BY RUSSELL CLEPPER
Whidbey Life Magazine Contributor
August 27, 2014
As Larry Mason ticks off the roster of the 30 bands that will perform at the Oak Harbor Music Festival on Friday, Aug. 29 through Sunday, Aug 31 this year, his enthusiasm about the talents and attributes of each act makes it sound as though he’s describing the headliner each time. The veteran Seattle-area musician and Oak Harbor High School grad does the booking for the festival that was founded just two years ago in 2012.
“Nolan Garrett from Tacoma is a young guitarist who just opened for Chris Isaak at St. Michel Winery recently,” said Mason. He adds that a number of other groups this year come from the town that shares an airport with Seattle. “Tacoma is phenomenal right now.”
Pop rockers Ben Union and the Fame Riot are from Tacoma, as is the event’s emcee, comedian Justin Hayes. Mason praises them all highly and underscores their youth. “We’re definitely trying to get young people,” he said.
Mason was a drummer for the Seattle classic rock group the Brando’s when he was in his twenties and remains just as passionate as ever—not only for music, but for encouraging and promoting promising young musicians. In fact, that is one of the raisons d’étre of the Oak Harbor Music Festival. The Ed Bridges Music Scholarship was established by festival organizers to help young musicians continue their studies. This year, three Whidbey Island students, one from each high school, will receive a scholarship.
Other young up-and-coming acts in this year’s line-up include the folk-stomp Americana band from Bellingham, Br’er Rabbit; Denmark-born country crooner Jessica Lynne, now from Seattle; Northwest alt-folk string band the Blackberry Bushes; Seattle rock guitarist Ayron Jones and the Way and Blake Noble, an Australian-born multi-instrumentalist from Seattle whose performances feature him playing guitar and diggeridoo at the same time. His bassist Terry Morgan studied under Ed Bridges at Oak Harbor High School, as did Mason and Mason’s bandmate in the Halyards, Carl Funk.
This list is, of course, incomplete. The full line-up is on the Oak Harbor Music Festival web page (see the link at the end of the article.)
Along with all the young’uns, Mason has enlisted an impressive field of veteran musicians as well. Leroy Bell and His Only Friends return this year. Bell wrote hit songs for Elton John back in the late ’70s and was one of the top performers on “The X Factor” in 2011. Bell’s vocals and guitar picking and the excellent back-up from his band provided one of the highlights for last year’s festival.
“Leroy is a tremendous songwriter,” said Mason. When performing, “he gets that groove and just stays there. His band is phenomenal.”
Heart by Heart is a tribute band with a caveat; two of the members performed in the band during its heyday. Bassist Steve Fossen was one of the founders of the original group. Michael Desrosier joined Heart during the recording of their first album. His reputation as a drummer reached legendary status. The remaining members in the current formation are highly accomplished musicians as well. For example, guitarist Steve Hanson is renowned for his work on the sound track of “Apocalypse Now” and also for his Jimi Hendrix tribute performances.
Mason’s band the Halyards is another team of veteran Seattle area musicians who know how to rock the joint. Speaking of veterans and local pickers who can raise a roof, Whidbey Island music fans will recognize several of the musicians taking the stage. Janie Cribbs and Joe Reggiatorre return this year with Janie Cribbs and the T-Rust Band, an ensemble that belts out some old fashioned blues rock.
Garage rock band PeTE brings their classic yet fearless brand of the devil’s music to the festival mix for the first time. As band leader David Draper might say, you can expect a crowd of noodle arm dancers to materialize in front of the stage while they play. It’s just a thing.
DB Jazz, a popular ensemble with Dr. Bob Wagner on keyboard, features another band of veteran players capable of mesmerizing a crowd. Rounding out the roster of Whidbey bands is Western Heroes, one of South Whidbey’s favorite dance bands. Ace guitarist Dave Licastro and his brother Michael perform their original and eclectic compositions with the able assistance of David Maloney and Lorraine Newland.
All 30 bands will play on one of two stages. Our Freund’s Stage is sponsored by the Freunds, a pioneer family in Oak Harbor. The Diamond Stage is sponsored by Diamond Rentals. The festival’s website, listed below, offers the schedules of both stages. The title sponsor of the festival is Island Thrift Store that, Mason said, “really stepped up and helped us out.”
Winners of the Ed Bridges Music Scholarship are Matthew Herring of South Whidbey High School, Andrew Walker from Coupeville High School and Kevin Silveira from Oak Harbor High School. The success of last year’s festival allowed the organizers to award scholarships to each high school on the island this year. Previously, the scholarship was only awarded to a music student from Oak Harbor.
For Mason, finding and signing up the bands for this year’s event has been a labor of love. “If I told you how much time is in it, you wouldn’t believe me,” he said. Yet his zest for the music is unflagging.
“I plan on seeing every band,” Mason said. From the looks of the schedule, that looks like an excellent example to follow.
For more information on the festival line-up, vendors, camping, parking and directions, please visit the following website http://www.oakharborfestival.com/index.html.
Image at top: Nathan Hamer and Miranda Zickler of Br’er Rabbit (photo courtesy of Oak Harbor Music Festival)
Russell Clepper is a singer-songwriter who plies his trade locally and around the country. He is also a substitute teacher for the Oak Harbor School District.
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