What’s In a Name?

The Chewelah Chataqua is a small-town festival with a big following

Chataqua (also spelled chautauqua) sounds kind of serious. From the Seneca (Iroquois) word for a gathering of people, chataquas originated in the late 1800s to bring the outside world to America’s rural areas, and included speakers, performers and especially musicians.

The Chewelah Chataqua is a four-day extravaganza of sports, art, music and family activities in a festival-like atmosphere of carnival rides, food, games and family-friendly fun. So it’s fun, not serious — although there was some serious competition in last year’s Inlander poll for “Best Small Town Festival,” which Chataqua won over Pullman’s National Lentil Festival and Odessa’s Deutschesfest.

The festivities kick off with Chewelah Day on Thursday, July 11. Most activities don’t get going until Friday, including arts booths. Thursday is for recognizing Chewelah’s “most honored citizen” and showcasing local talent.

For athletes, there are 5- and 10-k runs, a two-day golf tournament (offering more than $2,000 in prizes) at Chewelah’s unique 27-hole course, a youth softball tournament and a climbing wall.

The juried arts-and-crafts show features 80 vendors like Bearpaw Carvings chainsaw art (sign up for classes if you want to learn the skill yourself). Pottery, jewelry, doll clothes, metal art, concrete yard art, clothing, handmade soaps… chances are you’ll find it on display.

The Children’s Pavilion will keep kiddos busy all day, painting, drawing, making cool stuff like musical instruments, getting their own faces painted, or watching performances like “Shiver Me Timbers There’s Pirates in the Park.”

The big draws are the CenterStage performances. Smaller acts range from Kevin Wolfe’s magic and hypnosis to marimba music by North Idaho-based Coeurimba to vaudeville-style juggling and puppetry from Two of Clubs Plus One. Larger acts include the campy good humor and 1950s-’80s music of Men in the Making and the ever-popular Kelly Hughes Band, whose foot-stomping country music has entertained Northwest audiences for decades.

There are plenty of regional connections to celebrate as well. Irish folk band An Dochas, including guitarist/vocalist Mellad Abeid, takes the stage Sunday. The band is accompanied by the Haran Irish Dancers, featuring Mellad’s sister Caitlin (Abeid) Trusler, whose mother lived in nearby Kettle Falls and created the dance troupe in 1998. Their music combines contemporary and ancient traditions like the bodhrán drum and Uilleann pipes, whose plaintive voice is reminiscent of bagpipes, but more melodic and haunting.

Prodigal son Allen Stone returns to his hometown for Sunday’s closing concert. Accustomed to playing larger gigs, like Bumbershoot later this summer, Stone surprises audiences like Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall did in the ’90s, with beautiful, soulful sounds from an otherwise geeky-looking dude.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of an event organized by an all-volunteer group whose mission, since 1974, has been to promote the community to residents and visitors year-round. Select proceeds from the event, estimated to draw 40,000 to 50,000 to this town of less than 3,000, are earmarked for civic improvement projects, including establishment of the new Chewelah Performing and Cultural Arts Center. 

Chewelah Chataqua • Thu-Sun, July 11-14 • Chewelah, Wash. • For schedule of events and venue locations, visit chewelahchataqua.com

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