Choochokam Arts Festival turns 40 this weekend

Musicians perform at the 2014 Choochokam Arts Festival in Langley.

Choochokam Arts Festival, one of Langley’s premier weekend events and biggest crowd pleasers, is turning 40 this weekend.

The four decade-old festival is very much up to its old tricks: free music, fresh food, abundant art, and a view to boot.

Tried and true to the format is keeping the music free for visitors. Plenty of big-time performers are lined up for the little Village by the Sea, including Vicci Martinez of TV’s “The Voice” fame and 18 others between Saturday and Sunday. Peppered throughout both days are bands from near — locals such as Ranger and the Re-Arrangers and Janie Cribbs and the T.Rust Band — and far — Martinez and LeRoy Bell of South Africa.

Based on past years’ attendance estimates kept by the organizers, several thousand people are expected to cruise through the South Whidbey city for the festival. Without ticket sales, the numbers aren’t concrete, but based on business revenues and some informal head counts throughout the days, the number fluctuates well above 10,000. By contrast, Langley’s U.S. Census population is just over 1,000 residents.

“They all bring money,” said Bruce Allen, the festival’s lead organizer.

This is Allen’s first year leading the way in seeing the festival to fruition. He took over from Tom Moore, who recruited him to join the Choochokam non-profit board of directors about seven or eight years ago.

“I enjoy it,” Allen said over a Sunday afternoon iced tea with The Record at Useless Bay Coffee Company. “I enjoy the festival, I like meeting people and talking to the vendors.”

Allen, who grew up in Langley and is also a city councilman, recalled the experience of hearing music from downtown when he was younger. He’d still enjoy listening to the sounds of a bustling downtown if he wasn’t down there in the mix of things each day.

The event will be scaled back a bit from recent years. Allen said 58 vendors, plus some nonprofits and food vendors, are signed up to line First Street from Boy and Dog Park to Anthes Avenue.

“I think it’s better for us as a smaller festival to have better quality,” Allen said.

Everything in the festival, from the art vendors to the music to the food, is carefully curated by the organizers and Allikat Records/Media. Allen said they don’t want anything to sound too similar, and all the music needs to be original songs by the artists, so anyone hoping to hear a Led Zeppelin or Fleetwood Mac tune would be best to throw it on the record player at home.

This year, the main stage was relocated just up Anthes Avenue. In past years, the primary music venue was at Hladky Park, commonly called Whale Bell Park at the intersection of First Street and Anthes Avenue. The organizers heeded the wishes of vendors and businesses nearby and built a larger stage to accommodate larger bands at the US Bank parking lot.

Kitty corner from the stage and in the McLeod Alley will be the beer garden, put on by the Langley Chamber of Commerce. All sales are used by the chamber to help promote the city, and chamber employee Betty Freeman said several beers from Diamond Knot Brewery in Mukilteo will be on tap, plus wines from South Whidbey.

“It’ll be within hearing distance of the stage,” she said.

With fewer vendors spread along First Street, the hub will be like a “U.” Vendors along First and Anthes and some up Second Street, plus a stage on Anthes and a stage on Second at Useless Bay Coffee Company.

Food will be along Anthes Avenue.

A “Kid’s Zone” will be set up at Whale Bell Park for Choochokam’s most childish visitors.