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Say goodbye to Southern Oregon Music Festival

The Southern Oregon Music Festival will not return for a 30th year, after its board announced the dissolution of the nonprofit in charge of it. Instead, the fall of 2018 is expected to see the first Rogue Music Festival, under the leadership of a now-former SOMF board member.

"We're walking away with our heads held high," Executive Director Dennis Ramsden said. "It's been a great show and we just want to thank people for all their support."

The festival, which featured bands from across the country ranging in genre from jazz to doo-wop to '50s rock 'n' roll, was confronted with a $50,000 funding hole planning for this year's festival after losing its three biggest corporate sponsors in 2016. Ramsden said he and the other board members had to scramble until March to fill the gap so that the event could happen this past fall.

About half of its $200,000 budget came from donors, while the other half came from admission passes for attendees. Although Ramsden talked about diversifying funding streams after raising the money for the 2017 event, he later said that the dependence on individuals pledging and pitching to smaller businesses wasn't sustainable. 

"They can’t do this every year," he said of this year's donors. "And we can’t expect them to."

He described the volunteer position as feeling like "a full-time job," and said several of the board members weren't up to the work it would take to fill those funding gaps.

In a letter to supporters and participants posted on the festival's website, Ramsden said that board member Jared Davidson will try to continue the Southern Oregon Music Festival legacy by launching the Rogue Music Festival.

Davidson said he's confident in the new venture's success.

"Personally, I believe there's quite a few businesses out there that haven't been approached," Davidson said. "I firmly believe the community will stand behind the new festival."

Davidson said he has filed to create a nonprofit named for the new festival and is gathering board members. He plans to invite most of the perennial artists who travel the circuit of West Coast jazz festivals, but also wants to include new bands, with which he connects through his job as an entertainment director at Howiee's on Front restaurant.

The SOMF sponsored other musical outreach efforts, including hosting live music assemblies in elementary and middle schools, refurbishing and donating musical instruments to students and supporting guitar instructors at Central Medford High School and Jackson County juvenile detention. Davidson said he will continue and even expand those programs with Rogue Music Festival, plans that he admits are ambitious.

Ramsden, who served on the SOMF board for 15 years, agrees.

"He's going to need all the help he can get," he said.

Davidson has a tight schedule to bring the event to fruition by its scheduled date of Sept. 18-20, 2018.

Eli Matthews with Travel Medford, an extension of the Chamber of Commerce, said he is already aware of the changes to the Medford festival and he is "pretty optimistic" about its chances of success.

"It's something that I think can grow into something larger than what the Southern Oregon Music Festival ever was," Matthews said.

That's Davidson's vision: He wants to expand to two festivals by 2019, opening up Medford as a perennial home for funk, blues and rock bands every spring.

More information about his efforts can soon be found at roguemusicfest.org, and interested artists, sponsors or volunteers can contact the organization at roguemusicfest@gmail.com.

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at 541-776-4497 or ktornay@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ka_tornay.

Mike Mudry from Philadelphia and Helen Berrett of Arizona dance together while The Midiri Brothers perform during the Southern Oregon Music Festival in 2016. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]