McMinnville had a particularly high musicians-per-capita count on last week’s summer solstice. It was a perfect summer day with temps not quite 80 degrees, a gentle breeze, and for those who visited downtown or down by the park and library on Third Street, music was everywhere.
That was by design.
McMinnville has officially joined Fête de la Musique, a global celebration of music launched in France in 1982. Curiously, only a couple other Oregon cities participate. A few years ago, Jamie Howe of McMinnville was working in Salem on the solstice when she saw musicians hit the streets and thought it was “one of the coolest things I’d ever seen.” A musician herself, she’d hoped to get her home city in on the fun, but the pandemic shut that and everything else down for two years.
This year, Howe and her co-organizers, Freddy Lamb and Darlene Siegel, were ready. And so were the musicians: Nearly 40 bands and musicians turned out June 21 for the maiden voyage of Make Music McMinnville, playing in rotation from around 11 a.m. until dark in locations around town, including Mac Market in the Alpine District, several venues indoors and outdoors downtown, and the city’s library and Upper City Park. At one point in the late afternoon, it was possible to wander among four different downtown sets within a couple of blocks of each other.
“When we set out on this journey, we didn’t know what to expect,” Howe said. “We were worried that people wouldn’t ‘get it.’ We didn’t know if performers and venues would sign up. We didn’t know if people would attend.”
She continued, “Our community was so ready for this type of event and they came out and supported it in full force. Make Music McMinnville went better than we could have dreamed.”
“It definitely exceeded my expectations, as far as the number of venues and performers,” said Valerie Blaha, a local musician and music teacher who also heads the board of the nonprofit Arts Alliance of Yamhill County. Blaha played an early evening set at McMenamins Hotel Oregon with Lamb running sound and had a receptive audience of a couple of dozen or so. She also had a chance to hear one of her own piano students, Caden Livingston, perform on the guitar in the courtyard at Gallery Theater.
The sheer number of genres represented was remarkable. Along with classical, rock, jazz, Americana, country, and bluegrass, there were also performances of Native American music, Aztec dance, a drum circle that invited audience participation, Celtic music, and even a “vibrational sound bath” performed by local yoga instructor Christine Kirk using quartz crystal “singing” bowls she incorporated into her practice a few years ago. “I was thoroughly impressed by the small contingency of locals,” she said. “I most definitely would do a repeat of this event.”
A short walk up the path from Kirk, one found Terry Filer in the breezeway at the McMinnville Public Library leading the Inner Oasis Drum Circle, which was a hit with parents with their kids along for the music, some of whom were invited to join in with maracas that Filer passed around.
Filer was born in Pawhuska, Okla., on Osage Tribal land and is a member of the Osage Nation. She established the drum circle in McMinnville a few years ago and performs both locally and with other groups, including the Newport Drum Circle on the coast. For her, Make Music McMinnville fit perfectly with her life’s passion and mission.
“Teaching art and music and sharing my cultural background is a very big part of my life,” she said. “I feel it is very important to share and bring fun, peace, and happiness for our world. Music and creating art is my way.”
“One of the things I’m most proud of is the diverse range of music that was shared,” Howe said. “I’m inspired by the fun, cool, unusual, and innovative ways people communicate through music.”