Mark Ransom is turning 40 this weekend and he's just fine with that because he's having a big damn party to celebrate.
While he once dreamed of skiing in Chamonix, France, to celebrate his summitting of the proverbial hill, Ransom says Saturday night's throw down at McMenamins Old St. Francis School, which features his own band, The Mostest, and an impressive who's-who list of other local musicians joining in for an acoustic song circle earlier in the night, will suit him just fine. And this makes sense because this guy is the face of local music in Bend, even if he might not exactly agree with that assertion.
"I've been playing in the clubs and coffee houses since 1991, that's probably why people think that, but really there's a lot of people who've heard my name but have never seen my face. The face of the local music scene is really Bend Roots," says Ransom, referring to the wildly popular all-local music extravaganza he produces each September.
With the Bend Roots Revival and his work in the always-inclusive jam band The Mostest, Ransom has long been a force in maintaining the momentum of Bend's music scene. In fact, he came to Bend almost 20 years ago after wrapping up college in Colorado for the express purpose of playing music after a friend told Ransom that he should move here and start a band with his cousin. Here's the thing, though: Ransom had never been to Bend nor had he really ever played in a band. Nevertheless, he took the friend's advice and came to Oregon.
"When I was four or five years old I was playing music and then a few years later I started teaching friends how to play. They'd go off and play in bands, but that was never on my radar," says Ransom, "But then it occurred to me that I actually know how to do this, so I might as well give it a try."
While he's constantly gigging around the area, whether solo or with any number of variations on The Mostest lineup, Ransom seems mostly concerned with the idea of community. Sure, he gets a kick out of being on stage, but when you get him going about being an audience member, he'll get psychological and philosophical about it, but in the simplest, most-easily-washed-down-with-a-beer terms: The guy likes to give people a good time.
"Some of the coolest events I've been involved with, I've been an audience member, but I've always been engaged in what's going on," he says.
One of these "coolest events" Ransom is talking about has to be the Bend Roots Revival, which over the past four years has brought a weekend full of live, local music to the west side of Bend. The festival's reputation has transformed from a niche music gathering to a full-scale community event that even drew praise from state representative Judy Stiegler. Predictably, the festival's popularity has allowed it to quickly outgrow its previous location, split between Parrilla Grill and the Victorian Café. As the crowds multiplied, so did safety and noise concerns, at which point Ransom and the other organizers decided it was time to move.
The 2010 edition of Bend Roots will take place in the former Brightwood mill plant on Century Drive and will feature what Ransom describes as a "more urban atmosphere." There will still be outdoor stages, but should the weather turn, as it easily could in late September, there will be plenty of indoor space.
As he cheerfully enters what he calls "the second half of his life," Ransom says he'll continue to teach music - something he's been doing since childhood - in the region's schools and keep up his own musicianship and helping to book shows for other area artists and venues. And, of course, he'll keep working on Bend Roots, fielding the increasing number of submissions from artists (including many from out of the area who've caught wind of the event) that flood his inbox almost year around, and rounding up the sponsorships needed to make the free party happen.
But for now, he's taking some time to celebrate his birthday, and while it's supposed to be a party for him, he seems far more concerned that everyone else have a good time.
"I've always enjoyed a good party, which I think you know," says Ransom with a laugh.
Yes, Mark. We know.
Mark Ransom's 40th Birthday Bash
7pm Saturday, April 3. McMenamins Old St. Francis School.
700 NW Bond St. All ages. Free. Lineup includes opening set from Erin Cole Baker, as well an acoustic song circle and a full set from The Mostest with guests Tim Schroeder and Leif James.