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  • The hill is alive

  • Does your bucket list include belting out tunes before an adoring crowd under summer skies?
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  • Does your bucket list include belting out tunes before an adoring crowd under summer skies?
    Then apply for an opening-act stint at the Britt Festivals.
    "We're happy to have local bands play," says Mike Sturgill, director of programing and production for Britt in Jacksonville.
    Local chanteuse Beth Baker, known for singing her heart out, be it Broadway or blues, has so far had the pleasure of performing at Britt four times. Baker was the opening act for the Smothers Brothers in 2003 and Burt Bacharach in 2005. She also was a backup singer for Lyle Lovett in 2008 and Trace Adkins in 2009.
    Performing at Britt "is every bit the fantasy you would think it is," Baker says.
    "Being asked to be an opening act made me giddy, literally," she says. "I probably smiled for two months before the concert and another two months after it."
    One of the most exciting moments is the walk up the stairs to the stage just before going on, she says.
    "You can feel the excitement rushing through your body," Baker says. "Standing in the wings I was able to look out and see the crowd, which made my heart race. Then they announce your name and you make the trek across the stage, dodging all the equipment and instruments that are pre-set for the main act, and find your way to the little tiny spot in the front, center portion of the stage."
    Baker says the last thing most attendees on the Britt hillside want to do "is listen to some small-time singer when they've come to hear the main act."
    "But there is no bigger thrill than when you finish your first song and you see them applauding and smiling and really loving what you're doing," she says.
    Asked to sing backup for Lyle Lovett afforded a different kind of thrill. Sharing the stage with someone famous and whose music she really loved, Baker says hearing Lovett introduce her "was an unbelievable thrill."
    "I can hardly describe it," she says.
    As an opening act, you generally perform while it is still daylight, she says. But singing backup for Lyle Lovett and Trace Adkins, Baker experienced Britt "in all its lighted glory," she says.
    "I've done many shows and have had some great experiences," Baker says. "But (I) can count on two hands the number of times I've had an experience that truly felt 'big time' in every sense of the word. Britt is a class act, and I am grateful for my experiences with them."
    Baker's only regret is that she wishes her father, Charlie, could have seen her performances at Britt. He died in 1999.
    "It was always his dream that I be on that stage," she says, adding her proud pop probably would have stood up and yelled, "That's my girl!"
    Baker's advice for anyone with a Britt bucket list-wish is "don't be afraid to put yourself out there."
    Baker believes the best performers have a vulnerability that allows the music (the dance, the art, the writing) to sing through them, she says.
    "Our experiences, good and bad, color the music we make," Baker says.
    Sturgill tries to find the perfect balance between a headliner and an opening act. Of the 27 national acts that performed at Britt last season, eight had bands/singers for opening acts. Four of those bands were locals, three were from Portland and one was a national artist, he says.
    "Some don't want an opening act," Sturgill says, adding others might bring their own talent.
    Last season, Britt started providing even more opportunities for local performers to get a taste of the spotlight. The addition of the Table Rock City stage added more than 25 pre-show gigs for local talent, he says.
    Staged near the concession stands, and beginning at around 6 p.m., the Table Rock City gigs bring a more "festival-like feel" to Britt, Sturgill says.
    Sturgill says interested musicians can begin their efforts to perform at Britt by visiting www.brittfest.org/performatbritt.
    Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.
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