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Interview with Rogue World Music Executive Director Ana Byers

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Rogue Valley Messenger: This Memorial Day, Ashland World Music Festival returns. How exciting! A lot has changed in the world since the last festival—pandemic, fires, war and refugees in Europe, increased recognition of equity. So much. What has changed about the programming or focus of the festival? 

Ana Byers: A lot has changed over the course of the last two years, and we have adjusted our programming to support our community in response to all of this in a few ways. In 2020, we edited the Ashland World Music Festival down to one (virtual) event: our Park Performances concerts. It had originally been scheduled for the second week in September. Just days before our planned virtual event, the Almeda Fire ripped through the Rogue Valley, burning thousands of homes and businesses, and displacing thousands of people. We decided that the festival should be turned into a fundraiser for fire relief. Our organizational mission is “building community and cultural connection through world music experiences.” If there was ever a moment to put our mission into concrete action, that was it. We raised $10,000 for a local fire relief fund that directly benefited residents of Phoenix and Talent and decided to replicate that fundraising model in 2021. We raised another $10,000 for a second fire relief fund, this time for local immigrant and farm worker families (a demographic that was hit especially hard by the Almeda Fire).

The recipient of our fundraiser this year is the nonprofit Coalición Fortaleza. They are a nonprofit working on the actual rebuilding of community neighborhoods that were burned, with a focus on making it possible for Latine families to return when it might not have been possible otherwise.

RVM: What has stayed the same? 

AB: We are returning to our original festival format this year (with the inclusion of the fundraiser and SoundWalk). This means we are offering a free, in-person, multi-day, multi-event, multi-venue festival that showcases culture-bearing artists. Each festival event is an opportunity to learn, participate, and connect. Key events include:

RVM: All events are free? How does that business model work? 

AB: Yes, all events are free. Our goal is to create a community festival that is as inclusive as possible. That means keeping the events free. The event is made possible by the generous support of local and regional sponsors and some funding by regional foundations via grants. All money raised during the event goes directly to the fundraiser recipient. This year, that recipient is Coalición Fortaleza.

RVM: You have talked about leveraging arts towards fire relief and recovery. Can you talk more about what that means?

AB: Our mission focuses on building community and connection. Music, dance, and storytelling in all its forms are powerful connectors, and renewers. Share experiences, especially ones that incorporate music and movement create a sense of belonging. In a moment where so many people in our Rogue Valley community lost a home, a sense of community, a sense of security, perhaps even a sense of belonging, we are hoping to contribute in this small way to a regeneration of that shaken foundation.

RVM: Finally, what is a Sound Walk? 

AB: In general, a SoundWalk is a curated audio/visual experience. The AWMF SoundWalk offers a self-guided, interactive, audio/visual presentation that weaves together recordings of music artists from around the world with installations of visual art by local artists in the windows of local businesses. Both the music and visual art continue the exploration of the theme “home,” that we visit during our HeartBeat Stories event. This format gives us the opportunity to showcase more musicians from anywhere in the world, as well as local visual artists and artisans who are keepers of heritage crafting knowledge.

The audio is accessible through any smartphone and can either be streamed or downloaded. The visual art is displayed in street-facing windows. This way participants can go soundwalking whenever is best for them: sunrise with a cup of coffee while walking the dog, mid-day with the whole family, on an evening stroll, etc. This year, the SoundWalk route will wind through downtown Ashland. Maps of the route with each location marked will be available for viewing online or printing on Monday, May 25.


Ashland World Music Festival

Complete artist line up and events line up is available at RogueWorldMusic.org/awmf. Highlights include:

Percussion workshop with Okaidja Afroso, 12:30 pm Friday, May 27. SOU Music Building. HeartBeat Stories, 5 pm Saturday, May 28. Location TBA.

Parks Performances main stage concerts, noon – 5 pm, Sunday, May 29, Lithia Park.

SoundWalk through downtown Ashland, Friday, May 27-Monday, May 30. 


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