(Above left to right: Jeff Geiger, Tommy Castro and Norma Fraser at Kesey Square)
It didn’t take much to create a magical moment in Kesey Square last night.
In a crapshoot, writer and No Shame Eugene co-founder Jeff Geiger (see EW's "The Birth of Wild Man") reached out to blues legend Tommy Castro Tuesday, Feb. 17, asking him to do an impromptu performance at Kesey Square before his official show at The Shedd — he said yes, right away.
“I emailed him and then I got the number for his booking agent,” Geiger tells EW. “Then I called his booking agent and he told me to send him the message. I did that. An hour later Tommy called me from his cell phone on the road.”
Geiger explains that he sent Castro links to articles by EW and the Register Guard and a summary of the issue at hand of Kesey Square being under the threat of development.
“He was on it. He was immediately hooked,” Geiger says, who went to meet him at The Shedd and walk him down to the square Tuesday evening. “On our walk from The Shedd, he was just telling me how important it is to have community spaces, the sacred nature of having a public space.”
(Above from left to right: Tommy Castro, Jeff Geiger and Norma Fraser)
Geiger set up sound with a car battery in the middle of the square. Castro sat down on a stool with his guitar and spoke into the mic: “I’m here to help save Kesey Square.” He then went on to sing “Common Ground."
Jamaican-born, Eugene-based reggae legend Norma Fraser happened to be at The Barn Light at the same time (located across the street from Kesey Square). She had just learned that Kesey Square was under the threat of development into apartment buildings. On hearing this news, she strode over to Kesey Square.
“No,” she told the small crowd, shaking her head. “This is for the people.”
Then Fraser, who used to perform with Bob Marley, and Castro performed Bob Marley’s “Stir It Up” for the small crowd. See video below:
Now, Fraser and Save Kesey Square activist Gwendolyn Iris are planning an even bigger event at Kesey Square — TBA.
So why did Jeff Geiger set this up? He says finding out about the 1971 deed for Kesey Square that the space should “forever dedicated to the use of the public” pushed him over the line to speak out in favor of keeping the square public.
“That to me was the tipping point,” Geiger says. “Learning about the deed was a shock to my system. OK, this has gone from business as usual into this new territory of just ridiculousness — I was feeling that. It just feels like, what can I do? How can I make a difference? How can I creatively speak out on this issue? And then of course, that’s what public space is for. The irony is the space we’re trying to protect is the best place to speak out about these issues.”
Geiger explains that perhaps he, and others like him, would speak out more if they weren’t already loaded down with other responsibilities.
“The reality is there’s a lot of people who care deeply about these issues but they’re busy,” Geiger says. “And the reality is, that’s why stuff like this happens. That’s why we lose our public spaces. That activist that lives in each one gets beat down by other responsibilities.”
Geiger says he believes more people would speak up to keep Kesey Square a public space if they didn’t already think it was a foregone conclusion to sell it, that the city had already agreed with the 2E Broadway development group to put moderate-income apartments on the square.
“It’s so disingenuous,” Geiger says of the city’s process. “If you have already made your decision, public input is going to be a waste of time. You’ve already made up your mind. That perpetuates people throwing their hands up — ‘What can we do?’”
He adds, “People are cynical about this. When the city shows a lack of genuine engagement people feel like it’s a done deal. They want authentic public engagement. You reap what you sow.”
Geiger pointed out how little it took to create a moment where two renowned musicians could spontaneously play in a city square.
“It’s the lack of creativity — that’s what kills me,” Geiger says of the city. “If we could pull that together with a car battery, two phone calls and five hours notice, imagine what the city could do with a little imagination and planning.”
Geiger adds: “Imagine if there was an open invitation that any act coming through Eugene, that that was an option — a band could play a preshow or post show at Kesey Square.”
He says he will be attending the City Council public forum to speak up about Kesey Square at 7:30 pm Monday, Feb. 22, at Harris Hall, 125 E. 8th Ave.
“With a little bit of care, with a little bit of programming, with a little bit of attention, the square could do all these great things.”