Contributed photo — Freeland singer-songwriter Nathaniel Talbot is one of four local acts featured in this year’s Locals for Locals benefits show.

WICA shines light on Whidbey musicians

Whidbey Island Center for the Arts (WICA) was built for the South Whidbey arts community, but it can be a little pricey for local acts to afford rental fees.

That’s where the annual Locals for Locals benefits concert comes in, says WICA Executive Director Stacie Burgua.

The two-night variety show, comprised of four South End artists, offers an opportunity for resident musicians to take over the WICA main stage rent-free, while raising funds for the next year’s performance.

“WICA remains the premier venue that draws the most people and brings the community together,” Randy Hudson, member of Clinton-based Heggenes Valley Boys said. “They built it for the community, not just for great acts to come to town. This program started in order to make sure that local legacy continued.”

The Heggenes Valley Boys will headline the night’s music with support from bands that play a blend of genres. Singer-songwriter Nathaniel Talbot, whose music “has dirt under its fingernails,” alternative country band Weatherside Whiskey Band and a marimba band composed of 13 to 16-year-olds will rock the stage. The performers will play back-to-back for a night of nonstop music with minimal intermission to fit all four performances within two hours.

The concerts are from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Friday, May 19 and Saturday, May 20. Tickets cost $22 per night.

This year’s concert will be slightly different from past years. The benefits show was run and curated by Hudson’s old band, the popular South Whidbey band Rural Characters, for 13 years before a member died in 2015. These days, the funds from the concert pay for the performers’ rent the following year, after WICA executives select which artists to feature. The result is a hodgepodge of music styles, with a focus on young South Whidbey musicians such as Talbot and the marimba band.

“We’re trying to make the show an ever-changing evening of entertainment that highlights the young talent we have here,” Hudson said. “I like to think of it as more fun packed into one night than is generally legal within Langley city limits.”

Hudson says his current band wouldn’t be able to play at WICA if it weren’t for the benefits show, and he knows they’re not alone. The cost to rent and operate the facilities is $500 per night, and that doesn’t include box office fees, according to Burgua. The benefits concerts pays for those costs in full for the following year.

Additionally, Hudson says it’s expensive to pull off a performance, and it can be a financial risk if an audience doesn’t show up. The Locals for Locals benefits show gives performers that stage “without the outlay of funds.”

Hudson added that the benefits concert in 2001 is what propelled the Rural Characters and gave them a support base. Burgua says “hundreds” of local artists have been similarly impacted by the concert over the years, a number she tallied when attempting to compile a list of past performers and their members.

“To say hundreds of musicians have been personally impacted by the concert would not be an exaggeration,” Burgua said. “It really speaks to the mission of the arts center: we belong to the community, and the community deserves it. This is their home.”