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  • Rogue Valley musicians, wineries work in harmony

    Rogue Valley's wineries and musicians grow a working relationship benefiting both
  • As the economy and other factors take their toll on local restaurants, musicians are bringing their thirst to perform to the Rogue Valley's wineries — where they find the hours easier and the audiences more attentive.
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  • As the economy and other factors take their toll on local restaurants, musicians are bringing their thirst to perform to the Rogue Valley's wineries — where they find the hours easier and the audiences more attentive.
    More and more tasting rooms are offering live music as a way to entice customers in an increasingly competitive market, providing musicians with more opportunities to play than ever before.
    When Porscha Schiller became the tasting room manager at South Stage Cellars in Jacksonville seven years ago, it was rare to hear live music while tasting a new wine, she said.
    "There were hardly any musicians playing in wineries," said Schiller. "Now, South Stage Cellars is kind of known as the music winery."
    Schiller said she believes musicians prefer the setting of a tasting room to that of a noisy, late-night bar.
    "I don't know what it's like to play in a bar; but here, they like to listen. It's a different atmosphere," she said. "People will have conversations, but they also like to listen to the music."
    South Stage Cellars' tasting room hosts music, without a cover charge, each Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Schiller said she has a long list of musicians willing to play.
    "I'm booked out until probably November or December," she said.
    Over the past two years, popular music venues such as Roscoe's in Phoenix, the Avalon in Talent and Alex's in Ashland have closed their doors, leaving a void for many local musicians.
    Rogue Valley music veteran Greg Frederick said that when Roscoe's and Avalon closed in early 2013, his band, the Rogue Suspects, wasn't thrilled with the other options for late-night venues in the area.
    "They're late nights, long hours and they're a lot of work," said Frederick, who turned his attention to wineries such as EdenVale Winery in Medford and Paschal Winery in Talent, which were some of the first to book musicians.
    "Now for us it's our mainstay," said Frederick, who will play 160 shows this year with the Rogue Suspects and his other band, LEFT, with more than half of the gigs at local wineries.
    Frederick said winery concerts appeal to a demographic of empty-nesters, those retired or near retiring with some disposable income.
    "Wineries offer this safe, quiet, romantic space, and you can still be in bed by 10 o'clock," said Frederick. "Wineries are very conducive to the lifestyle of people who spend money on entertainment in this area."
    For the musicians, the wineries offer better pay and a welcoming atmosphere where they feel appreciated, he said.
    "The wineries treat us really well, and you become part of the family," he said.
    Though the Rogue Suspects is well-established in the valley, Frederick said newer bands are competing for open spots in the winery circuit.
    "There are many younger bands, and they're competing to have a stage to play on," he said.
    Frederick said the Rogue Suspects is a regular at six or seven local wineries, with RoxyAnn Winery in east Medford being one of his favorite.
    RoxyAnn tasting room manager Brenda Walden Pine said the winery also was one of the first to welcome musicians. She said having live music draws a larger crowd and offers more business to the winery.
    RoxyAnn opened its outdoor patio for the season on June 6, when the Rogue Suspects entertained an audience so large, the venue had to turn patrons away.
    Walden Pine said musicians usually are compensated $75 to $125 per person for a two-hour gig, though some performers accept part of their payment in wine.
    The performances are valuable, with live music more than doubling the tasting room's profits on a given night, Walden Pine said.
    She said she's in the process of booking her fall concert series and already has a waiting list of performers hoping to get a slot.
    "They're hungry to play, and I've heard from a lot of musicians that they don't like the late nights at a bar," she said. "They really like that they're not having to play until 1 in the morning."
    Acoustic musician Jef Ramsey said small tasting rooms are ideal for his sound, and the venues usually offer extras to the performers.
    Most wineries pay at least $75 for a two-hour gig, with special events such as a wine pickup — the day when club members pick up their wines — paying $150 to $200, Ramsey said. Often a bottle of wine is also included, and sometimes a free meal, if food is being served.
    "If the clients pay significant tips, the musicians will do all right," Ramsey said.
    For musician Jeff Kloetzel, the winery scene was something new after living in Hawaii for more than 20 years.
    After moving to Ashland, he played at farmers' markets and coffee shops before finding a home at local wineries.
    "I am almost strictly at wineries now — that's my niche," said Kloetzel. "I way prefer it to playing in bars."
    Kloetzel said patrons in wineries are generous with tips and seem to listen to the music more intently.
    At the newer Belle Fiore winery on Dead Indian Memorial Road outside of Ashland, wine sales and events manager Nathan Millington said he understands why wineries might be a better venue for musicians.
    Milligan said that if a restaurant doles out $150 for a musician but only brings in $800 in food and drink sales, the cost isn't worth it. For a winery, the cost is less important — just having patrons means more exposure for the winery.
    "I tell musicians, if you bring people in, I will compensate you better," said Milligan. "I'm having no trouble filling my spots."
    Staff at newly opened wineries in the Rogue Valley look to already established tasting rooms and see their success in having live music, said Scott Calamar, vocalist and musician in the band Wine Without Reason and webmaster for AshlandLiveMusic.com, a free live music calendar he has operated since 2007.
    Calamar said that as old venues close and new ones open, the new ones tend to musically favor a younger crowd.
    "Many of the newer bar and club venues cater to younger audiences with the type of music they book and what they serve," he said. "I don't know that there are a bunch of 20somethings drinking pinot and listening to jazz."
    As a musician, Calamar said he enjoys playing at wineries.
    "I love the wineries," he said. "The audiences are attentive, well-mannered and help to support the venues. And the opportunity to play outside or in a beautiful tasting room can't be beat."
    The downside of tasting room venues comes in October, Calamar said, when many end their seasonal music series for the winter.
    "Last winter, for instance, was very difficult for a number of bands and musicians so they increasingly rely on the seasonal winery bookings," said Calamar. "I do believe it has changed the face of music in the valley."
    Frederick said that enough wineries operate year-round for the Rogue Suspects to stay busy, but he understands the impact wine is having on the local music scene and the economy.
    At the end of each winery show, Frederick said he thanks audience members and reminds them what they are supporting.
    "I tell them, the wineries are the future of this valley," he said.
    Teresa Ristow is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email her at teresa.ristow@gmail.com.
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