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Special Issues & Guides » Summer Music Guide

Go West, Young Man!

Eugene and the greater Willamette Valley offer summer sounds

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The charge to "go west" may seem a bit hackney when we already live in the, well, west, but there are several concerts well worth heading the extra few miles: Over the hills and into the (Willamette) Valley is an easy drive during the summer, and one that opens up a world of Americana festivals and a portal into pure hippie sensibilities (um, Country Fair and body paint, need we say more?)

The best concert venue in the central Willamette Valley is Eugene's Cuthbert Amphitheater. I have only been to two concerts there—and they were like night and day. Literally. A sun-soaked afternoon lounging on a blanket, listening to charmingly Ani DeFranco prate on, versus a cold, rainy, but magical night, huddled under a tarp soaking up Willie Nelson. Either way, both concerts were well worth the trip.

There also are several vineyards in the central Willamette Valley that host weekly concerts—and, when the venue is that beautiful, the music is almost an afterthought. (Kathken Vineyard, 5 miles west from Salem; 7 – 10 pm Saturdays; $10/person).

Five great shows and festivals in and around Eugene and Salem:

Wildwood Music Festival

July 18 –July 20

Headlined by Larry and His Flask, this Americana (and roots) festival is set just past the Willamette Valley wine country and just before the coastal hills. As much about the gathering as the music, this is truly a "community festival." The show is also as much about its specific (magical) setting as it is about drawing talent from around the country. I'd half expect Willy Tea Taylor to ride the rails into town, a soulful and easy-going guitar player, his voice and lyrics are a throwback to Arlo Guthrie (seriously, his voice is that rich, and his composure that politely arresting). If Birds Could Fly, a Virginia-based folk band, is another special standout, with evangelical crooning laying like sweet molasses over a four-person band of picking mandolins and guitars (and with lyrics like, "Won't you soak my bones in whiskey when I die"), this is not music that goes quickly into the night. Wonderful, wonderful. Willamina, Oregon. $79 weekend pass.

Oregon Country Fair

July 12 –July 14

The ultimate hippie fest in the state, if not the country, the Oregon Country Fair continues to carry the spirit, wide-eye wonderment and retina-burning vibrant colors of the original Hippie 1.0 generation. With a nod to the Merry Pranksters (really? look it up!), and Mr. Ken Kesey, who lived his post-Electric Kool Aid Acid Test days within spitting distance, the Kesey Stage is always a highlight. Vaudeville, puppet shows, gypsy dancing, bluegrass, drumming circles, face painting and general spacing-out. Veneta, OR. $58 3-Day Pass ($24 3-Day Parking Pass); $23 Day Pass ($8 Daily Parking Pass).

Joan Baez& Indigo Girls

June 25

At one point, each of these artists were the sound of their time. Joan Baez capturing the magic of early '60s folk, and the first chords of the Indigo Girls 1988 break-out hit, "Closer To Fine" pumping out of every dorm room in the late '80s. Those days have passed, but both are still fine musicians and, after all, summertime is a fine time for nostalgia.Cuthbert Amphitheater, Eugene, Oregon. $32.50 - $55.

Oregon Jamboree Music Festival

August 1 - August 3

This is a big deal: Even if you aren't a country fan, you should know Tim McGraw; yes, the bastard child of the baseball star, but more important, selling more than 40 million of his songs, winning a handful of Grammy Awards and changing the course of C&W history, away from the gritty to the gleeful. The lineup also includes the fun-spirited, crystal clear guitar picking of Georgia-native Billy Currington, and girl-next-door Miranda Lambert whose Texas twang is maturing into something Loretta Lynn would envy. Sweet Home, Oregon. $140.

ZZ Top, Jeff Beck

August 10

A guitar-rific night with probably enough facial hair there to make even Sasquatch consider shaving. Although some of their MTV hits in the late '80s cheapened their tough Texas sound, ZZ Top are truly some of the best and most enduring guitarists to have ever played rock-and-roll. Oh, and Jeff Beck is okay as well. Cuthbert Amphitheater, Eugene, Oregon. $55–$100.

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