Nov. 24, 2018 — While winter and warm, cozy celebrations are just getting started, some Florence groups are preparing for midwinter events. In January, the 2019 Winter Music Festival will bring back crowd pleasers and debut new performers at the Florence Events Center (FEC). Featuring the Kiwanis Kids Concert, Friday Night Bluegrass, Americana and a variety of music, the festival returns for the 17th year Jan. 25 to 27, 2019.
“We’re very excited about our lineup,” said festival chairperson Rachel Pearson.
Continuing to keep the three-day music festival fresh and relevant has brought several changes in recent years, starting with shifting away from the single-genre focus of the original Winter Folk Festival to the more broad Winter Music Festival. Now, certain types of music are featured each day.
The Friends of the FEC underwrite the event and this year’s presenting sponsor is Sea Lion Caves.
Friends President Kirk Mlinek said, “For the second year in a row, we’re going to kick things off on Friday night with bluegrass. We had a very successful foray into that last year.”
Starting with the up and coming North Country Band, based in Seattle, Wash., the Friday Night Bluegrass will be headlined Chris Jones & The Night Drivers. Jones is a quadruple threat as a singer, songwriter, guitarist and broadcaster thanks to his role hosting SiriusXM’s Bluegrass Junction.
“We’re really thrilled to have Jones anchoring that evening,” Mlinek said. “He’ll be showing us some love by talking about the Winter Music Festival on Sirius XM.”
Saturday’s main headliner is John McEuen, who helped found the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in 1966, and the String Wizards. McEuen will be performing as part of his “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” tour during the evening concert.
“Even if you don’t know John McEuen or the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, most people know the song ‘Will the Circle Be Unbroken,’” Pearson said. “While John might not be a household name, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is a household name. They’ve been playing for more than 50 years and haven’t really lost it. … They still have the spirit.”
McEuen plays in the evening concert with opener Chris Kokesh + LJ Booth.
“They’re going to be a really powerful kickoff to the evening,” Mlinek said.
“The rest of the Saturday lineup is equally good,” Pearson added.
Starting at 11:30 a.m. Jan. 26, the Winter Music Festival will show four bands for “Saturday Americana.” These include Katie Lubiens, True North, Eli West and Cabin Fever NW. Many of these groups are return acts.
“We try to bring back fan favorites each year and try to get some new people involved as well,” Mlinek said. “Eli West is the hidden gem and I hope people will come out to support him.”
Mlinek invited West to perform in Florence after seeing him at Wintergrass in Bellevue, Wash., last year.
“The segment of our town that likes the folk side of music and maybe wishes we were doing a little bit more of that, will want to be sure to see Eli West,” Mlinek said. “He’s a mesmerizing fellow and his position on the schedule that day is just going to fit beautifully.”
The other Saturday Americana bands will play both familiar and new music in concerts that last until the dinner break.
For Pearson, another exciting event of the Winter Music Festival is the return of the informal “jamming” by festival musicians. Organized by Janet Wellington, this year’s jam will be at ICM Restaurant in Historic Old Town Florence on Friday and Saturday nights after the final shows.
“Musicians love the jam, and they’ll be doing that down on Bay Street this year,” Pearson said.
On Sunday, gospel returns for the second year of the Gospel Gathering. As a newer component of the festival, people can expect some differences from last year. While local groups will be part of the event — pianist Marty Adams and the Community Gospel Choir directed by Laura Merz — the University of Oregon Gospel Choir will be a major highlight. The choir is directed by Andiel Brown.
“He’s definitely the real deal,” Pearson said. “There’s going to be singing and swinging.”
One other event brings nearly 900 people to fill the FEC’s theater: The Winter Music Festival Kids Concert, sponsored by Kiwanis Club of Florence.
“Earlier this year, the Florence Kiwanis Club informed the Friends of the Florence Events Center and the Winter Music Festival Committee, of its decision to provide a substantial annual gift in support of the Kids Concerts,” Rachel said.
This sponsorship, along with support from Mapleton Community Foundation and the Florence Elks Lodge #1858 and the Ladies of Elks, has kept the Kids Concert going for 16 years.
“People have always supported (the Kids Concert), but we have a strong base of support now,” Mlinek said. “With Kiwanis coming on, it just shows the strength of the program Rachel has put together.”
Pearson has been the active force behind the Kids Concert, which brings together the kindergarten through fifth-grade classes at Siuslaw, Mapleton and Highland elementary schools.
“Last year’s performers were hugely popular with the kids,” Pearson said. “We cram in as many kids as we can in the two shows. It’s close to 900 students.
“We have incredible support from the teachers, (the principals at) at Siuslaw, Mapleton and Reedsport elementary schools and the bus drivers who make it all happen.”
“It’s just a really powerful event and a great way to kick off the festival each year,” Mlinek said.
According to Mlinek, three components go into making the Winter Music Festival a success, which he described as a “three-legged stool.”
We’re trying to bring cultural groups into town, the bands and the concert for the kids, at a time when the businesses don’t have as much traffic. We try to get people into hotels, restaurants and shops,” he said. “We’re here for a purpose, we’re here for a reason, and music is our conduit.”
Music, and the arts, are what draw people to events like these, he said.
Florence Regional Arts Alliance (FRAA) is holding the Winter Arts Festival, a free event, alongside the Winter Music Festival on Saturday and Sunday. Organized by FRAA member Claudia Brown, the Winter Arts Festival will feature artists and artisans and their high quality works.
“FRAA is wonderful with this event,” Pearson said. “The collective is returning for its third year.”
Those looking to visit the festival that weekend will also experience home-baked goodness, right in the middle of the events center.
The Florence Ladies of Elks Pie Sale will be on Saturday, with pies baked right on the premises.
“You’ll have this wonderful pie smell at the FEC,” Pearson said.
Mlinek added that the list of pie flavors planned was extensive, and that pies would be sold all day, or until the pies are gone.
Besides the Elks, Kiwanis, the Friends of the FEC and Sea Lion Caves, the Winter Music Festival is sponsored by 1285 Restobar, Art and Jean Koning, Banner Bank, Best for Hearing, Christina Voogd with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Northwest Real Estate, Driftwood Shores Resort and Conference Center, First Community Credit Union, Florence Golf Links, ICM Restaurant, Johnston Motor Co., Laurel Bay Gardens, Oregon Country Fair, Oregon Pacific Bank, River House Inn and The Old Town Inn and Waterfront Wine Store and Provisions.
“This festival, if it would even still exist, would look a lot different without our partners,” Mlinek said. “I mean both our financial donors and our in-kind sponsors. …
They are really critical to the success of this operation. There’s just great community support everywhere you go.”
Pearson said that it was important to keep a lot of things local with the event, whether that was increasing access to businesses by doing the music jams in Old Town or working with FEC staff on sound and lighting.
“We’re very committed to working with Kevin Rhodes and his staff, and the people who we hire, to make that audio and that experience good for the person sitting in the theater,” Mlinek said.
Plus, new sound and light technology at the FEC, purchased by the friends in 2017, should help keep the music from being too loud, he added.
The 11 bands featured at this year’s Winter Music Festival are “a springboard to the future,” according to Mlinek.
“People can buy a ticket and know they are going to hear great music,” he said. “We just hope that when people leave on Sunday afternoon, they can’t wait until next year.”
Tickets are now available for individual concerts, as well as in a two- or three-day bundle, at wintermusicfestival.org.
Volunteers are still needed in several key areas during the three-day event, including as ushers, greeters and facilitators. For more information, call the FEC at 541-997-1994 or stop by 715 Quince St.