YAMHILL

Jerome Blankenship: ‘I catered my life to fit into music’

The founder of Ships to Roam, which opens McMinnville's Walnut City Music Festival on Friday, says his musical influences range from yodelers to grunge

We’ve arrived at summer’s end and Labor Day draws near, which means the Walnut City Music Festival is primed for launch this weekend.

The seventh-annual family-friendly musical event fills two days with a blast of indie, folk, and pop rock in McMinnville’s Lower City Park, at the west end of the restaurant- and tasting-room-packed downtown. Ossie Bladine started the event with just a few bands in 2013 in the Granary District at the other end of town. Since then, it has evolved into something more substantial.  Audiences can fill up on a dozen bands, both local and out-of-state. It’s a lawn-chairs-and-blankets affair, with kids 12 and under admitted free. Food carts (which in McMinnville is, increasingly, a thing) will be nearby, ready to serve. Tickets for adults are $25 and $35. Be sure to check the website for details on what you can and can’t bring.

It begins at 4:30 p.m. Friday with the homegrown Ships to Roam, which cites among its influences Rogue Wave, Old ‘97s, The War on Drugs, and the Jayhawks. I sat down recently with the band’s founder, Jerome Blankenship, to talk about his life and work. He’s a 1999 graduate of Yamhill-Carlton High School who went on to study music in Portland before hitting the road with a punk band. Along the way, he married and had children, and even gave up music for a while until he had an epiphany: “Rather than having music fit into my life,” he said, “I catered my life to fit into music.”

The following interview was edited for length and clarity.

How did you first encounter music?

Jerome Blankenship: I grew up in a musical family, some of them Irish-American immigrants. On my mom’s side, it was people from Oklahoma who used to yodel competitively. [Blues guitarist] Roy Buchanan is a distant relative, so it’s in my blood. My uncles and cousins had a band in the 1970s and 1980s, and they toured around the Northwest. So at family get-togethers, there were always 10 guitars, a bass, and an accordion, and sometimes even a flute. It got pretty interesting. The people I looked up to all played music, and that’s going to plant a seed.

As you saw all this going on, did you want to sing or play?

I remember having a little-kid guitar and just letting my imagination go. I always wanted to be a bass player because four strings was easier to master than six, and that was the route I took by the time I was 11. Uncles gave me pointers, but then my dad got me lessons in junior high. I took lessons for two or three years, and [the instructor] said, “I can’t teach you anything else.”

Did it come easily?

Not the music theory part. I still struggle with that. As an ear musician, I’ve always been pretty good, being able to pick out where we’re at in the song and how to key things in. But I definitely knew at a young age that I wanted to be a part of it.

What about influences outside your family? What musical cultures were you tuned into?

Growing up, the big thing was grunge. I’d been to a couple concerts when I was younger, but it was everything from Christian rock to bluegrass. I started really going to shows in high school, and that was during the grunge and punk era. Punk was still happening in the ‘90s. Idolizing bands like Soundgarden, Pearl Jam. Nirvana, of course. The Seattle scene was going to inspire anybody. It wasn’t just a music thing. It was like, it’s cool to feel depressed and wear flannel and grow your hair long and not do well in school. It was fashionable.

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‘Art Cubed’ evolves from squares to another dimension

Sculptural work is the focus of this year's art-auction fundraiser for the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg

The title of the latest exhibit at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg is misleading, but there’s an explanation why Art Cubed contains little resembling so much as a single square other than the stands displaying the art itself.

For the past eight years, the center’s annual art-auction fundraiser has offered a collection of 12-by-12-inch paintings donated by area artists. This year, the center is shaking things up.

The three-dimensional art works in the "Art Cubed" show at the Chehalem Cultural Center will be auctioned off Sept. 7.
The three-dimensional art works in the “Art Cubed” show at the Chehalem Cultural Center will be auctioned off Sept. 7 in an invitation-only fundraiser for the center. Photo by: David Bates

“I decided we should take the art into the third dimension and focus on sculptural pieces instead of flat work,” said Carissa Smith-Burkett, the center’s curator and arts program manager. “This is to diversify the type of work that is being auctioned off, but also to reach different artists who have not had an opportunity to donate in the past.”

Hence, Art Squared became Art Cubed.

