Oregon Cultural Trust

In McMinnville, Keynote Concerts add to the growing musical mix

Jazz, string quartet, rock violin and more set the rhythm for the new festival in a music-happy town. Next up, March 20: Peter Eldridge of New York Voices.


Hit Machine's Bart Hafeman (left) and Clark Bondy on the sax performing in February at First Baptist Church for the Keynote Concert Series. Photo: Anthony Libonati
Hit Machine’s Bart Hafeman (left) and Clark Bondy on sax performing in February at First Baptist Church for the Keynote Concert Series. Photo: Anthony Libonati

When I started filing reports for Oregon ArtsWatch from Yamhill County in 2018, McMinnville had one tent-pole music event: the Walnut City Music Festival in September. Then there were two: The Aquilon Music Festival added a month-long dollop of opera to the mix that summer, and two years ago we joined musicians around the globe celebrating Make Music Day on the summer solstice.

It seems we aren’t finished.

Now comes the Keynote Concert Series, a third-Wednesday-of-the-month affair launched last year by retired high school teacher Dana Libonati and his wife, Kim. They started last September on a whim with Portland jazz pianist Randy Porter and haven’t looked back. The concerts, held at McMinnville’s First Baptist Church downtown, are getting popular as word spreads.

When I talked with the Libonatis last fall about where all this was going, Dana was the cautious one even after the series had clearly picked up momentum. They’d need to wait to see how the balance of concerts went, ticket sales, sponsor support, etc. But Kim caught my eye and shook her head, suggesting that there was little doubt in her mind: The Keynote Concert Series is a thing.

“We’ve decided to move forward with a second season,” Dana said last week, on the eve of this week’s concert with Peter Eldridge from the Grammy-winning jazz ensemble New York Voices. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. and the evening will open with the nearby Delphian School’s jazz choir.

Dana Libonati accompanies McMinnville High School's jazz band The Highlighters on piano as the opening act at a recent Keynote Concert Series event at First Baptist Church. Photo: Kim Libonati
Dana Libonati accompanies McMinnville High School’s jazz band The Highlighters on piano as the opening act at a recent Keynote Concert Series event at First Baptist Church. Photo: Kim Libonati

In openers for past concerts, Libonati himself has provided piano accompaniment for a group familiar to him: The McMinnville High School jazz ensemble, The Highlighters. “The response from the audience is always, ‘Thank you so much for doing this, keep it going!’” Kim says. Adds Dana: “Everybody who has been associated with it has been super kind and supportive.” 

Wednesday’s concert is particularly meaningful for the couple. They’ve known Eldridge for a quarter century, with Dana discovering New York Voices back in the early 1990s by way of a now antiquated device known as a cassette tape.


All Classical Radio James Depreist

“I fell in love with what they were doing,” said Dana, whose teaching career began in 1991 as Linfield University’s (then college) jazz band and piano instructor. “Then I heard they were going to be in Texas for the International Association of Jazz Educators and they were going to be one of the featured performers. So my family for Christmas got me an airline ticket to go down there.”

That connection literally paid off for the group during a subsequent visit to Portland, where it was having trouble filling seats.

“Their agent called me and asked if we could help sell tickets,” Dana said. “We sold 400.” A friendship was born. Later, he asked the New York Voices musicians to do a clinic with his music students.

“I remember this, because it’s such a vivid memory,” he recalls. “They were giving my kids a clinic and they were like, ‘Can you sing something for us?’ We’re sitting in the choir room with our crappy equipment and sound system, and they said ‘Sure.’ Peter sat down at the piano and the other three grabbed mics. Peter had a boom mic, and they did their version of Paul Simon’s Cecelia, and the kids were crying. It was that powerful of an experience for them.”

Peter Eldridge will sing Wednesday, March 20, in the Keystone Concert Series. Photo courtesy Peter Eldridge.
Peter Eldridge will sing Wednesday, March 20, in the Keystone Concert Series. Photo courtesy Peter Eldridge.

“That is definitely an area that takes music very seriously,” says Eldridge, who teaches songwriting at UC Berkeley. The Libonatis, who he says feel like cousins at this point, “don’t mess around. They know a lot of people, and their love of music is palpable. McMinnville should be pretty happy with what they’re bringing in.” 

“I’ve always been really impressed by the quality of the music that happens there,” he added. “It just seems like such a lifeblood of the school and the music program, which isn’t always the case. That is definitely an area that takes music very seriously. I’ve always been super-impressed.”

The Libonatis are members of the McMinnville Lions Club, which was an early sponsor along with the nonprofit McMinnville Performing Arts Association, and locally owned grocer Harvest Fresh has been catering the concerts, which will run from September through May.


CMNW Summer Festival SB FIXED #1, TP, Top

After Eldridge this week, the series will welcome concert rock violinist Aaron Meyer on April 17 and the Elemental String Quartet on May 15. The latter consists of members of the Newport Symphony Orchestra led by Casey Bozell and Irene Gadeholt, Barbara Johnston on principal cello, and Shauna Keyes on principal viola. They’ll be joined by McMinnville’s Sherill Roberts, formerly a principal cellist with the Portland Opera.

For the season that will start in the fall, a number of acts have already been booked: Greta Metassa from Seattle, who is a jazz recording artist with Origin Records; pianist Jeremy Siskind, winner of the Nottingham International Piano Competition and professor of music at Fullerton College in California; local classical vocalist Brennan Guillory; and another member of New York Voices: Kim Nazarian.

Concerts are held at the First Baptist Church , 125 S.E. Cowls Street, which has plenty of seating, a grand piano, and a new digital sound system. Ticket prices are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors, $13 for students, while high school music students get free admission. For tickets or information about the musicians or sponsorship opportunities, visit the festival website.

“This is a nonprofit venture,” Dana said. “We’re not trying to make any money. We just want to bring music to the community and do it at a reasonable price.”

Be part of our
growing success

Join our Stronger Together Campaign and help ensure a thriving creative community. Your support powers our mission to enhance accessibility, expand content, and unify arts groups across the region.

Together we can make a difference. Give today, knowing a donation that supports our work also benefits countless other organizations. When we are stronger, our entire cultural community is stronger.

Donate Today

Photo Joe Cantrell

David Bates is an Oregon journalist with more than 20 years as a
newspaper editor and reporter in the Willamette Valley, covering
virtually every topic imaginable and with a strong background in
arts/culture journalism. He has lived in Yamhill County since 1996 and
is working as a freelance writer. He has a long history of involvement in
the theater arts, acting and on occasion directing for Gallery Players
of Oregon and other area theaters. You can also find him on
Substack, where he writes about art and culture at Artlandia.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

CMNW Summer Festival SB FIXED #1, TP, Top
Salem World Beat SB FIXED #2
Astoria Open Studios Tour
Lake Oswego Festival of Arts
NW Dance Project
OCCA Monthly
Maryhill Museum of Art
PAM 12 Month
PSU College of the Arts
Oregon Cultural Trust
Oregon ArtsWatch holder
We do this work for you.

Give to our GROW FUND.