MUSIC

Caballito Negro: embracing the void

Ashland-based flute and percussion duo strives to ‘connect with the world as it is’

by MATTHEW ANDREWS

I almost don’t want to tell you about Abbie Weisenbloom House in southeast Portland, where Ms. Weisenbloom has been hosting living room potluck shows for most of a decade. Like surfers and brunch enthusiasts, I don’t want to give up a sweet secret spot, lest it become overcrowded. This is, of course, an exquisitely Portlandian problem, and a bullshit one, which is why I’ve decided to tell you all about the intense, intimate concert I attended there on a dark, windy night in February. The stars of the evening: flutist Tessa Brinckman and percussionist Terry Longshore, a pair of accomplished Ashland-based musicians who compose, record and tour together as Caballito Negro.

I spoke with Brinckman and Longshore after the show, and later by phone; their answers have been edited for flow and clarity.

On “Caballito Negro” and Why They Do It

Longshore: We have played [George Crumb’s Madrigals] together with a wonderful vocalist, Christine Williams. And we found that that really spoke to us on the idea of both our modern music and our influence of musics of the world, traditional music of India, Spain, etc., and that cross-pollination of influence just there, hanging out for us to take.

Brinckman: I like also the translation: you can say “little black horse” or “little dark horse,” the English expression of being a dark horse. I like that. The idea of going where music is not nice but meaningful and necessary is something we are both quite fond of.

Longshore & Brinckman

There is always that moment, right before you’re about to go do performance and you’ve worked so hard and there is so much stuff and so many bits and pieces that can go wrong, and you think “what the hell was I thinking?” There is always that moment, and then the opposite of that is this ridiculous enthusiasm for music that is a visceral addiction. I can’t not do it.

Longshore: It’s the same thing for me. Once I started doing it, I couldn’t stop. It’s the combination of physical, mental, emotional, spiritual reward I get from doing it. And I know what it feels like when I am inspired by someone else’s art. And I always aspire to do that myself. I think some of the most rewarding things are when you know you’ve been moved by a performance you’ve given and it has moved someone. That you connected with someone at that level is a very special feeling.

Brinckman: I feel also that what we are doing is connecting with the world as it is. It’s not sticking our faces towards the wall and being separate from the world. It’s not ignoring the pain in what’s going on. And to really get mixed up in it is a worthy thing. I don’t want to be the kind of artist that is separate from it. Because I would feel ashamed. I feel a responsibility to connect with what is going on and not ignore something. So all the issues that are hot, getting hotter, there is always a way to react with it artistically.

My favorite art of anybody’s engages who we are. Using our privilege for good deeds. The good witches. Using our powers for good.

A Music Salon in Southeast Portland

An assortment of percussion instruments covered the little stage area, toy pianos and various flutes filling the rest of the space, a rug on the floor for Brinckman and Longshore to sit and play on. Chairs lined the living room, spilling over into the den, where I huddled under maps and books and tchotchkes and other souvenirs from Weisenbloom’s travels. An old upright piano anchored one wall, bookcases framed the others, a busy back kitchen buzzed with popping wine corks and potluck leftovers and audience chatter.

Upstage, the musicians were flanked by a drawing of Pan on the left and some Rothko-esque miniature to the right. Appropriate in myriad ways, that pair, Pan’s divine chthonic flute and Rothko’s divine foursquare order indicative of the Apollonian-Dionysian spirit in the house, classically trained musicians performing wildly personal intercultural modern music for a tribe of tipsy enthusiasts passing around hand-folded programs in a dimly lit living room.

It turns out Brinckman once lived in this same neighborhood, had in fact known Weisenbloom when she first turned her home into a music venue.

On Playing Weisenbloom House

Brinckman: Abbie was a neighbor of mine. I used to live right in that block. She has done an amazing job making a series of it work. She’s dedicated. She’s truly created a Parisian salon—she used to live in France, so she knows what she is doing. And she really wants to bring the world, as she says, to her house. What is beautiful about it is she gets people communing—eating and drinking—especially in the drinking before the concert, they’re in a space where they just want to connect. They’re not inhibited or wondering how comfortable they feel. They’re in it with us.

And that’s what we long for as musicians—that we’re not just kind of objects on stage. People crave things from us, demand things from us, and there is this kind of loop of energy that goes along. It’s always a competition going on with the audience, and you absolutely need that, otherwise you might as well stick on a CD and leave.

