Weekend’s Winter Music Festival set to ‘exceed expectations’

Al Stewart, Laurie Lewis headline event with eye towards music diversity

Jan. 10, 2018 — The 2018 Florence Winter Music Festival (WMF) begins this weekend at the Florence Events Center, 715 Quince St., and the musicians participating in this year’s concert series represent a broader range of styles and genres than in previous seasons.

The appearance of Saturday’s high profile headliner Al Stewart, a staple of FM radio in the late 1970s, is the most noteworthy attempt by the Friends of the Florence Events Center to broaden the appeal of the festival, now in it’s 16th season.

Festival coordinator Howard Cusack said the change was needed, if the WMF was to continue.

“From a financial perspective, the previous folk music model was not generating the ticket sales needed to sustain the event. We needed more diversity to attract a wider audience. Clearly, this has worked, because we are exceeding our own expectations. As of this week, we will have sold over 1,000 tickets to this year’s event,” Cusack said.

Another internationally recognized star that should draw a large crowd is Friday’s headliner, Laurie Lewis.

Lewis is one of the most respected and prolific bluegrass performers and educators in the country.  She is a Grammy winner and has twice been named  “Female Vocalist of the Year” by the International Bluegrass Music Association.

Lewis is backed by a band of musical all-stars, beginning with her sidekick of more than 30 years, mandolin master Tom Rozum.

The two longtime friends collaborated on the Grammy nominated CD, “The Oak and the Laurel.”

“I’m lucky to have wonderful musicians to share the stage with. People can expect to hear stellar fiddling from Kentucky native Brandon Godman, beautiful singing and mandolin from Tom Rozum, sparkling banjo and harmony vocals from Patrick Sauber, and irrepressible, groovy bass playing from Sam Grisman,” Lewis said. “The songs will draw from my deep catalog of originals and also from the repertoires of many of the bluegrass greats.”

The latest CD by Lewis and her band is the 2016 release, “The Hazel and Alice Sessions,” which was nominated for a Grammy award for Best Bluegrass  Album.

Jeff Scroggins and the band Colorado will precede Lewis on stage Friday evening, playing at 7 p.m.

Scroggins is a masterful banjo player who brings amazing technical prowess to his renditions of classic and original bluegrass and Cajun blues.

Winter Music Festival’s Saturday shows begin at 10:30 a.m. and continue through out the day, with six performances before the highly anticipated set by Al Stewart at 8:30 p.m.

On Monday, FEC Director Kevin Rhodes said Stewart’s concert is “five tickets short of a sell out.”

Stewart is comfortable with his place in rock and roll history. While the crowd may come to hear the hits they grew up with, there are other songs that Stewart is looking forward to playing, according to long time bandmate and writing collaborator, Dave Nachmanoff.

“Because I have learned all of Al’s songs, we had an opportunity to revisit some of the tunes that hadn’t been featured in more recent years,” Nachmanoff said. “I think at this point we can actually do three or four full shows and never play the same song twice. And while Al usually comes into the gig with a set list in mind, often times we’ll just throw it out and go with the flow.”

Sunday’s schedule — the Gospel Gumbo Gathering — is a bit lighter with performances by Billy Jones, members of local choirs and the University of Oregon’s 13 member a capella group, On the Rocks.

The WMF also features a two-day Artisan Fair on Jan. 12 and 13.

The Florence Regional Arts Alliance (FRAA) will have a wide array of artistic styles and genres represented at the fair. Artisans will have work available for purchase from 1 to 7 p.m. on Friday and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday.

“When you support the local artist community, you are supporting and respecting all of our creative freedom,” said Florence artist Gigi Lassan, who will be showing some of her work at the fair. “As Pablo Picasso said, ‘The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our soul.’ Art is something that truly nurtures the human spirit. It takes a lot of hard work and talent to create art.”

There will be artist demonstrations, tastings and fine art, including beadwork, wirework, jewelry, pottery, garden art, fiver arts, quilting, painting, skin care products and much more.

In addition, Brandborg Winery and Ninkasi Brewing will be “exclusive pourers” during the fair.    

There is also a local fundraising element to this year’s festival, as the Friends of the Florence Events Center will be selling single slices of pie, with a cup of coffee, on Saturday and Sunday for $3.50.

Cusack is pleased with the community response to the revamped focus of the WMF and wants to thank the community for the supporting this year’s event.

“The Winter Music Festival Committee has spent eight months preparing for this event, and we are incredibly grateful for the support of our many sponsors and the fantastic administrative staff at the Florence Event Center. We are hoping the resulting influx of weekend visitors will produce a boom for the hotels, restaurants and retail stores at a traditionally slow time of year.”

For more information on the WMF, call the event center at 541-997-1994, stop by 715 Quince St. or visit www.eventcenter.org or www.wintermusicfestival.org.