By Laurence Cotton
On a wintry weekend designed more for snow sports in the mountains, over three days and nights that were mostly filled with swirling clouds, horizontal wind driven rain, and a penetrating cold, some eighty-odd performers and an appreciative audience of more than one thousand filled seven performance venues at the Fisher Poets Gathering in Astoria.
Yet there was more on offer at this expanding event during the dark, rainy time of the year. The Gathering effectively occupied nearly the entire downtown, including one exhibit at the new Kala Gallery, home of Hipfish Monthly, and another exhibit and workshops at the Columbia River Maritime Museum. Yes, this was Astoria, Oregon, the town that has reinvented itself as a creative outpost on the coast, a center for music, visual and literary arts, while celebrating its rich maritime heritage.
In contrast to the early days of the gathering, when one participant took note of “down at the heels Astoria” when many of the Victorian houses up on the hill seemed poorly maintained and certain downtown blocks lacked life, Astoria in 2012 is now alive with restaurants, boutiques, galleries, performance venues and museums, and most of the historic residences have been restored to their former beauty.
In many respects, the Fisher Poets Gathering is the story of the new/old Astoria, a vital hub for the arts, for working fishermen, warmly embracing its maritime heritage with renewed vigor. Of course, for the local chamber of commerce, and the community at large, it doesn’t hurt that the Fisher Poets Gathering is a sizable, lively event that brings in visitors from afar and fills hotel rooms and keeps restaurants, performance venues and shops busy during a slow time of the year.
February 2012 marked the fifteenth Fisher Poets Gathering. Still largely volunteer run, with a miniscule budget, Fisher Poets is clearly not only a labor of love for the core committee that plans and hosts the event but also a celebration of community for all present—participants, performers, staff, volunteers and audience. 2012 brought in performers from as far away as Florida and Rhode Island, as well as a considerable contingent from Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.