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‘Tango of the White Gardenia’: dance lessons

New Oregon opera about bullying and self-esteem premieres in Lincoln City, part of a coastal classical music surge

by GARY FERRINGTON

Although well known for its coastal attractions and the location of one of the world’s shortest rivers, Lincoln City has never been thought of as a destination for opera — let alone a world premiere. That changes this weekend when Cascadia Chamber Opera performs Southern Oregon composer Ethan Gans-Morse and librettist Tiziana DellaRovere’s two-act opera, Tango of the White Gardenia, at the vibrant Lincoln City Cultural Center on September 8-9, followed by a tour to other Oregon cities.

‘White Gardenia’ cast members perform at LCCC fundraising event. Photo: Rudy Salci.

Previously known as Cascadia Concert Opera, the recently renamed Cascadia Chamber Opera performs full-length and/or abridged operas sung in English by local and regional artists, often staged in “underserved communities using non-traditional and community-friendly venues” like schools, galleries, churches, homes and other spaces, sometimes at “little or no cost to the general public,” according to the Oregon Cultural Trust.

Gans-Morse and CCO’s co-founders Artistic Director Bereniece Jones-Centeno and Music Director Vincent Centeno have all been friends since since they were graduate students at the University of Oregon. Their shared interest in making opera accessible, affordable, approachable, relevant, and fun for audiences — particularly those whose circumstances might otherwise prevent them from enjoying opera — was an important reason that CCO, with help from an Oregon Arts Commission Career Grant, commissioned Gans-Morse and DellaRovere to compose a new opera to celebrate the non-profit organization’s 10th anniversary season.

Long time friends bring a new opera to underserved Oregon communities. From left: Centeno, Jones-Centeno, DellaRovere, Gans-Morse. Photo: Deane Ingram.

Gans-Morse and DellaRovere and their Anima Mundi Productions are best known for their first opera, Canticle of the Black Madonna, staged at Portland’s Newmark Theatre in 2014, which Oregon ArtsWatch called “one of the most exciting developments of the arts season.” This year, the Rogue Valley Symphony celebrated its 50th anniversary by commissioning the husband and wife team to compose a program symphony, How Can You Own The Sky? Both works reflect their interest in representing marginalized populations and addressing societal wounds through the creation of new works.

This time, the social challenges DellaRovere wanted to address revolved around bullying, self-esteem, and body image. And she wanted to base the opera on Argentine tango.

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Oregon Symphony 2018: bridging divides

Orchestra’s 2018 concerts, past and future, appeal to broader audiences than the stereotype suggests

by MATTHEW ANDREWS

I went and heard the oldest orchestra west of the Mississippi perform live six times during the first half of this year, from January’s Brahms v. Radiohead mashup to May’s season-closing Mahler’s Seventh Symphony. That’s more than once a month. By comparison, I have seen my favorite living rock band—Santa Cruz ikons Secret Chiefs 3—seven times ever. This regular attendance at the concerts of a single performing group is one of the things that sets classical music apart from its eternal sibling rival, popular music. You’ve got to talk to Deadheads and Phish fans to find that level of devotion in the pop world.

Zoo-bound: Conductor Carlos Kalmar with the Oregon Symphony.

I’ve come to have a few favorite OSO players. Timpanist Jon Greeney is a damn superstar, always in tune, always in rhythm, never too loud (important) but never too soft either (even more important). The cello section is anchored by a dynamite principal and assistant principal duo: Fear No Music’s Nancy Ives and Pyxis Quartet’s Marilyn de Oliveira. The brass section never fails to delight, especially the trumpet-trombone-tuba contingent, playing proudly from their risers behind the basses. I’ve come to expect something amazing from that crew every time: by turns bold and morbid in their February performance of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, gorgeously operatic all through Mahler’s Seventh Symphony in May (gotta keep up with that tenorhorn soloist!), and downright revelatory in January’s performance of the brass-heavy Rite of Spring.

3D Sound & Star Attractions

The Rite demonstrated another important aspect of the orchestral concert experience: that huge, 3-dimensional sound, vastly varied timbres emerging from all across the stage (in visually identifiable ways) as the band’s 100-odd instruments and occasional voices interweave their solos and duos and tuttis and come together for big polychoral reverberations around the concert hall’s acoustically ornate cathedral of sound. All that makes even a good home stereo system sound like a pair of crappy used earbuds from the Goodwill bins. In the Rite, the brass section’s heralds and hunting calls resounded across the orchestra, trumpets tossing their call over the strings towards the horn section, buried down behind the other winds, harrumphing out their primeval wails in response. Glorious!

