For the last 23 years, crowds of people have emerged into the city of Astoria to take part in the annual Fisherpoets Gathering. Tourists and residents alike attend with great anticipation. Some people come for the food, some for the beer and wine. Some come to chat with friends or listen to music, but everyone comes to hear the stories, poems, and music that makes us laugh and cry. They aren’t just stories about fishing. They are stories about love, friendship, family, and friends lost at sea. The performances, along with the thought-provoking messages make an impression on every single person lucky enough to be part of the audience, and if you were one of those fortunate people than you know that the Fisherpoets Gathering is much more than stories about fishing.
Every year the crowds get bigger, and so every year The Fisherpoets Gathering includes more venues to accommodate all the attendees. This year’s locations included a couple of our favorite breweries, Fort Gorge and Astoria Brewing Company, where the beers have as much character as the servers. People also poured into Astoria’s theaters, including Liberty Theater, Columbia Theater, and the charming and quirky Kala. Not to be out-done, the Labor Temple Diner and Bar, along with the Voodoo Lounge, offered up their restaurants to happy visitors from around the world.
Tasty Bites and Libations
There was a plethora of delicious food available for hungry participants and spectators. I enjoyed a massive piece of artisan style veggie pizza at Liberty Theater that could have easily have fed my two friends and me. I saw people gorging on all kinds of grub, decadent looking nachos at Fort George, and a huge sandwich that smelled like heaven at Astoria Brewing. I guess tasty food and your favorite adult beverage compliment stories of struggles and hard physical work. The mood felt celebratory as the crowd hushed to hang on every precious word from the entertainers.
The first person we listened to was Moe Bowstern from Portland, Oregon. She read stories about her experiences as a female worker in the male-dominated fishing industry. She made us double over in laughter as she told about the unforgettable characters that challenged her daily. Whether they were hitting on her, giving her a hard time, or just plain indifferent, she obviously met the challenges with courage and a sense of humor. Moe was a tough act to follow, but George Wilson and Joel-Brady-Power were every bit as pleasurable.
We listened intently at Fort George as we learned about angry skippers, town drunks, secret drug habits, 32-hour work shifts, “man overboard,” and coworkers and friends lost at sea. We heard about fishing nets that were so heavy a team of draft horses had to drag them in from the shallows. The emotion from the speakers was hard to hide as they told stories of new environmental regulations that made it harder and harder to make a living. I couldn’t help but think about the thousands of families that depend on the industry for a living, and wondering how they manage year after year.
Back at Columbia Theater, we enjoyed the straight-shooting poetry of Geeno Leech from Chinook Washington. With a rough beard, and clad in his grey Carhartt’s, workbooks, and ball cap, he looked every bit the part as he read us his raw, gut-wrenching poetry. Later, we listened to the entertaining banjo playing and lyrics of long-time coastal resident Hobe Kyter. His beloved tales of local history left me with a sense of pride and appreciation. The fishing community in Oregon, and around the country, really knows how to come together, hold each other up, and whether the literal and metaphoric storms of life.
The Fisherpoets Gathering has a way of sticking with you for a while, even long after the mess is cleaned up and the speakers go back home. The stories of strength and survival, love and laughter, and friends won and lost somehow resonated with everyone that hears them. Perhaps it’s more than just stories and poetry. Perhaps it’s way more than good food and adult bubbly. Maybe, just maybe, what we love about the Fisherpoets Gathering is that we get a firsthand look into a life that most of us could never fathom, or have the courage to try. Hats off to all participants and volunteers for another incredible year!