and bring your dancing shoes!
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