Columbia City's monthly music fest still true to original vision

COLUMBIA CITY - In twelve years, BeatWalk hasn't skipped a beat. At times, tempos rushed and dragged, but never since its inception in 1995 has the Columbia City monthly-music gathering lost its stride.

Darryl Smith imagined a happening Columbia City on a Friday night. He imagined residents escaping the confines of their houses and filling the three-block radius of Rainier Avenue South with feet. A local realtor and community leader, Smith, 44, dreamt of a Pioneer Square-like atmosphere in Columbia City, embracing the wide amount of diversity that the area is well branded for.

"The response was huge that first year," said Smith, who recalled over 200 pairs of legs wandering the area on BeatWalk's inaugural evening. "It had a different vibe than Pioneer Square under a similar format."

His original thought was to find a way to rid the neighborhood of the crime and declining business on a Friday night. He wanted to reclaim the very neighborhood he himself called home. He wanted local dollars to be spent locally.

Nothing much has changed since Smith shaped his vision in 1995. With minor tweaks and tinkering, BeatWalk has only caught fire. With nine local businesses inked as venues for this year's BeatWalk - which begins on May 4 and runs on the first Friday of the month through December - the event has grown to welcome over 400 city-goers on a given Friday night. It's alarming that the event still only costs $5.

Joanne Lauterjung Kelly now coordinates BeatWalk, which was taken over by the Columbia City Business Association in 2004. Kelly, who garnered control in September 2006, and a group of five to seven volunteers are the motors behind the eight-month-long event, which employs over 100 local musicians each year.

"Our line-up truly reflects the diversity of the neighborhood," said Kelly, who books the lengthy list of mainly world and jazz-music acts. "We really look for South-end musicians as we want to support local acts."

It's of Smith's opinion that the event he spawned more than a decade ago continues to reflect his original vision.

"BeatWalk has become a point of pride for the entire neighborhood," said Smith, "With the all-city draw it welcomes, I'm so very proud of it."

BeatWalk is a non-profit event, with all proceeds helping to cover the monthly festival's minimal overhead costs and musician fees. Both BeatWalk and the local businesses serving as venues split the booking costs - which pays each musician $80.

This year, BeatWalkers can purchase an annual pass - a flat, $35 fee - that allows entrance into each of the nine venues for the event's eight-month span.

With uncanny success, BeatWalk is drawing attention from around Seattle as well as nationally - representatives from as far and near as Ballard and Indiana have contacted the Columbia City Business Association about how to get similar events started in their respective areas.

What started out as a practical and fun approach to help extinguish rising crime rates in Columbia City, BeatWalk has grown a little big for its britches.

"It's such a big event, these days!" laughed Smith, who says he's hardly even recognized nowadays. "I honestly feel like a proud papa!"

Smith has much to be proud about, as his legacy remains strong even after relinquishing the reigns of BeatWalk in the late 1990s.

"Darryl created it to make the neighborhood a safe place on Fridays," said Kelly. "Both him and his wife have been so important to this neighborhood. He really had a great vision."

BeatWalk begins May 4, from 7-10 p.m. For more information on venues or to purchase an annual pass, visit the festival on the web at

Central Area writer Josh Sobrowsky may be reached via[[In-content Ad]]