And then there’s the guest stars, and I don’t just mean big name soloists like Joshua Bell (blissing out on Bernstein’s beautiful Symposium in May), Natasha Paremski (thunderingly catlike on Prokofiev’s weird, playful Piano Concerto No. 2—another one with some fantastic brassin February), and Elina Vähälä (whose heroic, melancholy performance of Bartok’s brasstastically  anti-fascist Violin Concerto No. 2 left me stirred and genuinely terrified in January).

Colin Currie and the Oregon Symphony’s percussionists teamed up in a John Corigliano piece last spring.

In April, percussion whiz and artist in residence Colin Currie returned for an amusing and impressive take on a too-long Corigliano concerto. A parade of local choirs ran all through the season, from the various impeccable groups Portland State churns out with perplexing regularity (I could listen to them sing Daphnis and Chloe forever) to emergency shelter intake form’s Chorus of Inconvenient Statistics and Maybelle Community Singers.

There’s also the extra-musical collaborations, something the OSO has gone out of its way to cultivate the last several years, culminating in grand experiences like the superprofusion of Rose Bond’s Turangalila in 2016 and Matthew Haber’s less overwhelming but still exciting video projections for the Rite.

And, of course, there’s all the popular music.

Popularity Contest: Apollo and Dionysus in the Concert Hall

Florida Man and famed humorist Dave Barry defined classical music as “music that is not popular.” It’s hard to say he’s wrong, in the sense that raving fans don’t generally scream and holler when Kalmar gets off a plane—at least not the way they do for, say, “Weird Al” Yankovic. But Kalmar does get his cheers, as does the rest of his band, every time they play, every time they come on stage, sometimes several times in one concert.

And the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall is usually packed tight with enthusiastic followers, some of them veteran audients who’ve been following the group for decades. Get there a half hour before showtime and you’ll see a line for tickets stretched up SW Broadway, scalpers and buskers animating the street, OSO’s usual mixed-income crowd of well-dressed patrons rubbing elbows with shabby college students like your humble reviewer, a general atmosphere of metropolitan congeniality, more egalitarian than most symphony orchestras.

Name another band that routinely sells out the same 2,700-seat venue, three weekend performances at a time, a couple dozen times a year, to audiences all across the various spectra of generation and gender and class and so on. They seem pretty goddamn popular to me.

At the same time, Barry (and more serious critics of the problem of classical music) has a point. It’s not just the stuffiness, perceived or otherwise; I’ll admit to belonging squarely in the “please don’t clap between movements camp” (for reasons we will come to), but that oh-so-familiar sense of shame and stifled enthusiasm can definitely make the concert hall feel a lot like the worst kind of pharisaical church service. Not a very welcoming environment, especially if you think the point of a concert is to enjoy yourself.

No, the issue is much deeper than clapping etiquette and the like: we’re deep into the Apollonian-Dionysian realm mapped by son-of-a-preacher-man Friedrich Nietzsche in his The Birth of Tragedy. The basic idea, in elevator friendly terms, is that human creativity springs from the interaction of two primary sources: the wild, earthy, chaotic Dionysian element and the formalized, transcendent, ordered Apollonian element. All the usual dichotomies can be hung on this (admittedly simplified) framework: emotion and intellect, intuition and reason, the Dog and God in Man, etc.

Carlos Kalmar conducted the Oregon Symphony’s projection-enhanced ‘Rite of Spring.’

What the hell does this mean in the real world? I’ll illustrate using the Appropriate Applause example. Part of the reason clapping between movements is frowned upon—in favor of clapping after the whole symphony is over—lies in how these two energy circuits operate. We build up a charge of Dionysian energy when we get excited, and when we get too excited that energy overflows into applause (or laughter, tears, etcetera, depending on the situation). Clapping disperses the energy, releases it, keeps it from building up.

This is where the Apollonian circuit comes in: its function is to keep us focused on the excitement, to keep it contained, to organize it, to let it build up. The more you can exercise your Apollo spirit, the more you can expand your Dionysus consciousness; the restraints of reason and concentration allow you to stoke that fire even hotter before letting it tip over the horizon of experience to set your soul ablaze with ecstatic delirium. That’s one of the secrets behind all this long-form classical stuff, from well before Bach to well after Wagner: we classical enthusiasts train ourselves to experience this exquisitely elongated art form precisely because of its massive payoff.

