“I was an army brat,” says Ron W. Bailey, 70, a Scot from Oklahoma with a ready grin. While his dad was stationed at Fort Lewis in the ’60s, Bailey discovered brash Seattle bands like the Sonics and The Wailers, and returned to Seattle from Oklahoma with his own guitar act in 1974. His bar band Dynamic Logs was a smash, but Bailey shifted his career focus after attending a Berlin vaudeville festival in 1996. It convinced him that Seattle was ready for variety shows, and in 2004 The Moisture Festival (moisturefestival.com) was born. “We rented a tent in Fremont in 2004, and about 300 people came,” says Bailey, one of six masters of ceremonies of the month- long festival, which now attracts vaudeville (and other) acts from around the world, plus 12,000 attendees. Mike Hale donated a keg for the first fest, which led him to opening Hale’s Palladium behind his brewery, the main venue of this year’s festival (March 16–April 9).
The fest is all about variety: jugglers, tap dancers and random acts like Zip Code Man. “Tell him your ZIP code, and he might know your local pizza joint—people think he’s a plant, but it’s just his weird genius,” Bailey explains. While talent comes from all over, says Bailey, “Seattle’s the best garden in the world for creativity. Young people train at Georgetown’s School of Acrobatics and New Circus Arts, and we’ve had a couple people go on to Cirque du Soleil.”
In 2005, Bailey—who makes his living as a carpenter when not being ringleader for the festival—added burlesque to the lineup, attracting a new hipster audience. “Some people thought it was a gamble, but they don’t know how burlesque has evolved,” he says. Bailey traces it (and vaudeville) back to U.K. music halls, and did a fundraiser to renovate the world’s oldest such hall, in Glasgow, near his mom’s birthplace. “I just love the way variety performers make an audience feel,” he says. “The parents are drinking beer, the kids are laughing. Everyone is just feeling good.”
Need to Know
1. This year, the festival has four venues: Hale’s Palladium (Fremont), Broadway Performance Hall (Capitol Hill), Teatro ZinZanni (by Seattle Center) and The Islander (Burlesque cruise on Lake Union).
2. Every act, from Allez-Oops to Tamara the Trapeze Lady, gets paid the same.
3. Bailey wanted the festival’s title to signify “embracing rain instead of badmouthing it, but Rain Festival didn’t fit the bill.” His wife saw a poster for Shelton’s OysterFest and thought it said MoistureFest. “Some think it’s risqué, but that didn’t occur to us. The name still makes us laugh, and laughter is the key.”