As the music writer at the local daily newspaper, it pains me to say this, but 2010 was a lost year for me and the Bend Roots Revival. Which is a major bummer, since I’m supposed to cover the local music scene, and there is no better celebration of the local music scene than the Revival, now in its fifth year on Bend’s west side.
Alas, these are busy times in my life outside work, and after wall-to-wall coverage of the 2009 festival, I just couldn’t spend as much time at this year’s event as I would’ve liked. I hope to make up for that next year.
But, I did swing by for a couple hours on Saturday morning, and a couple more hours on Saturday evening. Here are a few observations:
1) As far as I could tell, Century Center is an ideal venue for the Bend Roots Revival. There’s plenty of parking, and the single entrance/exit is a far better situation than the chaotic come-and-go free-for-all at the fest’s old home around Parrilla Grill and The Victorian Cafe. That alone must’ve been a major relief for organizers. Also, the Center’s courtyard is expansive and comfortable, but can be segmented in such a way to provide several distinct performance spaces. The two biggest stages have particularly nice set-ups. You wind down a wheelchair ramp to get to the outdoor B.I.G.S. Stage, where tall red walls tower on three sides, creating a very self-contained environment. And the indoor Century Center Stage is in a large, simple, concrete room set apart from the rest of the grounds by a door … y’know, because it’s indoors. The two biggest stages host the festival’s biggest, loudest acts, so it’s nice they’re about as isolated as they can be within the relatively tight confines of the Century Center’s courtyard.
2) That said, Revival organizers will have to find a way to reduce the “sound bleed” from the B.I.G.S. Stage next year. It is around the corner and behind some food booths from the Dave’s Garage and Casey’s Corner stages, but when a quieter artist is playing on one of those stages and a louder artist is soundchecking or performing on the B.I.G.S. Stage, the latter can easily overwhelm the former. I’m not sure what the solution is — perhaps just careful scheduling? — but it’s something to be aware of.
3) On Saturday morning, I wandered around the festival with my daughter, intent on seeing local artists I’d never seen before. In the spirit of Twitter, here are 140-character “reviews” of each:
Dan Shanahan: One of Central Oregon’s best-kept secrets, his slow-burning alt-country songs are terrific. Polish that band a bit and big things are ahead.
Michelle Van Handel: Jazz singer’s originals waft thru the room like an aromatic cocktail, complete w/ tiny umbrella. The soundtrack to a perfect island night.
Robin Jackson: Smooth & soulful, set to smartly picked acoustic guitar. Dig the French vocals, too. She’ll whisk you to a cool club somewhere cosmopolitan.
4) I returned to the festival on Saturday evening not necessarily to watch Mosley Wotta and Empty Space Orchestra perform, as I’ve seen them both a lot, but to take in the scene. I’ve heard that there were lots more people at this year’s Revival than in past years, and I’m sure that’s true. Given the very different venues and layouts of the Century Center vs. Parrilla/The Vic, though, it was hard to make that comparison, at least for my feeble mind. I will say this: There was a mob of folks out to see MoWo headline the B.I.G.S. Stage, a thick crowd of at least a few hundred that stretched from the stage all the way to the back. I shot some video, but it’s very dark so … I don’t know, maybe if you squint you can get a feel for the throng:
No matter what you can or can’t see in that video, the point is this: There was a really good vibe at Bend Roots Saturday night. It was a different vibe from last year’s Saturday night; last year’s Saturday night felt embryonic, unexplored, on the edge. Last year, during the Ruins of Ooah -> Mosley Wotta -> Empty Space run at the end of the evening, the excitement was palpable. The air crackled with buzz. It felt like we were standing on the head of a match just as it burst into flame.
This year, the buzz was still there, but it was a little more seasoned and a little less spine-tingling. Don’t misunderstand: The value and importance of hundreds of people gathered to celebrate local art and hear local music was huge. It was like a physical embodiment of all the next-level success that Central Oregon’s musicians have enjoyed in 2010. But at last year’s Roots fest, it felt like folks were stepping out of their comfort zone, tentatively dipping their toes into the local-music water. This year, it was clear they’d spent the past year learning to swim, and they dove right in.
Bend Roots Revival ’09 was the event’s last year as an under-discovered gem, finding itself, learning to walk. In 2010, with a new home, better organization and artists onstage who’d achieved a higher profile, Bend Roots hit the ground running, ready to race into a bright future.