Gloria Watt's voice is strong and warm. She sings to me, "Hello in There" by John Prine.
"Ya know that old trees just grow stronger," she coos. "And old rivers grow wilder every day. Old people just grow lonesome. Waiting for someone to say, 'Hello in there.'"
After finishing the refrain, Watt tells me, "That song reminds me of MS."
Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of 19, she was just coming of age, and just beginning to fall in love with motorcyles and her soon-to-be husband, Doug. "MS is a lifetime of trying to fight off a wheelchair," says Gloria, now 55, for whom standing is currently a struggle.
She adds, "People with MS become isolated homebodies because they can't go anywhere."
But that is not Gloria. Along with her now-husband Doug, the couple owns DiamondStone Guest Lodges and a motorcycle rental business, MotoFantasy Motorcycle Rentals, and three years ago launched a three-day dance party, complete with local food, brews, and art—The Newberry Event: A Defeat MS Fundraiser.
The event has grown steadily to this year's headliner being the legendary ska/punk-rock/funk/hard-rock/soul-fusion band Fishbone and a lineup including Craig Chaquico, Pigs on the Wing, Jelly Bread, Melody Guy, Rum & the Sea, and Sol Mars—with almost more musical genres than bands. Doug will even be performing with the local group Newberry Family Band.
Last year, they were able to donate $2000 from silent auction items, and while they cover the expense of the event themselves, they hope for the festival to become self-sustaining and more lucrative for the cause this year. They even recently launched an Indiegogo Crowdfunding campaign. They hope to raise $10,000 this year.
The Watts' other motivation for hosting this event is to create economic development for their unique area.
"Bend and Redmond suck all the money," says Gloria. "La Pine and Sunriver are 'Newberry Country;' that is what we call ourselves."
The event is held on 10 acres, and in addition to the music, local artisans and crafters will sell their wares, and camping passes are offered for the whole weekend. They still need volunteers, Gloria says with a smile, and you get a free day ticket for a mere four hours of volunteering. Check out newberryevent.com to sign up.
"Having MS is like having your legs full of sand or cement and your feet are glued to the floor," explains Gloria, who attends an MS support group in Bend, and also a swimming group. "The pool is a joy because it lifts us," she says.
Gloria calls herself a "normal person," who used to be an athlete and ride motorcycles. She says that there is a woman in her MS group who used to be a professional ballerina, and a man who was a high-rise construction worker.
"MS affects balance, strength, and energy," she says. "Now I am an innkeeper. Being here allows me to be social without going anywhere. I haven't driven in ten years."
But that doesn't stop her from living her life to the fullest; the world comes right to her door.
"I found my slice of heaven and I plan to stay here," she adds. "You can find fun things to do here in all directions."
The Newberry Event Music and Arts Festival: A Defeat MS Fundraiser
Noon-10 pm, Friday, July 24
10 am-10 pm, Saturday, July 25
10 am-8 pm, Sunday, July 26
DiamondStone Guest Lodges, 16693 Sprague Loop, La Pine
$60, three-day weekend pass with camping; $25-$35, day pass