Of course, I’m not saying you shouldn’t clap when you want to. Haydn wanted you to clap, and so did Mozart. I clapped all the way through that technicolor Turangalila last year, because it was that kind of show (I also wanted to see how many times we could get Carlos to shush us with his hair). Clap whenever the hell you like, and if anyone judges you for it I’ll fight them in the park out back. I only wish to draw attention to the different modes of consciousness available to us in varied settings.

Messiaen Plus: “Turangalila” with Rose Bond’s projections. Photo: Jacob Wade

For example, it’s revealing that we music enthusiasts typically sit down at classical concerts and stand up at pop shows. This has become institutionalized: there are chairs in the Schnitz, even when we don’t want them (the seats were, for instance, a definite handicap at last year’s Black Violin concert). This is a result of—and, conversely, a contributing factor to—our habit of rarely listening to the two art forms in anything like the same way.

There’s something to that, of course. We sit at classical concerts for the same reason we sit when we meditate or drop acid: the experience is too intense to let physical concerns impede what is fundamentally an internal process. Classical music is not a party drug, at least not most of the time.

And the opposite is generally true at pop concerts: we drink our little drinks, we smoke our little smokes, and we stand up and shake our assess in order to partake of the music’s Dionysian physicality, to participate in the orgiastic ritual of spectacle and celebration. To sit down in this space is unusual, heretical, spoilersporty. To breach the etiquette of either situation is to disrupt the ritual. Try dancing during the Rite of Spring, if you dare. Try sitting down next time you’re at Dante’s for a metal show.

But maybe we should be dancing to the Rite of Spring. One of the things I like most about OSO is how good they are at problematizing and bridging this whole questionable divide. And it’s a good thing they do: for the last few decades, symphony orchestras have been partnering with film composers, pop bands, puppeteers, playwrights, video game makers, and so on, all in a so-far-successful attempt to stay relevant and thus alive. The OSO excels at this, last year bringing in the likes of Rick Springfield and Johnny Mathis (I skipped both of those, sorry) and performing pop-classical mashups like Steve Hackman’s overtly syncretic and totally satisfying Brahms v. Radiohead (omfug there’s a Bartók v. Björk) and Gabriel Kahane’s considerably more organic emergency shelter intake form.

Steve Hackman led the OSO in ‘Brahms vs. Radiohead.’

At all these concerts it’s perfectly acceptable, even encouraged, to clap and laugh and sing, to stand or move around, to dance in the aisles if the ushers are hip enough to partner with you. One charming aspect of a group like ARCO-PDX: when they play Fratres in a bar instead of Lincoln Hall, no one cares if you sing along. Frankly I’d like to see a little more of this at the symphony.

Coming Soon

This weekend, the orchestra puts on a Boston Pops Orchestra style concert, playing popular selections by Wagner, Bizet, Gershwin, Tchaikovsky, Williams, and a few others at the Oregon Zoo; next weekend they’re back at the Schnitz playing, at long last, the first, the original, Star Wars.

Renée Fleming joins the Oregon Symphony for its opening night concert.

The season to come promises more of the same. Renée Fleming will be here for opening night later this month, singing her usual assortment of hits and classics along with Letters from Georgia, a setting of Georgia O’Keeffe letters by Pulitzer-winning composer Kevin Puts. Then it’s Brahms again, straddling September and October, bracketed by Copland’s obligingly jazzy Piano Concerto, another of Haydn’s million symphonies (which, admittedly, the OSO always plays with wit and elegance, as evidenced on last year’s recording), and—be still my heart!—a premiere of another new work, this one by a composer younger than I am, Katherine Balch.

Karen Gomyo plays Sibelius with the OSO this fall.

I’ll probably go check out the Star Trek concert in October, even though I prefer a lightsaber to a phaser, and I’ll almost certainly go check out former Contemporary Christian Music singer Tony Vincent performing a bunch of orchestrated U2 songs (I haven’t heard Vincent perform live since I saw him open for Newsboys in 1995).

I will definitely be there later in October to hear Karen Gomyo perform the Sibelius Violin Concerto, although I have to admit I’m more excited about the pair of short pieces by Polish composers (Kilar, Lutosławski) and the prospect of hearing that magnificent brass section play Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 9.

October closes with more Tchaikovsky and another monosyllabically titled Andrew Norman concerto, this one composed for a more familiar percussion instrument—the piano. After that we’re into November’s SoundStories Petrushka puppet show and the return of Hackman with Tchaikovsky v. Drake—but that’s a story for another time.