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Local literary talent blooms in ‘Paper Gardens 2019’

More than 50 Yamhill County writers of poetry and prose are featured in the collection that recently hit bookstore and library shelves

Over the past couple of decades, Yamhill County writers and arts advocates have developed an infrastructure to assist their own, and the most visible of those efforts — a published volume of local prose and poetry — recently hit the shelves in libraries and bookstores.

Paper Gardens 2019 is a 116-page collection featuring work by more than 50 writers of all ages. They were among hundreds who submitted work in the categories of traditional poetry, free verse, haiku, fiction, and nonfiction. Two professional judges (one for poetry, one for prose) narrowed the field, and the book featuring their selections was released at a ceremony at the Chehalem Cultural Center earlier this year.

More so than live theater, music, or visual art, a region’s literary scene can be tough to track. The work is produced largely in isolation, often by those who are disinclined to call attention to themselves, and only a few of whom reach a level where the resources of a major publisher or magazine are brought to bear in nudging an author’s work into full public view.

The Arts Alliance of Yamhill County has published Paper Gardens 2019, featuring the prose and verse of more than 50 Yamhill County residents. The cover art is by Jeanne Cuddeford.
The Arts Alliance of Yamhill County has published “Paper Gardens 2019,” featuring the prose and verse of more than 50 Yamhill County residents. The cover art is by Jeanne Cuddeford. Photo by: David Bates

Paper Gardens, sponsored by the Arts Alliance of Yamhill County and made possible with sponsorships by McMinnville Kiwanis and McMinnville Noon Rotary, has (with other events) helped raise the visibility of such writers.

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Music in the wineries: a fine pairing

Old world and new meet and match in a rare and heady balance as the Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival uncorks its fourth vintage

Good wine is a natural companion to great music, perhaps better than strawberries and cream in Oregon’s midsummer. In pairing the two, the old world meets the new, and each enhances the other, says Leo Eguchi, co-founder of August’s Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival. 

A cellist and wine collector, Eguchi explains how the alchemy works: “In the summer of 1890, an aging Johannes Brahms felt that he had one last mountain to summit, and it was a big one. He sat down to write one final piece before retirement, and he poured in everything left to say. The resulting work, the String Quintet in G Major, opus 111, demonstrates a perspective that only an aging master can provide: exuberant joy, mournful tragedy, love lost and won … in short, a life complete and well-lived.”  

(As it turned out, the piece wasn’t Brahms’ swansong.)

Festival founders Sasha Callahan and Leo Eguchi at J. Christopher Wines in Newberg. Photo: Kelly Stewart

The vintage that partners with Brahms’ piece during the first festival weekend, Eguchi explains, is “restrained or extravagant. Archery Summit’s 2016 Red Hills Vineyard Pinot Noir has a depth and balance to accompany the string quintet. Ripe cherry and roasted tea flavors mirror the music’s surprise turns from major to minor, and the wine strikingly shows the same warm richness that can only be the voice of Brahms, deepened even further in the mid-range by this quintet’s additional (extra) viola.”

Give it a whirl!

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Arden Forest comes to Yamhill County

And just to the south, you'll find Elsinore, as a Bard-filled weekend offers outdoor productions of "As You Like It" and "Hamlet"

Before we get to this week’s most exciting theater opening — an open-air production of As You Like It — let’s quickly cast our gaze just south of Yamhill County, where an intriguing Hamlet will be found. 

Western Oregon University keeps Shakespeare alive in the summer with free outdoor productions by its Valley Shakespeare Company. This year, WOU’s David Janoviak is directing Hamlet on the campus’s outdoor Leinwand stage. Valley Shakespeare shows offer a mix of student, faculty, community, and professional guest artists.

Janelle Rae plays Hamlet in Valley Shakespeare Company’s Asian-influenced take on Shakespeare’s tragedy.  Final performances are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Photo by: Ray Finnell
Janelle Rae plays Hamlet in Valley Shakespeare Company’s Asian-influenced take on Shakespeare’s tragedy. Final performances are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Photo by: Ray Finnell, courtesy Valley Shakespeare Company

This is Janoviak’s fifth Hamlet. He’s played the Prince of Denmark twice, both in school and professionally, and he’s played Laertes twice, for professional companies in Utah and Texas. For this Hamlet, he’s going with a 2017 WOU graduate in the lead, Janelle Rae, who uses the pronouns they/them.

