When the electricity cut out at last year's Downtown Musical Benefit for the Tucson Folk Festival, the music didn't stop. People kept dancing in the dark, and Tucson Afro-Brazilian drum group Batucaxé kept pounding.
It was a memorable moment that illustrates the vibe of the show, according to Batucaxé's artistic director, Cliff Berrien. He says the acoustic concert, featuring folk music from around the world, brings a party-prone crowd of local music fans who support local bands, no matter what technical difficulties may occur.
"The fundraiser brings a fun audience," he says. "It doesn't take much to get them dancing—and we play dance music."
Batucaxé will headline the first night of the two-day, 21-act Tucson Folk Festival benefit show. The concert is both a preview of the Folk Festival and a fundraiser to keep the festival free for the community; it also offers musicians a way to support each other, says Berrien.
"We like to connect with and collaborate with and support other musicians. ... We know that support goes a long, long way," Berrien says.
Sharon Goldwasser is a Tucson Folk Festival veteran; she's been playing the festival with various bands since the mid-'90s. Her current outfit, Round the House, is a traditional Irish band that has played the benefit for several years.
The show is a labor of love, she says. No one gets paid for the performances.
"It's something we do, because we just want to share what we know with other people who are somewhere along the same pathway," she says.
The bands playing at the benefit are so diverse that "they often don't cross paths," she says. "And one of the great things (about the benefit show) is they do cross paths here." The collection of musicians—from Batucaxé's drums, to Round the House's fiddles, and all the traditional American folk music in between—proves "the definition of folk music is a little bit flexible," says Goldwasser.
"For some people," she says, "it would mean songs that were collected in 1930 in the Appalachian Mountains, but for a lot of people, I think it's expanded so it includes contemporary singer-songwriters and bluegrass, and then traditional folk music from different cultures. So it's broad, but it doesn't use anything electric."
The main difference between the Tucson Folk Festival and the benefit show is the fact that there's more of a focus on music during the latter, Goldwasser says.
"I think the biggest difference is (the benefit) is just in one place, one stage, and a little more focused," she says. "It's a longer set. ... From a musician's point of view, we get a little more time to present ourselves."
Tucson has a lively folk scene, Goldwasser says—but without the live performances, you'd never know it.
"Commercial radio is so limited in the kinds of music it plays; other than KXCI (FM 91.3), there's no place that people would hear this type of music on the radio. So the only way to get exposed to it is in a live performance," she says. "To keep folk music thriving in all its forms, it's really important to have an event where musicians can play their material and network and listen to each other's music and get some appreciation for it, too."
The show is organized by the Tucson Kitchen Musicians Association, which began in 1985 as a group of musicians gathering in kitchens for good food, good friends and good music, according to Susan Liechti, the TKMA president.
Keeping with that tradition of friends, food and music, Old Town Artisans will host the benefit concert in their outside, shaded courtyard/stage at 201 N. Court Ave. The family-friendly, all-ages venue serves Southwestern and American dishes and has a full bar for adults.
Liechti says the food, the shopping and the opportunity to hear and support local musicians will make the event fun for the whole family—and, hopefully, a successful fundraiser for the Folk Festival.
The Downtown Musical Benefit for the Tucson Folk Festival takes place from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, April 4 and 5, at Old Town Artisans, 201 N. Court Ave. The concert costs $10 per day, but Liechti says it's more important for the community to be involved, so anyone willing to put in a little elbow grease will be welcome. For more information and a full lineup of bands, visit the Folk Festival Web site, or call 792-6481.