By PATRICIA GUTHRIE
for the Whidbey News-Times
Once again, Labor Day weekend on Whidbey means masses of people and boatloads of bands jamming together at the Oak Harbor Music Festival.
In its eighth year, the festival remains free, open to the public, family friendly and dependent on major business sponsors and legions of volunteers to pull it off.
An estimated 20,000 to 25,000 people attended the festival last year.
More than 30 bands are scheduled to play over three days from 6 p.m. Friday, Aug. 30, until 6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 1. Two stages set up on downtown’s Pioneer Way will be surrounded by food and craft vendors and beer and wine tents.
Jamestown Revival, described as writing “songs about everyday life that are a combination of harmonies that merge Southern country, Americana and Western rock music,” are the headliners.
Other top bands include The Small Glories, 4th + Main, HarpDog Brown and The Uptown Blues Band, The Paperboys and L.A. Edwards.
“More than 800 bands applied to play at our festival this year,” said Larry Mason, music coordinator with the nonprofit group that organizes the event.
Despite its growing reputation, the Oak Harbor Music Festival remains true to its original mission of inspiring music among youth, nurturing local talent and providing a welcoming community event for the young and old to listen to rock, blues, jazz, country folk, bluegrass and other musical genres.
Among Whidbey Island bands featured: Broken Banjo, Joann Quintana Band, Janie Cribbs and the T.Rust Band, Nathaniel Talbot Trio, Handsome and Gretyl, Weak Sheep, Piper and the Planets, Backyard Bison and Simple Minded Symphony.
Much of the event’s revenue comes from thirsty concert-goers drinking at the festival’s two beer and wine gardens. Money raised goes toward student music scholarships, including one named after the late Oak Harbor High music teacher Ed Bridges.
He inspired decades of students, including Mason, who plays rhythm guitar in the band Broken Banjo, and bass player Terry Morgan, OHHS class of 1971, who’s been playing with the popular regional band LeRoy Bell and His Only Friends for 16 years. Both bands perform Saturday.
“Ed Bridges was an amazing band director,” Morgan said.
This is Morgan’s fourth summer performing at the music festival.
“It’s been great to get invited and come back to Whidbey to play,” said Morgan, now 66, and living with his wife in North Seattle. “Anytime I play there, I see somebody I grew up with.”
Morgan played in various bands as a high school kid, not just in garages but for actual gigs.
“I cut my teeth playing in military clubs.”
Morgan and Mason are known for their skills on, and behind, the stage.
Mason has booked bands for the music festival since its inception in 2012, but he knows the first big-time festival of bands started decades before.
He remembers attending the “Carnival of Music” back in 1971 at Memorial Stadium on Midway Boulevard. It was produced by Dale Butler and Morgan, who calls it “the first major quasi-rock festival of Oak Harbor.”
Among the bands Morgan hired for the show almost 50 years ago: Sugarloaf, known for the hit song, “Green-eyed Lady” and War, the California funk group known for the song, “Spill the Wine,” and for being the last band to perform with Jimi Hendrix the night before he died.
Promoting and playing music remains Morgan’s passion. And his profession. At the University of Washington, he studied the history of jazz and systematic musicology, which explores aspects music and how it interacts with everyday life. He became a teacher’s assistant with UW’s Music Department and the campus director of arts and entertainment.
“Then I got tired of academia and became a punk rock promotor,” Morgan said.
He helped revive Seattle’s iconic downtown nightclub, Show Box, taking a chance on bands with names like the Police, Dire Straits, Devo and Iggy Pop before they hit the big time.
In 1979, Morgan with three others founded Modern Productions which evolved into the event-planning company Modern Enterprises LLC.
The region’s top businesses and attractions, including Microsoft, Nordstrom, Seattle Children’s Hospit-al, Museum of Flight, Pacific Place and others are among clients.
From planning to public relations, Morgan, the CEO and owner, directs event design and production teams in-between his gigs with the LeRoy Bell band.
The two met when Bell decided to strike out on his own after years performing as a duo with Casey James and composing songs that became hits of other artists, including Elton John.
Bell contacted Morgan looking for promotional help. He got himself an ace bass player as well.
“Back in 2003, I called Terry to see if he could get some shows booked,” Bell recalled. “He replied he could do that but he really wanted to be in the band.
“I said, ‘Sure, let’s give it a try.’”
Morgan has been Bell’s most steadfast ‘Friend’ as other musicians in the four-piece band come and go; currently Ben Smith (formerly with Heart) plays drums and Jason Cameron is on guitar.
Morgan and Bell have performed as opening acts for B.B. King, Etta James, Van Morrison, Joe Cocker, Roberta Flack, The Temptations, The O’Jays, Idina Menzel and Sheryl Crow.
“Terry’s been around the Seattle music scene a lot longer than I have,” said Bell. “He has an eye for talent and he is a very accomplished player. He’s a good guy, and a very honest guy — which is hard to find in this business.”
• For more event information, go to www.oakharborfestival.com