American River Confluence Fest out to save Auburn’s river of dreams

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
-A +A
Artists are inspired by it. Everyone from runners to hikers to kayakers are moved by it. And on Sunday, Auburn will celebrate it. The American River Confluence Festival – a big-picture celebration of the river that flows near Auburn and the canyon that borders it – will fill up Overlook Park on Auburn’s Pacific Avenue with booths, activities and entertainment with a message. It’s a message of protecting an area that’s both fragile and powerful, supporters say. Mary Youngblood, Grammy-Award-winning Native American cedar flute player from Fair Oaks, will be performing at the festival. She was at the first, when issues about the possibility of building an Auburn dam in the canyon were at the forefront. Youngblood said she sees what’s happening now with the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and can look back to the Exxon Valdez spill of 20 years ago in Alaska to know that sensitive ecosystems can be damaged in a heartbeat. Before the acclaim, awards and even before she had released a CD, Youngblood performed for free at the first Confluence Festival in 1991. She’s back again, with the passion intact, still playing for free to spread the message. “These kind of impacts on the environment are horrific,” Youngblood said. “It’s about protecting our Mother Earth and I’m honored to be part of it.” Auburn glass sculptor Deanna Marsh takes much of her inspiration from the canyon she rides horses and hikes with her family in and the river where she kayaks. That inspiration comes out in her shimmering, kiln-formed glass sculptures – including one titled “Spring Flow” that will be auctioned off at the festival to help raise funds for Protect American River Canyons. Marsh, whose works are collected nationally and internationally, said the river – like artwork – is never the same twice. “Spring Flow” encourages viewers to look more closely at the ever-shifting detail in the canyon, she said. “It’s appreciating what we have in our own backyard,” Marsh said. “The sculpture is of a section of river and we all look at sections – from the state of California looking to divide it up, dam it and make money, to kayakers studying a section to navigate, to property owners looking at their section of view. It’s also about combining the section to look at the big picture because that’s critical for maintaining and preserving the area.” “Spring Flow” proceeds will help the non-profit PARC group with conservation, educational and recreation programs, including its regular river cleanups. A similar work the same size sold on the Autumn Art Tour for $775. The silent auction is Saturday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., also includes an inflatable kayak and recreational gear. Auburn’s Eric Peach, PARC board member and festival organizer, said the first festival was based around stopping the Auburn dam. But with that project pushed to the background primarily by government indifference and financial concerns, the defining issue this year is the threat of recreational closures due to lack of federal funding. “We can focus community attention to the needs of the Auburn State Recreation Area,” Peach said. “That message is, ‘Don’t ask what the river can do for you, ask what you can do for the river.’” At risk of turning the Confuence Festival into a frown fest with the seriousness of the cause, the Sunday program is also about family friendly fun, Peach said. With that in mind, there will be nature, art and canyon recreational activities, a rock-climbing wall, more than 40 information booths and vendors providing food and crafts. Sharing the stage with Youngblood – but not necessarily at the same time – will be a recycled fashion show, jugglers, wild animals, a swing jazz band, a clogging troupe and belly dancers. Gordy Ainsleigh, a pioneer ultra-endurance runner from Meadow Vista, has organized a beer and wine tasting event to coincide with the silent auction Saturday. Ainsleigh said he’s excited about a tasting that has the quality of wine from local vintners that could make it the premier tasting in the Sierra Foothills. “I know good wine and this is some of the best,” Ainsleigh said. Seven local wineries and the Sierra Nevada brewery are taking part in a tasting that will be available to the 21-and-over crowd for a small donation. Also on tap at the silent auction will be swing-jazz music, films of the American River and light cuisine. Ainsleigh also has high hopes for the canyon as a recreational Mecca. “The thing that’s good about Auburn is it’s an active recreation area,” he said. “And when fully developed, I truly believe the canyon will pass Folsom State Recreation Area in the number of visits.” Rafting trips with experts onboard to discuss river-canyon ecology and Gold Rush history are also slated for Saturday as part of weekend Confluence Festival activities. ------------------------------ American River Confluence Festival When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday Where: Overlook Park, Pacific Avenue, Auburn Admission: Free For more information and a schedule of events, visit or contact (530) 887-9314.