Willie Nelson to celebrate Vancouver’s 150th Birthday

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Invited months ago, Willie Nelson became a dark cloud hanging over plans to make the yearlong sesquicentennial anniversary a first-class event. Would he attend?

That cloud lifted Monday when Willie’s manager, Mark Rothbaum, said Willie will be in town June 30 for a concert at the Clark County Amphitheater.  As for participation in Vancouver’s celebration, “we’re working out the details,” Rothbaum said. The legendary country music star and songwriter is no stranger to Vancouver and Clark County. Plenty of activities are shaping up for this birthday year, which began Jan. 23, the date of Vancouver’s incorporation in 1857. From a few score pioneers huddled on the north bank of the Columbia River, Vancouver has blossomed into the state’s fourth-largest city, home to an estimated 170,000 residents.Those pioneers would not recognize one of the first 150th events. It’s “ ’Couv Fest,” which should be a rouser—a free concert with 10 bands at the Westfield Vancouver mall. The gig is billed as a “youth-oriented music festival.”

A sesquicentennial theme is being encouraged for the Uptown Village Festival on upper Main Street Aug. 18 and 19, Kawahara said.  Another activity in the formative stages, Kawahara said, is an old-fashioned citywide picnic Sept.1 in the park — at historic and revitalized Esther Short Park. Music and activities would be available for young and old.  A costume ball is planned Nov. 3 at the Hilton Vancouver Washington to raise funds for the Clark County Historical Museum. An exhibit already is active at the museum—“Vancouver Uncovered.” It was unveiled Feb. 23 and runs to Dec. 29. Like opening a time capsule, visitors can look at the evolvement of the city’s social and economic development over the span of a century and a half.

Let’s not forget Willie. The entertainer, a disc jockey for Vancouver radio station KVAN in the 1950s, returned to town for popular headliner performances at the Clark County Fair in 1997 and 1999.

Think of the legacy Willie could leave for Vancouver in 2007—a song written about the city, or support of a charitable program. Maybe a statue in the park.  As for showing pride, it’s about time. Vancouver has earned a joyful, rousing celebration of its many accomplishments. They range from the high-profile Historic Reserve and the national recognition it brings, to the rejuvenated Esther Short Park and developments east and west.

“We can take immense pride in our community,” said Mayor Royce Pollard. “Its past is rich in the history of the Northwest and the nation. Its future is loaded with promise and potential for the next 150 years.”

Tom Koenninger is editor emeritus of The Columbian. His column of personal opinion appears on the Other Opinions page each Wednesday. Reach him at  tom.koenninger@columbian.com.

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