SIERRA VISTA — For the young musicians who are a part of the Youth Chapter of the International Western Music Association (IWMA), it’s never too early to strike the right chord with county music fans.
The IWMA is dedicated to keeping traditional music of the American West alive and supporting their performer members. The Youth Chapter was formed as a way to keep Western music going through young, budding musicians by providing opportunities to attend music camps, receive lessons, access to instruments, scholarships and other financial support.
The Arizona Folklore Preserve, located off Ramsey Canyon, are members of the IWMA and have been big supporters of the youth chapter for several years, raising funds for them and working together on a shared vision of preserving live, Western music.
This weekend, the AFP will host a special concert spotlighting four young performers of the youth chapter on their stage for two days of live country.
AFP president Mike Rutherford said that they attend annual meetings for the association and were struck by the talent of the young acts.
“We have been impressed with the youth that is coming up...two of them have already been on American Idol and have gone on to successful careers at 18 and 17 years old,” he said. “They’re as good as anybody out there that’s performing and we were wanting to sponsor and support the rest of the youth because the artists that have been performing for years ... they’re long in the tooth and their hair is gray.”
“When they die we don’t want the music to die; that’s why we’re supporting the youth.”
The concert, taking place Saturday and Sunday, will feature 14-year-old twins Kacey and Jenna Thunborg from New Mexico, 14-year-old Caroline Grace Wiseman from Texas, country artist 15-year-old Venessa Carpenter from Idaho and 17-year-old award-winning Western and Gospel Music artist Abby Payne, also from Texas.
While the teens have all been on a stage before, Rutherford hopes that this showcase provides them a unique learning opportunity to grow as artists.
“We’re doing this to give the youth more experience on stage and away from the controlled environment they’ve had growing up with this music,” he said. “To go to someplace that is technically not International Western Music facilities is going to give them great experience.”
“My hope is to have a full house because they deserve it and that’s a way to encourage them.”
The AFP offers concerts at their venue most weekends, doing about 88 to 90 shows a year. However, Rutherford said they’ve struggled with attendance recently.
“This time of year we’ve had to cancel three out of the last four Saturday shows,” he said. “The main thing is we’d like to see attendance to help support live music because if we don’t get it and we end up in the red every year, sooner or later it’s going to go away.”
AFP secretary Sharon Heikkinen said that they offer far more than country music for guests.
“We have more than just Western music; we offer lots of different genres of music,” she said. “We got blues, bluegrass, folk music and we’ve had a mariachi band.”
She said they even have people from out of state who come to Sierra Vista just to come see a special performance at the AFP.
“We had two people in the audience recently who came all the way from Oregon just to see the performer we had on stage,” she said. “They’re fans of her and decided to make the trip down and they’ve never been here before.”
“They loved it and said they’ll be back.”
Rutherford sees the AFP’s power to bring visitors to the city who in turn explore shopping, dining and other entertainment opportunities.
“During the winter we bring in a lot of people who come to Sierra Vista because they like the Arizona Folklore Preserve,” he said. “I know we can take credit in the tourism aspect of bringing people to town at those times.”
“At this time of year all the snowbirds are gone so attendance is down but it’s important to keep live music going for people.”
The showcase this weekend is the first AFP has put on that features only youth musicians and is just one way for them to support the youth chapter.
They fundraise for them and will raise $5,000 this year for them from show attendees.
They have also called on the public for donations of instruments that are no longer being used.
“We’ve asked that people who have instruments lying around — that their children used to play and either lost interest or grew up and moved away and left it at home — donate them, and we received 13 different instruments for a total value of $4,525,” Rutherford said.
“We’d be happy to pass them on where they become property of the Youth Chapter and they will be loaned out to students that are youth that want to play. If they change their mind and want to play another instrument they can bring it back and get another one.”
Anyone who is interested in donating an instrument can do so by calling the AFP at 520-378-6165 or dropping them off. Since the AFP is a 5013c nonprofit, they can give those who donate instruments a tax receipt.
For those who would like to support the Arizona Folklore Preserve, the best way is to attend a weekend show. They also have CDs available for sale in their gift shop featuring artists who have performed there.
The youth country Western showcase starts on Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $6 for those 17 and under.