Matthew Neil Andrews is a composer, singer, percussionist, and editor of Subito at Portland State University, and serves on the board of Cascadia Composers. He and his music can be reached at monogeite.bandcamp.com.

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Want to learn more about contemporary Oregon classical music? Check out Oregon ComposersWatch.

Chamber Music Northwest: risk-taking redeemed

This summer’s festival, like last year’s, shows a classical music organization refreshing itself with new performers and new music

One day about four years ago, recently installed Chamber Music Northwest executive director Peter Bilotta was chatting with a major donor to Portland’s annual summer classical music festival. The funder “called us ‘musty,’” Bilotta recalls. “I decided this art form is alive, not musty — and we’ll prove it to you.”

This year’s five-week edition, which ended July 29, revealed a festival that has shaken off the mustiness. Bristling with listener-friendly new music, fresh young performers and diverse older ones, CMNW has managed to pull off this stealth reinvention while also holding on to most of its aging core audience, its renowned longtime performers, and a healthy dose of core classics.

Bright Sheng’s ‘The Silver River’ finally debuted at Chamber Music Northwest this summer. Photo: Tom Emerson.

For most of the years since its founding in 1970 as relatively cozy event at Reed College, CMNW has operated as West Coast summer outpost for musicians from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, which long time CMNW artistic director David Shifrin long ran. It added a second venue at tony Catlin Gabel school and mostly focused on core classics and a commissioned work or two each year, often from de facto house composer David Schiff, a Reed prof.

But new music and new performers have lately played a much greater role. “I felt one thing holding us back was being too cautious about the canon,” Shifrin recalls. When the affable visionary Bilotta arrived in 2013, he found an eager partner. They introduced innovations that have reinvigorated the festival: Protege Project, Casual Wednesdays, a new music commissioning fund (which Shifrin actually created earlier but gained traction only after the recession), more outreach programs, a weekly noon new music series, year-round programming, and more. Together, Bilotta says, “we decided it’s time to start shaking things up, taking more risks. We decided we were comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

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MusicWatch Weekly: something in the water

It may be a short dry spell for Oregon music, but there’s liquid relief in sight from Bridgetown Orchestra, plus outdoor shows by Oregon Symphony, Hunter Noack and more

We Oregonians can’t wait to for summer, and then when it gets here, we kvetch — the heat! The smoke! The kids underfoot! Not enough concerts! Wait, that hasn’t been true for awhile. But school’s back, for some, the heat wave is broken, the smoke is starting to recede (digits intertwined), and both classical music and liquid refreshment is on the way!

‘On Being Water’ splashes down at The Vault Thursday through Saturday.

Not rain, mind you, but Bridgetown Orchestra’s On Being Water, which runs Friday and Saturday at the Vault Theater in Hillsboro. (Note: Thursday’s performance has been canceled due to a tech fail. Such is the price of making art on the bleeding edge.) It’s the latest multimedia project by composer/wannabe astronaut/theater artist and Bridgetown Artistic Director Tylor Neist, whom you remember from 2016’s ambitious The Overview Effect, which sent audiences on a musical/theatrical journey through inner and outer space.

Neist in ‘The Overview Effect.’

This time, Neist splashes down at Hillsboro’s new black box theater space, and takes advantage of its state of the art lighting and other tech. In exploring society’s mythic relationship to H2O,
On Being Water immerses the audience in imagery and his original music for live string quartet, which, according to his press release, “resonate[s] through 32 speakers dispersed over 4 floor-to-ceiling projection surfaces, creating a dynamic, 3-D sound spatialization [as] he manipulates the individual string lines on multiple axes in real time for total control, making possible all kinds of extraordinary ‘sound bath’ effects, such as sunrises and sunsets of music.”

As with Overview, Water features visual design by Benjamin Read, creative director at Redhaus Design. Stay tuned for Matthew Andrews’s ArtsWatch review.

Meanwhile, you can read his ArtsWatch review/preview of Friday’s Oregon Symphony reprise performance and recording of Gabriel Kahane’s Emergency Shelter Intake Form.

Part of the set for ‘On Being Water’

Speaking of the OSO, the next day, the orchestra moves the annual unofficial opening of Portland’s classical music season to the Oregon Zoo. Nevertheless, Oregon Symphony at the Zoo keeps the popular format, including Greatest Classical Hits by Richard Wagner, Bizet (Carmen) Gershwin (An American in Paris) and more, including the over-the-top finale, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture — but with bass drums replacing the usual howitzers. No wants an elephant stampede. And no, Carnival of the Animals isn’t on the program.

