Moving Forward

In Features, Human Interest, Non-fiction on July 31, 2013 at 5:33 am


Written by Alex Ashley

The year 1911 was a year of firsts.

It was the year of the first transcontinental airplane flight.  It was the year of the first Indianapolis 500 auto race.  And it was the year in which the R.M.S. Titanic launched for the first time.  But nestled in the northeastern corner of Washington state, a small community near Spokane, called Hillyard, had decided to start celebrating its heritage for the first time.

This year will mark the 103rd consecutive year of the Hillyard Festival celebration.

Last year’s theme for the annual event was “New Beginnings.” The theme for 2013?

“Moving Forward,” Dave Griswold revealed.  Dave is a long-time resident of Hillyard, and the president for the Hillyard Festival Association, that which sponsors the event. Griswold feels the theme is fitting, and expresses the current focus of his community.

“We are trying to revitalize Hillyard,” he continues.  “But our community is about to be dissected by a freeway.  We need to find a way to keep the community together.”

Appropriately, along the theme of “Moving Forward,” Griswold says there are some things about this year’s Hillyard Festival that are new, including a triple-threat parade at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning.

“Three parades all rolled into one,” he explains.  “We have never done this before, but it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

The festivities will kick off on a somber note with the “Fallen Heroes” parade, honoring members of the United States Armed Forces.  Next, the “Hi-Jinks” parade, a highlight of the event every year.  And finally, a car parade, featuring classic cars that will subsequently be featured in a car show throughout downtown Hillyard.

After the three parades, the festival officially kicks off at Sharpley-Harmon Park.

“There are a few other twists to this year’s event,” adds Dave Griswold.  “When you come to this year’s Hillyard Festival, you’ll find out what they are.”

“Hillyard Sticks Together”

     For Hillyard business owner, Trish Comrie, this is the first year she will be participating as a vendor at the Hillyard Festival.

“In August, it will be my fourth year owning my own business,” she explains.  Comrie owns Hillyard’s Corner Cottage, on North Market street.  “I’m excited about the festival this year.  It is a big deal around here, and a lot of people look forward to it, even those outside the immediate Hillyard area.”

Comrie and her business, by the way, are representative of what the Hillyard community, and the Hillyard Festival, are all about.  Outside her shop, a sign displays the message in chalk: “Friends don’t let friends shop @ chain stores.” Inside, the Corner Cottage is more than just a shop for people to buy things; Comrie makes sure there are plenty of places for people to sit, to talk, and even to read their newspaper quietly.  “Not everyone comes in here to buy something, and I’m fine with that,” she says.  “I serve coffee and tea.  Some people just come in here for the company.”

Really, it is those community values that are the true focus of the Hillyard Festival this year: moving forward together, as a community, even in the face of challenges.  But always remaining cohesive.

“Hillyard sticks together,” she says.  “A while ago, there was a revitalization.  They redid Hillyard.  They put in new sidewalks, new streets, new light posts.  Now, it looks like a neat, quaint little neighborhood.  The people of Hillyard have embraced the history of this town with great pride.”

“The Girl Can Sing”

     Aside from her appreciation for her community, however, Trish Comrie says she has another motive for participating in this year’s festival.  “It’s a tactical maneuver to spend more time with my daughter,” Trish laughs.

Trish’s daughter, Brittany Comrie, is a vital addition to this year’s festivities, flying in from Nashville, Tennessee, as part of this year’s live music lineup.  She sometimes goes by Christy Comrie, but her friends and most of Spokane know her as Brittany.  She will be joining renowned Spokane blues artist, Sammy Eubanks, onstage on Saturday evening.

“There was always music in the house, always,” Trish explains.  “From the day we brought Brittany home, her dad used to dance her to sleep to country music.  There were times as early as a year and a half ago where she wouldn’t talk at all, just sing.  Non-stop, just singing and singing and singing.”  Finally, one night she was meeting her dad at Big Al’s in Post Falls, Idaho.  He knew some of the guys that were playing, and they ended up throwing her up on stage to sing.”

“He literally picked me up, threw me over his shoulders and put me on the stage.  He even had the bouncers block the stairs and wouldn’t let me down until I sang,” Brittany laughs.

That was the defining moment for her: ‘This is what I want to do.’

Tragically, however, her father and best friend passed away nearly one year ago.  They had big plans to move to Nashville together; he was ready to drop everything to make sure his daughter’s voice could be heard.  “He was my hero, and he’s the reason I sing,” she says.

Her mother Trish adds a funny detail that makes her daughter’s pursuits as a singer even more interesting and inspiring.

“When she was little,” she explains, “she couldn’t sing or hold a tune to save her life.  This is all something that has developed in the last few years.” This ‘development’ Comrie speaks of, is her daughter’s newfound success in the country music world.  She has been invited to audition for the popular television show, The Voice, on July 1st.  She has also been offered tempting deals by major record labels.  “I never could have dreamed of my life taking such a turn, and I didn’t foresee things happening this fast,” she says.  “I left for Tennessee with nothing but the clothes on my back, a guitar and my daddy’s dog, and things have worked out so well.  Occasionally, I still have to turn to whoever’s standing next to me, whether I know them or not, and ask them to pinch me.”

But this summer, for one evening, thanks to the Hillyard Festival, Hillyard gets her all to themselves.

“I’m so excited to come home and perform for my friends and family, the people who were with me from the beginning, when I got my start.  Hillyard is such a cool place.  When you drive through it, it’s like suddenly being in another state.  It’s impressive how everyone in the community has worked together to bring the place to a higher level.”

Comrie will be performing with award-winning Northwest blues artist, Sammy Eubanks.  She says Eubanks and his band were some of the first musicians she ever got to perform with live.

“The girl can sing! She sang with us a few times before she left for Nashville,” says Sammy Eubanks, “and she had a lot of power and potential even then.  I can’t wait to hear her now.” Sammy Eubanks, a resident of Spokane since circa-1978, has always wanted to perform at the Hillyard Festival to celebrate the community’s historic value, but until this year, things never came together.  “Dave Griswold and I talked about it for the last 8 or 10 years, but all the little pieces never really came together.  I’m really, really excited to be a part of the event this year.”

Eubanks says he has always had a special place in his heart for the Hillyard community.  “It’s beautiful up there, and I love it,” he says.  “Marcus street in Hillyard is one of the best streets in town.  We’ve been fortunate enough to travel all over the country, but I love the feel of Hillyard.  It’s a relaxed, laid back, small-town atmosphere.”

Eubanks says he understands why the Hillyard Festival is such an important event: Hillyard is a tremendously historic neighborhood with a lot of stories behind it.  It is an area of our city that has fought, tooth and claw, for many years to stay historically and architecturally intact.

“Hillyard is special.  We need to celebrate that.”

{July 2013: Spokane Coeur d’Alene Living magazine}

  1. Reblogged this on Whitman Neighborhood and commented:
    Great Article by another blogger on the wordpress network.

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