Couple launches Washougal Songcraft Festival to promote local songwriting, performing arts

Nonprofit’s first ‘song circle’ will be held Thursday, Nov. 3, at 54-40 Brewing

Washougal residents Christopher and Stephanie Corbell visited Ashland, Oregon, and its famous Oregon Shakespeare Festival, for the first time earlier this year and were impressed with what they saw — not only the prestigious acting company’s production of “The Tempest,” but the way the small town has incorporated the festival into its cultural identity.

“The community involvement and the art scene and the love of poetry and music — everything that we love was so vibrant in that town,” Stephanie said. “On our way back home, we were like, ‘We need this in our town. Our town needs this culture and this art and this vibrant community.’ Our population has risen so much. Our community is already on the up-and-up of thriving, and what do people want? People want to go see plays. People want to hear live music. They want to have community.”

In response, the Corbells have launched the Washougal Songcraft Festival, a nonprofit organization that strives to foster, share and celebrate the craft of songwriting and develop the performing arts and creative community of Washougal and the surrounding region through “song circle” events and an annual music festival.

“We really want to see Washougal have a more thriving art scene,” said Christopher, a long-time songwriter and composer. “We know a lot of people in the fine art scene here, but there isn’t a lot of performing arts. The long-term vision is that every year we keep beating the drum of, ‘Hey, songwriters, come to Washougal and share all your weird songs and share all your different genres,’ then eventually we could have this reputation that builds up, build a performing arts center, builds other things downtown, get more venues that book bands and stuff like that.”

The first “song circle” event, featuring performances by James Rossi, David E. Lane, Marcus Angeloni, and the Corbells’ mystic folk duo, Ravens Fables, will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 3, at 54-40 Brewing, 3801 S. Truman St., Washougal.

“It’s definitely going to be a very intimate gathering, with just three or four songwriters trading songs, trading stories about their songwriting and stuff like that in (front of) a small audience,” said Christopher, who previously served as volunteer executive director of Classical Revolution PDX, a Portland-based nonprofit dedicated to enriching and educating Portland metropolitan area residents by making classical music accessible to the public, and founded Cult of Orpheus, an independent vocal music and opera group.

“The goal is to do those every couple of months, maybe more often as we get funding, but at least every two months through the winter and spring, and that will keep our heartbeat going through the year and build up for the bigger festival,” he explained.

In addition to the “song circle” events, the group is planning to hold an annual festival, with the first scheduled for August 2023 in downtown Washougal. The festival program “will provide unamplified pop-up performances by singer/songwriters during the day and main stage performances in the afternoon and early evening,” according to a news release.

“Right now, our plan for the first summer is pretty modest, just a one-day festival in conjunction with the Washougal Arts Festival,” said Christopher, who joined the city of Washougal’s arts commission earlier this year. “We’ll have a main stage, and we may also have some club performances; we’re kind of still working on that. If we meet more local songwriters like us that are doing stuff here in Washougal and Camas, we definitely want to feature them, but we also have tons of friends in Portland and also in the region and Bellingham and all these other towns that we know we can bring in.”

The Corbells also plan to incorporate songwriting workshops and educational outreach programs into the organization.

“We’re really trying to promote written songs and (encourage musicians to write and perform their own songs) and not just covers,” Stephanie said. “And we definitely want to promote this as a learning experience. We would like to occasionally pull in a student – high school, middle school, whatever. We want to not only focus on the adult community, but the younger community as well. Music has been so important for us, not only as individuals, but (as parents) — all of our kids are grown out of the house now, but we still believe that community outreach to the younger generation is very important.”

The organization will give at least 85% of its proceeds to participating artists, according to Christopher.

“We are going to be under fiscal sponsorship, so that’s another piece of this — we’re acting as an arts nonprofit. (We are) fundraising and trying to get grants so that we’re supporting artists and paying them to be here, which is a different kind of thing from being on your own,” Christopher said. “As a singer-songwriter, you’re just trying to get gigs and get $20 here, $30 there. It’s hard to travel and it’s also hard to promote your work, so we’ll be doing all the promotion for the artists that we bring in for the festival.”