Note: this article first appeared in the April 6th issue of the Okanogan Valley Gazette-Tribune.

Spring has sprung, and the arts are popping up around the Okanogan Valley like wildflowers.

In addition to the lineup of tried-and-true venues throughout the region, music events are emerging in unexpected corners. On Saturday, Paws Produce & Fish Market held its first ever barn dance, featuring a performance by The Harley Hunks.

Though Paws Produce has long been a favorite local source of fresh fruit, seafood, and gourmet treats, Saturday’s dance was the first event of its kind there. The evening began as the sun set over the adjoining orchard, the perfect setting for a rustic good time. Outside, part of the crowd enjoyed the last moments of sunshine – as well as the potluck spread. Inside, The Harley Hunks plugged in, and the music and dancing kicked off.

The Harley Hunks are a duo consisting of Mike Chapple and Clay Warnstaff. Armed with their electric and acoustic guitars, the two played a medley of the sort of folk and country-rock music that can’t help but set your feet tapping or your hips swaying. As couples took to the dance floor, surrounded by the warm wooden walls and with a cool breeze blowing in from outside, the scene was a page out of classic Americana.

“I like the down-home country feel,” says Katie Wheat, owner of Paws Produce & Fish Market. “I like to make people feel comfortable, to feel welcome and at home.”

That was certainly the experience that Wheat created Saturday – the sort of gathering that feels like a coming-together of old friends and good neighbors, even amongst folks meeting for the first time. From his perch on the stairs, Dickens the lovable orange cat watched over the whole affair, poking his head out to get the best view of the music, and even stepping up as a dance partner a few times. While dancers – Dickens included – were boogying inside, the music floated outside, where part of the crowd gathered near a fire pit, sharing laughter and stories. When the early spring chill crept in, revelers could warm themselves by the heaters in the huge outdoors party tent, donated for the evening by Ed Lawrence of Stage & Studio Productions.

The evening was first imagined as a way to celebrate the start of spring. “It’s been a long, cold winter,” Wheat says. “My New Year’s resolution was to have more fun, so this was a sort of welcome-to-spring and let’s-kick-the-winter-doldrums party.”

Though Wheat doesn’t have any specific plans for repeat events at Paws Produce, she notes that she’s already received numerous inquiries about future barn dances. To stay connected to Paws Produce and hear about any events to come, you can find them at www.facebook.com/pawsproduce.