Arts and Entertainment

Oak Harbor Music Festival focuses on bands

Tacoma rock band Famed Riot is expected to be one of 33 bands at this year
Tacoma rock band Famed Riot is expected to be one of 33 bands at this year's Oak Harbor Music Festival.
— image credit: Provided photo

As a musician for most of his life, Larry Mason understands what can make a venue memorable for performers.

So when he was asked to take on the job of assembling the band lineup for the Oak Harbor Music Festival, he was on board as long as organizers followed his lead.

“I said, ‘I will be involved if we can make this festival about the bands,’” Mason said. “That means, we take care of the bands. We don’t treat them like second-class citizens. We treat them like stars.

“That’s why people want to play the Oak Harbor Music Festival. Word got out.”

Downtown Oak Harbor will be buzzing with music this weekend as the third Oak Harbor Music Festival gets underway Aug. 29-31.

Mason started signing up bands in January and didn’t secure the last of 33 performers until just a few weeks ago when he talked country singer Robbie Walden into doing a solo acoustic performance on Sunday.

He said he has a list of more than 100 performers who wanted to break into the lineup but no more spots remained.

“I’ve known Larry since junior high and played with him in a band through high school,” said Terry Morgan, a bass player from Oak Harbor who plays for Seattle band LeRoy Bell & his only Friends. “When I first heard they were putting on an event a couple years ago, I was like, ‘Good for him. Oak Harbor needs something that’s a signature destination for entertainment.’ He stepped up and made the effort, and from what I know, it seems to have been fairly successful. We’re glad to be a part of it.”

Mason lights up when he talks about what’s in store for Oak Harbor during the free music festival, which begins Friday with a 6 p.m. performance by folk music group Br’er Rabbit on one stage on Pioneer Way and a 6:30 p.m. show by 16-year-old rock and pop singer Nolan Garrett on the second stage.

He is careful not to single out any performer but when pressed, recognized that bands such as LeRoy Bell & his only Friends, Cody Beebe and The Crooks, Heart by Heart, Yogoman Burning Band, the Beatniks, Blake Noble and Ben Union, among others, bring special appeal.

“To me, there are about eight headliners,” Mason said. “I can go on and on.

“I’ll give you 33 names if you’d like.”

Most of the bands are based in the Puget Sound region, and many travel the Northwest to play at festivals, fairs and other events.

There will be a variety of music, from the country songs of Jessica Lynne and Dylan Jakobsen to the Western Swing Jazz of The Jangles to urban rock of Ayron Jones and the Way.

Tacoma rock band The Fame Riot, Garrett and Jakobsen, 21, are examples of some of the youthful performers who may have particular appeal to the younger audience in Oak Harbor.

“The Fame Riot’s record is a really, really great record,” Mason said.

Island Thrift is the title sponsor for the event, which raised enough money through donations at the 2013 festival to provide $1,000 music scholarships to one graduating senior from the Class of 2014 from each of Whidbey Island’s three public high schools.

The goal is to double the number of scholarships this year, depending on donations, Mason said.

The scholarships are named in honor of former Oak Harbor High School music teacher Ed Bridges.

Mason, who performs for Whidbey Island’s own rock group, The Halyards, and is from Oak Harbor’s Class of 1973, said Bridges was an influence to many Oak Harbor students who went on to music careers during that time.

After graduating from Oak Harbor, Mason spent about 20 years as a professional musician. He was a drummer for a band called the Brandos, touring Europe several times.

Once he got involved with the Oak Harbor Music Festival, he wanted to make sure musicians were well cared for to give the event the sort of reputation that will make them want to come back.

The event offers two main stages at opposite ends of Pioneer Way. Volunteers will work with musicians to give them easier access to the stages while others will staff a green room where bands wait until it’s time to perform.

Marie Larsen, Mason’s niece, is baking 960 chocolate chip cookies for the musicians.

“It might be 1,000,” she said.

With a limited budget, Mason was pleased that many bands agreed to play at a discounted rate.

Walden decided to return this year on Sunday without his band even though he’s attending a wedding this weekend.

“These are some of the nicest folks I’ve ever encountered in music, and I play all over the country,” Walden said. “I love the island.”

For a complete band lineup and schedule, visit the festival website.

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