It's taken 20 years, but Music and Art in Wright Park is finally starting to look like a tradition that will last. On Aug. 10, the event will again assemble some of the hottest up-and-coming talent from Tacoma's burgeoning rock scene, alongside some of the scrappy veterans that built it. That amounts to Mahnhammer, Mosquito Hawk, Blanco Bronco, Girl Trouble, Kramer and more jamming on two rotating stages, from noon to 7 p.m.
"My biggest goal is to get people out to the event to see some bands they've never heard of," said local rocker Cody Foster (CFA, Furry Buddies) who organizes MAWP with founder Ken Johnson and a dedicated corps of volunteers. "They may see all these bands and think, 'Hey, man, I might go out and support these guys.'"
It's one of the summer's most highly anticipated events for Tacoma music boosters, more than 2,500 of which are expected to turn out, based on last year's attendance. But despite the event's obvious appeal, it's only been able to grow in fits and starts over the years.
Johnson founded the event in 1993, when he was still owner of the now-defunct Tacoma rock label and record store Mother Records. That first show is immortalized in the video for Girl Trouble's Tacoma rock anthem “My Hometown.”
The band's lanky, perpetually shirtless front man, Kurt Kendall, can be seen climbing onto a parked vehicle during a set at Wright Park. The roof visibly buckles under his 6-foot-5 frame.
“I remember climbing on the sound guy's truck, and it popped back, luckily for me,” Kendall recalled of the incident, captured 20 years ago during the inaugural Music in the Park festival. “(Drummer) Bon (Henderson) and I were just looking at the lineup from that one,” he said. “I forgot some of those bands, like Katie's Dimples, who were poised to be one of those next big thing bands; and there was Spontaneous Funk Whorehouse.”
The effort's initial run continued through 1997, showcasing Portrait of Poverty, Poppa Wheelie, the Lemons and other local punk favorites. Johnson revived it for three big shows with local promoter Chris Miller and Bennett Thurmon in the summer of 2000. Foster was the catalyst for the current incarnation, which began in 2009; but it, too, hit a snag in 2011, when organizers couldn't raise the $8,000 to $11,000 the event usually costs to produce.
"The general consensus was that everybody missed it," Foster said. Organizers regrouped, multiplied in number and came up with creative new ways to finance the festival. This year's event was funded by a series of benefit shows, raffles, yard sales and even a campy "Real Men of Tacoma" calendar, featuring local rockers in comical, sexy poses. (Imagine Playgirl, but with lots of tats, hairy backs and pot bellies.)
"It's easier this year," said Foster. "There's been a lot of support because people are saying, 'That one year it didn't happen, we really missed it.'"
After bouncing back in 2012, organizers have put an emphasis on expanding the festival's focus to include a wider variety of rock bands and more visual art.
"Something we really talked about in our meetings is how can we really, really incorporate rock besides just having people come and sell stuff," said organizer Jayme Fisher. "That happens at five or six festivals a year. But I think having the artists here and having people watching them create live is going to be a great focal point."
Among the visual artists creating material live are graffiti artist Booger Red (which we presume is not his birth name) and painter Julie Luke.
"I adore music in all forms, and music is a key component to my creative process," Luke said. "So I feel it will only enhance the experience. I look forward to it."
Among the bands generating a big buzz on the musical end of the spectrum are Tacoma art-rock band Not From Brooklyn. "Not From Brooklyn is one of the biggest bands in Tacoma right now," Fisher said. "The have a huge fan base, and people are really, really excited to see them. Also, the Purrs (from Seattle) are getting huge. And Blanco Bronco is putting out their vinyl."
Blanco Bronco's new record is called "Pronto," and 300 limited edition copies with swirling, colored vinyl and one-of-a-kind designs by renowned Seattle artist Art Chantry will be available next weekend. "They're all very unique and individualized, so we're pretty excited," Blanco drummer John Ledington said. "We still haven't decided on the record release, but it'll be available at MAWP."
Old-school scenesters will also be thrilled to learn of a partial reunion of My Name, among one of the most popular Tacoma punk bands of the early ‘90s. The band Gold Records includes guitarist Fred Speakman, and that band will be joined by singer Abe Brennan to play a couple of songs from My Name’s 1996 swan song, “Rocks for Jocks.”
Other bands on the bill include Wheelies, Ranchero, Furry Buddies, Big Wheel Stunt Show and Deathbed Confessions. Set times are a closely guarded secret among MAWP organizers up until the day of the show.