Note: this article first appeared in the March 30th issue of the Okanogan Valley Gazette-Tribune.
This past Friday, Tonasket’s Community Cultural Center was packed with dozens of musicians and scores of music-lovers, to celebrate the launch of the Okanogan Highland Alliance’s new CD, “Highland Voices.”
Throughout the night, different artists took the stage to perform songs from the new compilation album. The musicians, like the songs they played, represented a diverse cast of Okanogan performers – diverse in sound, instrumentation, and artistic style. At one point the stage was even charmingly diverse in age, when three generations of Hydes performed Cheatgrass’s “Fire and Desire.”
The night also included fundraising programs for OHA’s environmentally focused activism. Attendees bid on items in both silent and live auctions, and the hot-off-the-press album was available for sale, with proceeds funding OHA’s local activism and series of free-to-the-public educational programs.
The new album – OHA’s second compilation album to date – has been in the works for years. Julie Ashmore, Conservation Coordinator for OHA, was one of the producers of the project. “We first put out a fundraising album in the 1990’s,” Ashmore notes, “when OHA was working on the open-pit mine issue. That album was called, ‘Environmental Impact Statement.’ Since then, we’ve always wanted to put out another album.”
Work on “Highland Voices” began in earnest in 2014, and word spread among local musicians. Over the next months and years, the CD started to take form, with tracks being continually added and recorded. Some songs were written and recorded entirely for “Highland Voices,” while others had been composed years before but were newly recorded for the album. A few had already been professionally recorded and were added to the CD as already produced.
“Highland Voices” as a whole offers a musical journey through the environmentally conscious folk music of the Okanogan. “We wanted the album to be diverse in the same way that Okanogan County is diverse,” Ashmore says. “We’ve got authentic bluegrass, rock songs, one jazzy piece, and all the folk flavors between.”
The organic production process behind “Highland Voices” reflects the community- and volunteer-driven spirit that powers all of OHA’s work, with all of the musicians featured on the album donating their time and talents for the cause. All of the recording engineers working on the album also donated part or all of their studio time: Rick Braman, Chuck Egner of the Treehouse studio in Leavenworth, Lonnie Good of Good Studios in Okanogan, and Lino of J-Wolf Studio in Bend, who also mixed and mastered the album. Co-producers Ashmore and Reed Engel donated countless hours into the project as well.
Although the album’s poetic lyricism is permeated with recognition of environmental dangers, it’s also infused with an unflappable optimism. Grassroots groups like OHA are founded on the belief that committed individuals can make the world a better place – indeed, OHA itself has been doing so for 25 years now. That optimistic vision rings true on “Highland Voices.” “We have a lot of important issues on our planet and a lot of concerns right here in Okanogan County,” Ashmore notes. “That’s all very real and important, and a big part of what brings us together. But in making and performing the album, there was also an element of celebration that I thought was very special. We do have a lot to celebrate, and it was exciting to see that happen.”
The celebration was certainly on display Friday night. While the musicians performing at any given time varied throughout the night, there was a constant sense of joy and fun present on stage. When, at the show’s conclusion, all the performers poured on stage for a raucous rendition of “Up By the Border” – the Okanogan’s unofficial anthem – the crowd was more than happy to sing along. Ringing with the joined voices of friends and neighbors, the community center was rich with community pride.
And of course, when the official evening wrapped up, the night wasn’t over yet. Chairs were stacked, the music started up again, and the after-party dancing began.
Those looking to bring the music home can purchase “Highland Voices” as either a physical CD or digital download, both at www.cdbaby.com/cd/okanoganhighlands. To learn more about OHA’s mission and current programs, or to become involved with the group, interested parties can visit www.okanoganhighlands.org.