For a town of over 300,000 people (larger than Salt Lake City, Buffalo, St Louis, Boise, Spokane, and many ‘mid-market’ cities), there sure wasn't a lot to do in Tri-Cities growing up. Despite its size, the area was — and remains — notorious for having a small-town mentality when it comes to entertainment. However, in the mid to late 1990s, we had a large emerging music scene, spearheaded by Ray’s Golden Lion. In the 2000s–2010s, this scene came to a near extinction level. Beyond background music at wineries, there was next to no music in our ‘small’ town.
Since the end of the COVID-19 lockdown, the Tri-Cities region has been undergoing a remarkable transformation, ushering in a golden era of music for our scene. There seems to be a shift in Tri-Cities, centering around Uptown Richland. Whether it be the plans of businesses such as Daisy Ranch and The Emerald of Siam, the reopening of Ray's Golden Lion, or the emergence of the Tri Town Get Down music festival, we seem to be entering a golden era of music our three cities have never seen before.
Entertainment in Growing Cities
To understand the lack of entertainment options in Tri-Cities, one must delve into its history. The region's primary purpose for existence was related to the Manhattan Project and the production of plutonium for World War II. Richland was built to support these endeavors, with its alphabetically numbered homes designed to house the scientists and engineers of the project. The Uptown Shopping Center, which was the area's first shopping center, even featured a soda fountain where scientists and families could socialize. Before the Manhattan Project, Tri-Cities was primarily a farming community with limited attractions. The historical context explains why the region's entertainment landscape was underdeveloped for many years — we were meant to be a temporary community.
What many didn’t anticipate was the decades-long cleanup issue that became the Hanford Nuclear Site. The changing needs of Hanford would create a massive and unexpected economy, along with the cottage industries to support this economy such as grocery stores, hardware stores, and schools. This cleanup has become the center of our three cities and brought thousands to the region in the decades following the conclusion of World War II.
Growing up in Tri-Cities, many residents can attest to the city's reputation as a "no fun" and "nothing to do” town. For years, the available entertainment options were limited to activities like visiting Target, driving through Columbia Park, or partaking in various forms of substance abuse. The drastic lack of entertainment options left the residents yearning for more. Small towns typically turn into cities after the development of a general store, butcher, school, hospital, fire department, more than one sheriff, and a town hall. They may feature a mom-and-pop restaurant, and these towns often thrive off their high school sports teams and local watering holes for entertainment. As the population grows, small towns often start seeing chains like Walmart and McDonald’s. Once basic necessities such as food, shelter, and water supplies are met, a town starts to develop a need for something to do besides farm, drink, or watch high school football. This is where the need for entertainment starts to grow, and basic entertainment hubs start popping up, such as bowling alleys, movie theaters, casinos, and maybe even a dance club.
Tri-Cities found itself stuck in this area of development for decades. If you were born prior to 2006, you know that — aside from the ‘all ages show’ scene — you had the options on the weekend of seeing a movie, going bowling, or going to the park if you were under 21. Once a city passes this phase of economic development, this is often where a need for live music and more niche entertainment arrives. Uptown and Old Richland remain the places to discover these niches, with the resurgence of Ray’s Golden Lion, front and center.
The Uptown leads the way
A truly massive step in Tri-Cities' entertainment revival was the establishment of The Emerald of Siam as not just a Thai restaurant, but a music venue. This, alongside the revival of Ray's Golden Lion in Uptown Richland, made The Uptown a music hub, and the first multi-music venue area in Tri-Cities. The Uptown Theatre has also seen an increase in events of all kinds, with notable acts such as Afroman, Steve Hoffstetter, and Shaggy2Dope appearing at the venue in 2023.
Talon Jager and Andrew McVay, the new owners of Ray’s Golden Lion, embarked on a mission to resurrect the beloved establishment, which had closed its doors back in 2015 after the death of Ray himself. They encountered a significant setback when a burst pipe and leaky gas line forced them to delay their grand reopening plans in September.
You can read more about Ray’s Golden Lion in “Ray’s returns.”
Jager and McVay’s determination and commitment to the project are unwavering. Ray's Golden Lion is poised to return as an emblem of the Tri-Cities' evolving entertainment scene. The owners have invested substantial resources, with renovations that include new kitchen equipment, stage gear, and extensive cleaning. The Chinese and Mongolian cuisine will be replaced with American Gastropub food created by the same chefs as Richland’s Stick+Stone Pizza. The Tri-Cities community has rallied around Ray's Golden Lion, with a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds for the gas pipe repairs and kitchen restocking. Local establishments like the Emerald of Siam Thai Restaurant and Lounge have hosted benefit events to support the venue’s resurgence.
The Emerald of Siam, a long-standing Thai restaurant in Richland, has played a pivotal role in nurturing the cultural and entertainment scene in Tri-Cities. Founded in 1983 by Ravadi Quinn, the restaurant not only introduced exotic flavors to the area but also became a center for live music and art. Ravadi's vision was to create a welcoming place for people to experience new tastes and cultures. The Emerald evolved when taken over by community pillar Dara Quinn roughly ten years ago, offering a blend of culinary experiences, live music, and occasional art exhibitions. In its 40 years, the Emerald has grown beyond being just a restaurant. It has become a cultural hub, offering a diverse array of live music performances, art displays, and cultural events. The Emerald of Siam has also been instrumental in fostering a sense of community and acceptance, with customers referring to it as an extension of their own family.
The Tri Town Get Down Music Festival (previously the Uptown Get Down Music Festival) has played and will continue to play a pivotal role in reshaping Tri-Cities' entertainment landscape. In its inaugural year, the festival achieved remarkable success, injecting over $100,000 into the local economy in a single day. The festival's success and the subsequent growth in popularity have led to its expansion and rebranding as the Tri Town Get Down, reaching out to areas far beyond the Uptown.
In 2024, the festival will feature around 100 artists across ten stages in Richland, allowing attendees to customize their experience by hopping from venue to venue. In addition to live music, the festival will incorporate mini-festivals known as fusions. These fusions represent the diverse cultural elements of Tri-Cities and include Latin Fusion, Farmers Fusion, STEM Fusion, Food Fusion, and Ferment Fusion. Some of these fusions will be free to enter, emphasizing the festival's mission to be inclusive and welcoming to people of all backgrounds. The event's organizers aspire to make the Tri Town Get Down the biggest music festival in the state, utilizing larger venues, headliners, fusions, and accommodating more local and global talent.
You can read more about the festival in “Tri Town Get Down.”
Tri-Cities, Washington is undoubtedly entering a golden era of entertainment. With the revival of Ray's Golden Lion, the continued success of the Emerald of Siam, and the emergence of the Tri Town Get Down music festival, the cultural landscape of the region is evolving rapidly. The community's support, dedication, and enthusiasm for these entertainment ventures underscore the desire for more diverse and engaging activities in Tri-Cities. As these initiatives continue to flourish, residents and visitors alike can look forward to a future filled with vibrant music, diverse cuisine, and a rich cultural tapestry in this once under-appreciated town.