BY LARA DUNNING
Whidbey Life Magazine Contributor
August 24, 2016
For two years in a row, Whidbeyites have voted the Oak Harbor Music Festival as Whidbey Island’s best festival. The celebration of music happens every Labor Day weekend and attendance can fit everyone’s budget because it’s free.
The event takes place in historic downtown Oak Harbor from Friday, Sept. 2 through Sunday, Sept. 4 and includes 37 bands on two different stages, arts and crafts booths, food vendors and beer and wine gardens.
“A very cool thing about our event is there is a whole lot of talent on Whidbey Island and the Pacific Northwest,” said Larry Mason, a musican himself and the Festival’s Director of all things musical. “But we also bring in musicians from outside the area that people wouldn’t get the opportunity to hear. It’s a very diverse line-up.”
Diverse indeed. The headliner is Penguin Prison, a New York based electropop band. Other musicans include L.A. Edwards, San Diego’s alternative and folk band; Jelly Bread, Reno’s desert-twang-meets-funk-and-rock band; and Olympia’s country rock band, The Olson Bros Band. And there’s plenty of opportunities to hear Whidbey Island-based musicans like folk and blues band, Broken Banjo; the swing-inspired SeaNotes; and the ska punk band, Simple Minded Symphony.
Festival hours go from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 2, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 3 and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 4. For those who want an overnight experience, there are $25 RV and camping sites available. There’s no power or water and bathrooms are out-houses, but the sites are near the heart of the festivities.
The first Oak Harbor Music and Jazz Festival was held in 2012. The positive response was so great that the members intrumental in arranging the event decided to make it more offical. In 2013, they received their nonprofit 501(c)(3) status, and offically changed the name to the Oak Harbor Music Festival. Three years later, the festival continues to create a buzz about Oak Harbor and the power of music.
The event’s motto is “to inspire the community through the power of music.” And inspire they do. Each year, the festival draws around 15,000 people of all ages to Oak Harbor, including out-of-state visitors from California, Oregon and our friendly neighbor, Canada.
With the free admission price, which is hard to find anywhere these days, it’s easy to encourage folks to indulge in their love of music. The no-cost admission is thanks to the help of all the sponsors, including Island Thrift, title sponsor; Island Trollers, stage sponsor; AlaskaUSA Mortgage Company and Hearing Health Services, beer and wine garden sponsors; and Saratoga Builders and LangCo Northwest, Inc., VIP backstage sponsors.
“Music is a language everyone can relate to,” Mason said. “This year, Island Thrift matched $12,000 in community funds. They’ve been a great supporter for the past four years, as well as the City of Oak Harbor and Island County.” And, there are donations from locals. “We have great community support and people will write a $500 check because they love our event.”
Raising money also means being able to provide music scholarships. This year the organizers gave out six $1000 scholarships to students from all three Whidbey Island high schools. Sometimes scholarship recipients, such as Kevin Silveira of Simple Minded Symphony, return to be part of the festival’s musical talent.
Music is the highlight of the weekend, but there are plenty of other creative outlets to keep attendees busy, such as perusing the more than 20 art and craft booths. One can indulge in sweets at Whidbey Island Fudge Company, get a temporary tattoo by Ryno Airbush Tattoos or find that perfect take-home gift made from local artisans. There are plenty of food options too, like tasty donuts from Dinky Donuts, Greek dishes at Athena’s and chicken and waffles from Vagabond.
Visit the Oak Harbor Music Festival website by clicking: The free annual http://www.oakharborfestival.com/home.
Lara Dunning is enthusiastic about small town living and you can read more about her discoveries at Small Town Washington. She has been published in The Crossing Guide, Explore Anacortes and Waggoner’s Pacific Northwest Boating. Her interests include young adult novels, history, hiking and locavore inspired food.
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