“Someone once said that you don’t simply decide to do Hamlet and then hold auditions to cast the title role,” he said. “You discover the actor first and then take on the project.  That was the case with Janelle.” The fact that Rae is female, he said, didn’t really cross his mind.

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‘The Graduate’ on the edge

The #MeToo movement raises challenges for Gallery Theater's production of the 1960s tale of seduction and the American dream

The hottest theater ticket in Yamhill County this week is unquestionably at Gallery Players of Oregon in McMinnville, where a three-week run of The Graduate (yes, that Graduate) opens Friday.

Terry Johnson’s adaptation of Charles Webb’s novel (which became an award-winning film starring Dustin Hoffman) will be performed in the Arena, the smaller of Gallery’s two stages with seating for about 80. Inside the company, it’s known as a venue for Gallery’s edgy productions — plays that might offend, or lesser known plays not expected to draw an audience that would fill the main, 236-seat auditorium. Given that The Graduate’s most popular incarnation is more than 40 years old, the play may be relatively obscure. Given the subject matter (an explicitly rendered, sexually charged extramarital affair), it also falls into edgy territory for Yamhill County audiences.

Benjamin Braddock (John Davis Jr.) decides to follow the lead of Mrs. Robinson (Holly Spencer) in Gallery Theater's production of “The Graduate,” which opens Friday, July 26, in McMinnville. Photo by: EKay Media, courtesy Gallery Theater
Benjamin Braddock (John Davis Jr.) decides to follow the lead of Mrs. Robinson (Holly Spencer) in Gallery Theater’s production of “The Graduate,” which opens Friday, July 26, in McMinnville. Photo by: EKay Media, courtesy Gallery Theater

Based on what I’ve seen and what I’ve heard from other actors, Arena shows have drawn larger audiences in recent years. One hopes that The Graduate does as well, for here is an opportunity for audiences to see the artistic alchemy that can happen when a talented and seasoned actor takes a spin in the director’s chair.

Having been involved with Gallery since the late 1990s, I’ve known some people involved in the production for years and in a couple of cases have worked with them on stage. Surprisingly, I’d never spoken with the director until we sat down to chat about this show.

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Envisioning the human body — and life itself

Artists Tammy Jo Wilson and Amanda Triplett explore the beauty and metamorphosis of the organic form in a show at the Chehalem Cultural Center

Biological Dissonance, a collection of paintings and sculpture by Portland-area artists Tammy Jo Wilson and Amanda Triplett, is the newest exhibit to take up residence in the Chehalem Cultural Center’s largest gallery. While I was visiting it recently, two other names came to mind: David Cronenberg and Russian art critic Aleksandr Voronsky.

The former, of course, is the Canadian filmmaker who in 1986 gave us a gruesome remake of The Fly and is best known as a pioneer in so-called “body horror” cinema. The lesser known Voronsky wrote in the early 20th-century that art — all art — is, to varying degrees, the “cognition of life” itself.

To cite Cronenberg is perhaps unfair, as there’s nothing in the Newberg-based gallery that is extreme or gross, nothing for shock value, nothing that would be obviously at home in one of his stomach-churning films (although a couple of blob-like textile sculptures, which are beautiful, come close). The key parallel is artistic focus: a sustained and deeply considered exploration of the human body — from the recognizable shape of a single form all the way down to a hair, or even the follicle that contains it. Or an ovum. Life itself.

“Plasmic,” by Amanda Triplett (fiber installation from salvaged textiles, 12 by 60 by 16 inches, 2019) and (in the background) “Bare Bones,” by Tammy Jo Wilson (encaustic on panel, 18 by 24 inches, 2017). Photo by: David Bates
“Plasmic,” by Amanda Triplett (2019, fiber installation from salvaged textiles, 12 x 60 x 16 inches) and (in the background) “Bare Bones,” by Tammy Jo Wilson (2017, encaustic on panel, 18 x 24 inches). Photo by: David Bates

The show is described by Chehalem’s curators as “an exhibition about the irrepressible metamorphosis of the human body and beauty within the organic form.”

According to the statement, Wilson and Triplett “blend their creative expressions in this compelling and tactile exhibit about the biological body, through works of encaustics, paintings, prints, fiber and textile installations. Pairing together their individual approaches to process and medium, they build a visual dialogue expressing the visceral nature of the vessels to which all humans are confined and examining the relationship between flesh and bone; and society, cultural experience and self-awareness.”

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