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Music fest fills five venues with live dance music

Jump jive, blues, doo-wop, rockabilly, zydeco, R&B, funk, rock 'n' roll — and above all swing music — fills the bill this year at the Southern Oregon Music Festival. Hosted in the heart of downtown Medford, the three-day music fest brings 17 bands to five venues and offers more than 95 sets of dance music. 

The festival kicks off at 12:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 30, with live jazz, ragtime and swing by Wally's Warehouse in the Grand Ballroom at Inn at the Commons, 200 N. Riverside Drive. Music is nonstop, with shows in the Petite Ballroom at Inn at the Commons; Tequila Event Center, 1016 N. Riverside Ave.; Howiee's on Front, 16 N. Front St.; and Studio C at NBC, 124 S. Fir St. Two finales — one in the Grand Ballroom and one at Studio C — cap the festival at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 2.

Tickets, wristbands and brochures are available at any of the venues except Howiee's. A three-day, all-event pass is $90, $20 for ages 12 through 23, and free for ages 11 and younger. Day passes are $35 for Friday, $50 for Saturday and $30 for Sunday. Prime Time tickets for Friday or Saturday shows after 5 p.m. are $30 and include admission to Late & Live shows at Howiee's and Dance 'til Dawn at Firehouse Dance Hall, 44 N. Front St. Prime Time tickets for Friday and Saturday shows after 5 p.m. are $45 and include admission to Late & Live and Dance 'til Dawn. See www.somusicfest.org or call 866-448-1948.

Among this year's festival lineup is Nashville-based Carolyn Martin's Swing Band. The six-piece unit boasts Martin on acoustic archtop guitar, husband, David Martin, on bass, Mike Sweeny on pedal steel guitar, Rory Hoffman on guitar, accordion and clarinet, drummer Ray Von Rotz and Paul Kramer on fiddle.

"We are not a country band, we are a swing band," Carolyn Martin says during a telephone interview. "I want to make that distinction. What makes Western swing is its instrumentation, and that's all. There's fiddle and steel instead of horns. There are elements of country and Western in swing music, but if you're thinking of Buck Owens or Loretta Lynn, that's not what we do. We are much closer to jazz than country."

This is the band's second visit to Medford. Martin's Swing Band appeared five years ago in the festival's lineup.

"We just had a fantastic time," Martin says. "We've been wanting to come back ever since. This year, it worked out perfectly for us. I think if people just listen, we'll play something for everybody. Our music is very danceable. We love, love, love dancers."

In Nashville, the band plays country music bar The Nashville Palace and bluegrass venue Station Inn, along with appearances on the long-running Saturday night radio show "Midnight Jamboree," started by Ernest Tubb in the '60s.

Martin and her husband moved to Nashville more than 30 years ago, and the band just kind of happened organically, she says.

"There's different circles of musicians in Nashville, and there's a big circle of swing players."

Martin belongs to the Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame, and she became a member of the Northwest Western Swing Music Society’s Hall of Fame in 2014 and the Western Swing Society of the Southwest’s Hall of Fame in 2015. In 2014, the Cowtown Society of Western Music named her a “Hero of Western Swing,” and she's a recipient of the Academy of Western Artists’ Will Rogers award as Western Swing Female Vocalist of the Year in 2008, 2010 and 2014.

Martin has recorded six CDs, ranging from her 2004 "The Very Thought of You," a collection of pop standards, to her 2014 "A Platter of Brownies," a tribute to Milton Brown, "The Father of Western Swing," and his Musical Brownies.

Martin's CDs will be available at her band's shows during the music festival and online at carolynmartinmusic.com.

Southern Oregon Music Festival's 2016 lineup includes Bob Draga and Friends from St. Petersburg, Florida, with new takes on jazz and standards.

Cornet Chop Suey of St. Louis will deliver rags, Dixieland, contemporary jump, jazz and swing.

Danny Maika of Southern California will play guitar, ukulele and harmonica music influenced by the soulful Al Green, raw emotion of Neil Young and jazz vocals by Bobby McFerrin.

Dave Bennett and The Memphis Speed Kings of Waterford, Mississippi, will play rockabilly classics by Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Chuck Berry and Hank Williams, and the Dave Bennett Quartet will play classical pops.

Gator Nation of Sonoma, California, combine traditional Cajun, zydeco and New Orleans R&B.

Gino and the Lone Gunman, another newcomer to the Southern Oregon Music Festival, plays rockabilly, swing, blues, country and vintage rock 'n' roll.

High Sierra Jazz Band from Northern California plays energetic jazz, and High Street Band of Nampa, Idaho, plays musical hits from swing, Latin, R&B, funk and zydeco.

Tacoma, Washington-based Liefy Green's acoustic cover of Usher's "DJ Got Us Falling in Love" became a hit on the West Coast swing dance circuit, and Paul and Joe Midiri of Midiri Brothers in Mays Landing, New Jersey, have made jazz and classical music the focus of their lives, leading trios, quintets, sextets and big bands.

Oregon Coast Lab Band from North Bend is part of an education program that offers young musicians along Oregon's south coast chances to perform big-band jazz in front of live audiences.

A festival favorite, Tom Rigney and Flambeau of Berkeley, California, will play Rigney's original and eclectic compositions.

Twice As Good, a father-and-son duo from Clear Lake Oaks, California, are recipients of a West Coast Blues Award and a Native American Music Award.

Wally’s Warehouse of Otisville, Mississippi, and Orlando, Florida, play a combination of classic jazz, ragtime and swing.

The Young Bucs of Coos Bay play doo-wop from the '50s.

See www.somusicfest.org to see YouTube videos of the bands.

Singer Carolyn Martin and her Western swing band returns to perform at the Southern Oregon Music Festival. Photo courtesy of Dave Martin