To get to Orcas Island in Northwest Washington, you have to take a ferry. Many of the 4,000 year-round residents come from the fringes of society—hippies, ex-hippies who settled down and had “indigo children,” drug addicts, recovering addicts, organic gurus who live off the grid and prepare for Peak Oil, retirees, healers, felons, millionaires, artists, and other assorted misfits and runaways. In 57 square miles there’s not one record store or regular concert venue, but music on Orcas permeates the atmosphere and is as soft around the edges as its characters.
At solstice parades, local ceremonies and the Farmer’s Market, performers range from saxophonists and a cappella groups to a World Fusion band called Orcatraz. In summer, there’s “Music in the Park” every Sunday night and “Brown Bag Concerts” on the green every Wednesday at noon. Both feature feel-good fare. There’s always reggae at the Oddfellows Hall, where local dances and holiday festivities happen. And now, for the second winter in a row, the island is having its own Orcas Idol contest.
Moving away from the center of town, people are scattered throughout the horseshoe-shaped island. In these patches are drum circles, spiritual gatherings with sacred singing in foreign languages and bonfires with jam music and more reggae. Don’t forget to show off your dreads.
It can be heartwarming to see all this music come out of such a remote place with such a small population. We’re rich in reggae, in hippie, in save-the-whale soulful songwriting but we’re lacking in the hardcore, hard-hitting passion and vigor of rock, rap and metal. For a rocker chick like me, when it all gets too heartwarming and happy and wholesome, I think about unknown patches and have faith in the felons.
– Rolling Stone
This was my first entry into MTV’s “I’m from Rolling Stone” writing contest. The assignment was to write about your local music scene in less than 300 words (a challenge for me). “Island Orcastrations” was named as a finalist and published on the RS website, then chosen as an honorable mention by Rolling Stone editor, Joe Levy, who had this to say:
“This was the only one that made me actually want to check out the place being written about — not because the music sounded so interesting (it doesn’t, which [Emilia] knows), but because the place itself seemed so weird.”
As always, for more writing samples, you can always check out the Samples page. There’s also a section for Published (where this piece lives) and Early Work (most of this latter section is downright mortifying, but you know, oh well).
- Dusky Waters, Orcas Island
- She’s a Girl Rising From a Shell
- Ocean Reverie
- Warding Off Eclipses with Sex and Music
- Lead Us Not Into Temptation
- Orcas Island Field Trip
- Remembering Jeff Buckley 1966-1997
- Dancing with Waves