How to Navigate Two Days of Folk-Plus
Don’t let this formerly folk festival’s wide scope overwhelm you
BY SARA BRICKNER
Let’s not kid ourselves, Eugene: A lot of us (writer not excluded) aren’t familiar with many of the artists performing at the two-day Willamette Valley Music Festival. So instead of focusing in on a small handful of better-known bands, here’s an annotated guide to help you discover some new regional acts and get the most out of the WVMF.
It all starts on the main stage with experimental musician Hershel Bloom. If he’s too out there for you, you still might want to stick around for back-to-back bluegrass. Purists will enjoy the Bend-based Moon Mountain Ramblers’ traditional style, but The Absynth Quintet follows it up with danceable, Latin-influenced bluegrass tunes from their new record (alternately, give Al River and the Teetotalers a try).
At 2 pm, you can stay where you are and check out Gypsy Soul, an introspective fusion of Celtic music and poppy New Age, or you can head to the second stage and bliss out to the ukulele strains of Eugene’s Sweet Aloha. If your music collection contains a disproportionate number of singer-songwriter records, head back to the main stage at 2:45 for a singer-songwriter sampler with sassy Skyler Stonestreet and Tim Trautman, one of the New Singer/Songwriter contest winners. If pop isn’t your thing, the Skinner City String Band will offer up some rootsy tunes on the second stage for variety; following them is Kef, Eugene’s very own Balkan folk ensemble.
At 4 pm Saturday, you should be at the main stage checking out soulful roots reggae icon Norma Fraser. Then, it’s back to singer-songwriters: first Valeri Lopez, another New Singer/Songwriter Contest winner, then Debra Arlyn, a Corvallis chanteuse who belts out pop ballads with a major league set of pipes. Not into that sort of thing? Then it’s second stage time once more: Serenada and Apocalypso to the rescue!
Around 6 pm, grab some grub and find a good spot to hang out where you can watch sensitive songwriter Andrew Heringer and alternative rock band (yes, mid-’90s style) Wake Robin over dinner. Afterward, guitar geeks should check out local boy David Jacobs-Strain, a young fingerstyle blues virtuoso who’s shared the stage with legends from Etta James to Lucinda Williams. Round out the evening with the Best of Eugene Orchestra and the Sisters of Soul, who’ll be performing funky R&B well into the night.
If you’re up and at ’em early enough, go see country balladeer (and New Singer/Songwriter Contest winner) Johnny Laser on the main stage at 10:45, and stay for stringsy Eugene fixture Red Pajamas. At lunchtime, you’ve got a real dilemma on your hands: You must either stage-hop or choose between Melissa Ruth, an Oregon gal and all-around awesome alt-country singer, and Molasses, a jazzy local roots act with a washboard player for a little extra down-home flavor.
Afterward, watch some of Gina Edge and the Ruffians on the second stage before kicking up your heels at the main stage to two great bluegrass acts, the Green Mountain Bluegrass Band and the Washington-based Deadwood Revival, from 12:30 pm on. Then, at 2:30 pm, speakeasy jazz cats the Midnight Serenaders offer up some saucy Prohibition-era tunes. Meanwhile, the second stage hosts more local acts: first bluesy guitar guy Thomas Kramer, then the politically-minded, barbershop-esque Sheehan Sisters and lastly, gypsy cowboy music offset by ukulele and dobro.
For a little downtime after a glut of dance music, catch mainstage act Ashleigh Flynn at 3:30. Those who prefer jazz to acoustic folk should head to the second stage for a little Scrambled Ape (but go back to the main stage at 4:15 pm if you’re curious about the last New Singer/Songwriter Contest winner, Michael Tracey). Now it’s time for the last tough decision of the festival: Portland’s Misty River, an all-female bluegrass band, or The Bad Mitten Orchestre, Eugene’s saucy, twangy, all-female folk vixens. Enjoy, Eugene — here’s hoping it doesn’t rain this year!