The Oregon Symphony performs at the Oregon Zoo Saturday.

In a Landscape, Portland pianist Hunter Noack’s itinerant show that takes his classical and contemporary music performances to some of the Northwest’s most beautiful spaces, alights upon Lewis & Clark Timberlands above Cannon Beach Saturday, then Hillsboro’s Orenco Woods Nature Park Sunday, Stoller Family Estate Monday, and Smith Rock State Park next Wednesday.

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Gabriel Kahane’s new oratorio confronts America’s empathy deficit

Commissioned, performed and recorded this week by the Oregon Symphony, 'emergency shelter intake form' humanizes homelessness

Interview by MATTHEW ANDREWS

Since attending its premiere in May, I’ve been thinking a lot about Gabriel Kahane’s latest pop-classical whatsit—not the album that came out last Friday, though we’ll get to that when he returns next year, but his emergency shelter intake form, which the Oregon Symphony performs for the fourth time this year at Friday’s live recording project. (Get your tickets now!) It was also performed last month at Jacksonville’s Britt Festival, which co-commissioned it with the OSO.

The oratorio, I’ve come to realize, is largely a story—told from several angles—about the experience and impact of becoming homeless, a story about how society frames (and thereby misunderstands) the homeless experience, and a story of how we as a society can understand and begin to heal the broken systems of inequality that cause America’s continuing housing and homelessness crises. It is also, incidentally, a very fine orchestral song cycle, in the BrittenBernstein tradition.

Gabriel Kahane performs in his ’emergency shelter intake form’ with the Oregon Symphony./Photo by Yi Yin

We cannot overstate the impact of the juxtaposition between the glorious Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, on Southwest Broadway where the Symphony performs, and the South Park Blocks behind it, often populated by people experiencing the sort of unsheltered homelessness which dominates our attention on the subjects Kahane’s song cycle addresses. Kahane was, of course, well aware of all this, and initially hesitated to take on the project — a co-commission from the Oregon Symphony, part of a series purporting to address pressing social issues — at all. Once he did, he worked at a Manhattan shelter for six months—SOP for Kahane, whose latest album emerged from a similarly immersive experience interviewing fellow Amtrak riders over the course of some two weeks on dining cars.

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Walnut City Music Festival closes out summer on a high note

Six years ago, a newspaper editor decided his hometown of McMinnville needed an indie, folk, rock festival to call its own. Now bands are calling him.

It’s probably not accurate to say that Yamhill County is in the midst of a “renaissance” of live entertainment, because definitions of the word (beyond the obvious historical reference to Europe in the 1300-1600s) typically rely on synonyms like “renewal,” “rebirth,” “revival” — implying a thriving cultural scene that vanished.

But it’s surely a healthy measure of the area’s cultural growth that in the past eight years, three successful summer music festivals have been launched and appear fixed to stay. Opera-centric Aquilon roared to life this summer (and has already held some encore performances) and Wildwood MusicFest in Willamina has been going since 2011.

That leaves the Walnut City Music Festival, a two-day late-summer blast of indie, folk and pop rock, to close out Oregon’s smoky August in the heart of wine country. The sixth annual family-friendly party begins Friday in McMinnville’s Lower City Park, at the west end of the restaurant-packed downtown district just beyond the library.

Ossie Bladine, founder and organizer of the Walnut City
Music Festival, says the event fits into a plan to develop a larger music venue in McMinnville. Photo courtesy: Walnut City Music Festival.

The festival was founded in 2013 by Ossie Bladine, and here we must pause for a moment of disclosure: My orbit intersected with Ossie’s when he was in high school in the late 1990s. I’d come to work at the local newspaper owned by his family, and he was in the office regularly along with his sister, Chelsey. In 2014, 29-year-old Ossie became editor of the News-Register, taking over from his father, Jeb, and representing the fourth generation of the Bladine family to run McMinnville’s locally owned newspaper.

Given that I freelance for the News-Register, this article puts me in the unusual position of writing about someone who signs my paycheck. Rest assured, it’s not an effort to curry favor with my editor by featuring his festival at the top of the column this week; on the final weekend of summer vacation, it’s unquestionably the hottest ticket in town.

The festival started with a literal bang six years ago. Many bangs, in fact. The Hill Dogs were playing in the Granary District when it happened: A thunderstorm worthy of an over-produced King Lear landed right on top of the stage. Bladine explained:

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