Siletz Bay Music Festival returns with concert of resilience

Following COVID and devastating wildfires, artistic director Yaacov Bergman felt compelled to recognize the pain, as well as the courage needed to rebuild

After a year of struggling with the fallout from COVID, organizers of the Siletz Bay Music Festival were ready to host the summer concerts once again. But where to begin, what to do?

It was a puzzle — until artistic director Yaacov “Yaki” Bergman and production manager Jain Sekuler visited the Lincoln City Cultural Center’s Up from the Ashes exhibit. A tribute to the victims of the 2020 wildfires that devastated Otis, the spring show featured photos by Bruce MacGregor, as well as art and finds from the rubble.

Clackamas County photographer Bruce MacGregor's "Aftermath Project" is documents the effects of 2020's wildfires. This is Edna on site of her burned home in Ashland.
Clackamas County photographer Bruce MacGregor’s portrait of Edna, on the site of her burned home in Ashland, is part of “The Aftermath Project” documenting the effects of 2020’s wildfires.

“When I was looking at those images, I thought what a remarkable photographer he is,” Bergman said. “The quality of the photography is beyond imagination. It really places you, sucks you into the situation. I was heartbroken when I went out of the room. I said, I must do something.”

And so the festival is doing something.

As it was for much of the world, 2020 was a tough year for the Siletz Bay Music Festival. As early days of COVID shut down life as we knew it, the board canceled the June concert, then waited to see what would happen. They restructured and took advantage of online seminars, one of which advised: “Make a plan, stick to it, change it when you have to.” It was advice they would take to heart.

"Chair. Otis, Oregon. September, 2020" is part of photographer Bruce MacGregor's "Aftermath Project," documenting 2020's devastating wildfires.
“Chair. Otis, Oregon. September, 2020.” Photo by: Bruce MacGregor, The Aftermath Project.

Last fall, they began planning for the 2021 festival, traditionally held in June. A tighter budget meant a smaller festival, but it would still be the much-loved summer event.

“We knew the vaccines were coming,” Sekuler said, noting that predictions were 80 percent of the population would be vaccinated by May.

But Oregon didn’t meet that goal, so the festival changed course. Organizers eventually decided to reopen at the end of summer, a time when tourists are still in town, but also far enough out on the calendar to allow for adequate planning.

“It just felt right,” Sekuler said. “And then, as we wrote it, we saw the dates, September 4th to the 12th.  I said, ‘Oh my god, that’s a year since the fires and 20 years since 9/11.’”  

Festival preparation included visiting proposed venues, which led to the Lincoln City Cultural Center’s exhibit and Bergman’s emotional connection with MacGregor’s work. It was a reaction not only to the catastrophic Labor Day wildfires that swept the state last year, burning more than 1 million acres, but also to years of shared grief in communities nationwide.

“I can’t tell you how many times I stood before the orchestra,” Bergman said, “expressing heartbroken feelings about events … how many communities suffer from killings, tragic events, many, many events. It became almost a routine. You can’t just move forward like nothing happened.”

Bergman felt compelled to create a concert that recognized the pain, as well as the courage it takes to rebuild.

“I felt the work was a must,” he said. “Not even realizing the concert would take place on 9/11, the 20th anniversary, it all kind of came together. I’m very proud … grateful for the opportunity to take a stand, to do something.”

The Saturday evening concert at the B’nai B’rith Camp on Devil’s Lake features Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, accompanied by a slideshow of MacGregor’s photos. He’s dubbed the collection of work from the Oregon fires The Aftermath Project.

“Going forward into the future, we are going to be tested in the same way, again and again and again,” MacGregor said of the fires. “I got a sneak preview of what this would feel like when these events continue to happen. The people I met were amazing. One woman lived within one mile of the fire in Ashland. When she was in her car to leave, the smoke was so thick she couldn’t see her driveway. She had to remember which way her driveway curved so she could reach the main road. She is in her mid-80s and she got out by herself and lived to tell the tale.  

“That’s the story to me. You meet these people and photograph them. The common denominator is the courage to go though and put their lives back together and take the next step.”

Clackamas County photographer Bruce MacGregor is documenting 2020's devastating wildfires in "The Aftermath Project." This is: "Duane. NW Highland Road. Lincoln City, Oregon April, 2021."
“Duane. NE Highland Road. Lincoln City, Oregon. April, 2021.” Photo by: Bruce MacGregor, The Aftermath Project

The Sept. 11 Sights and Sounds concert will be a highlight of this year’s festival, but it is just one of many performances — 12 in nine days — including three free concerts.

The first of the free concerts, Bagels With Beethoven, takes place at 11 a.m. Sept. 4 at the cultural center. Performers are James Stern on violin, Katherine Schultz on cello, and Gerald Robbins on piano. Joan Behrens Bergman will moderate a musical chat.

The second free concert is at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 7 — in time for the sunset — at the Congregational Church of Lincoln City. The third is an educational program for children at 3:30 p.m. Sept. 9 at the cultural center.

Tickets and more information on all concerts is available on the festival website.

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This story is supported in part by a grant from the Oregon Cultural Trust, investing in Oregon’s arts, humanities and heritage, and the Lincoln County Cultural Coalition.

About the author

Lori Tobias is a journalist of many years, and was a staff writer for The Oregonian for more than a decade, and a columnist and features writer for the Rocky Mountain News. Her memoir “Storm Beat – A Journalist Reports from the Oregon Coast” was published in 2020 by Oregon State University press. She is also the author of the novel Wander, winner of the 2017 Nancy Pearl Book Award for literary fiction and a finalist for the 2017 International Book Awards for new fiction. She lives on the Oregon Coast with her husband Chan and rescue pups Luna and Monkey.

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