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Cultural Convergence 

For an evening spent seeing live musicians, comedians and artwork, most people would have to attend the Opera House, a comedy club and an art gallery.

But for the sixth year, Native American artists, musicians, dancers and comedians are presenting the Inland Northwest with the best of their talents all in one venue, The Met, tonight.

"The first year I thought it would be fun to do a showcase," says Jim Boyd, promoter for the Gathering of the Four Winds. "It's a promotion for Native American art and music. A lot of the same people come back every year. Sherman [Alexie] does his comedy. We have artists like George Flett and Ric Gendron. There's a dance exhibition, too."

These returning participants and audiences are the reason Boyd keeps this tradition going.

"I like that it's a lot of people from here," he says. "People like Sherman come back. I never get to see him. I hardly ever perform in the area. It's just like coming home for us."

As well as organizing the event, Boyd is also performing. Noted for co-writing several of the songs in the movie Smoke Signals, he has also won awards for his compositions in contemporary Native American music. He is now looking to reach broader audiences.

"We're going to be doing a lot of new compositions," he says. "We've got a lot of new material that is a lot more commercial than anything else we've done in the past.

"There's a lot of love songs and things like that, and they've been going over great live. It's a lot less political. This is totally different music. I would actually like to get away from doing political stuff."

To promote his new sound, Boyd has switched record labels for the new material and hopes to bring his music to the attention of music writers nationwide.

Along with the music, audiences will also get a chance to appreciate some contemporary Native American artwork.

"I'm an acrylic painter," says artist Gendron. "I paint in a very contemporary style with brilliant colors."

But Gendron says that not all of his artwork is centered on Native American themes. He plans to show a mixture of these at the event.

"I'm also kind of a homebody musician," he says. "Music has always influenced my work."

Gendron finds inspiration from other sources as well. "Most of it deals with my personal life and things that influence me. I like old art and fetishes and put a new twist on them to make it fit my work. A lot of people think my work is pretty garish."

Gendron also appreciates the social aspect of the event. "We've done this every year for Jim [Boyd] -- I've known him forever," he explains. "I like seeing people I haven't seen for a while. I love to talk to people about my work. Several years ago, he asked me if I'd be willing to participate, and it keeps getting bigger and better. It's one of those things you look forward to.

"A lot of the people that show up know my work," he says of the experience. "I show all over the country. It's kind of exciting for me."

Perhaps the most famous of the performers at the Gathering of the Four Winds is Alexie. Noted for his screenplay for the movie Smoke Signals, which wowed audiences at the Sundance Film Festival, and his latest book, The Toughest Indian in the World, which came out in May, Alexie is also broadening his horizons in comedy.

"I'm doing stand-up," he says. "I have been doing it and have been increasingly working. It's not a sideline."

A self-described "lefty pinko communist," Alexie says he enjoys poking fun at politicians. And in an election year, he has plenty of material. "It's typical stand-up," he explains.

Alexie jokes that he's hoping for his own HBO special someday, but national television is already knocking on his door. The long-running news magazine 60 Minutes, interested in his rise to fame, has been following him through his book tour and should be attending the performance.

"A lot of people have been doing things on his literary work and the movie," explains promoter Jim Boyd. "He's a very funny guy."

"Everything's been moving fast since the book [The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, from which Smoke Signals was taken] came out," Alexie says. "The movie has enabled me to reach a much larger audience."

When asked about the difference between traditional Native American art forms and the more contemporary forms the audience will see at the event, Alexie quips, "We wear blue jeans.

"It's more concerned with realism and how we live our lives now," he goes on to explain. "There's no nostalgia involved. Indians talk about the 19th century like I talk about the 1950s."

Alexie, who now lives in Seattle, says that the event should be a diverse evening of contemporary artists, and agrees with both Boyd and Gendron about the social aspect. "I like going home," he says.

The Gathering of the Four Winds is at 7:30 pm, Thursday, Aug. 24, at The Met. Tickets: $12. Call: 325-SEAT.

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