Deep Roots: Reviving Music Culture in the Tri

While big talent is usually associated with big cities such as Nashville, Los Angeles, or even Seattle, many successful musicians begin their journeys in smaller cities, and Tri-Cities is a prime example. Renowned bands like Foo Fighters and The Shins have roots in the Tri-Cities, showcasing the rich musical heritage of our community. With a vibrant underground music scene, you might be surprised how far of a reach the unique sounds of Tri-Cities have spread, and what local musicians and business owners are doing to highlight this vibrant asset.

Ravadi, Billy, & Dara Quinn on Stage at The Emerald of Siam
Credit: Ryan Jackman/Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business

On some evenings at the Emerald of Siam, a family-owned Thai restaurant-turned-live-music hub in downtown Richland's Uptown Shopping Center, you might find musician Dara Quinn on stage. With her hands gracefully gliding over the piano keys, Quinn improvises alongside the variety of bands that frequent the venue. "My passion for music is satiated by having artists in every week," she shares. The joy she finds in performing live with these bands is just one of the many rewards of her role at the Emerald.

Co-owned with her brother, Billy Quinn, a talented guitarist, and bassist who often joins her on stage, the Emerald of Siam has been a part of their family since 1983 when it was first opened by their mother, Ravadi Quinn. At the time, Ravadi had envisioned the restaurant as a cultural oasis for the community—a place that introduced Thai cuisine to the area and allowed people to express themselves freely. Dara, who was just ten years old when the restaurant opened, recalls growing up in its vibrant environment.

When Ravadi retired in 2001, the siblings took over with a pivotal condition: the introduction of live music to the venue. Music had always been a central part of Dara’s life. From a young age, she exhibited a talent for the piano and clarinet, quickly becoming involved in her school's jazz band and various ensembles. By the time she was a drum major in her high school marching band, Dara knew her future lay in music.

Her pursuit of a music career took her away from the Tri-Cities to Seattle, where throughout the 1990s, she immersed herself in the local music scene, touring the West Coast with a steel drum band and her own trio. However, in 2001, the opportunity to take over her family's restaurant brought her back home. Upon returning, she was struck by the lack of a local music scene, a gap she was determined to fill. "It wasn’t my plan to open a venue. I planned to continue playing music, but there was no scene at all," Dara recalls. This realization led her to gradually transform the Emerald into a multi-genre music lounge that now serves as a vital pitstop for touring artists, particularly from Portland and Seattle.

The transition from musician to venue owner wasn't without its challenges. Dara put her recording and touring activities on pause to focus on running the restaurant. This shift allowed her to channel her passion for music into creating a vibrant venue for other artists to connect and perform. The Emerald has become known for its supportive atmosphere, with some performers returning for 10–20 years, expressing gratitude for having a place to share their art.

Despite the changes and challenges over the years, the essence of the Emerald as a cultural gem remains intact, much like Ravadi’s original vision. Dara emphasizes the importance of continuing her mother’s legacy, not just in serving Thai cuisine but in fostering a community space for cultural expression and artistic freedom. "It’s really important for me to continue [my mom’s] legacy," she states. The venue not only hosts live music but also brings the community together, offering a platform for cultural exchange and artistic expression.

The Future Has Rythm

Credit: Tri Town Get Down

The Quinn’s aren't the only people in town advocating for a more diverse and immersive music scene in the Tri-Cities. In 2023, Rays Golden Lion, an iconic venue during the heyday of Tri-Cities' 1990's underground music scene, reopened its doors after years of being shuttered. With an emphasis on revitalizing a vibrant atmosphere for both musicians and listeners alike, it offers a diverse list of performances that bring the community together. Additionally, established venues across the region, from wineries to bars, are integrating live music into their weekly schedules, expanding the opportunities for local artists to let their sound be heard.

The Tri-Cities consistently supports festivals and events each year that showcase extraordinary talent. Events like Tumbleweeds Music Festival, Live @ 5 on Fridays in the Summer, Sacajawea Bluegrass Festival, and many more are staples of our community. But it doesn't stop there. Tri Town Get Down, a sprawling music festival set to be larger than any other in Eastern Washington, debuts this year with a lineup of over 100 artists. From global sensations headlining to local artists entertaining the masses across 10+ stages. Organizers are excited about how this festival will elevate the music scene in our community.

Visit Tri-Cities is celebrating the impact that tourism has on the local economy, business owners, and lifestyle in our region.

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