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Festival celebrates roots country music

The West Coast Country Music Festival will bring together bands to celebrate American roots music — while raising money to help the next generation learn traditional stringed instruments such as banjo, mandolin, guitar and fiddle.

The festival begins at noon and runs until dark on Saturday, Aug. 16, at the Greensprings Inn, 11470 Highway 66, 17.5 miles east of Ashland. TIckets cost $20 in advance or $25 at the door, with kids younger than 14 free. To purchase tickets in advance, see www.brownpapertickets.com/event/366098.

"Money plays a big role in whether kids can play," says Dee Fretwell, executive director of the Modern Roots Foundation, which was formed in November 2013 to give scholarships to youths for private music lessons.

She said the sibling members of one of the bands at the festival — Paige Anderson and the Fearless Kin — learned to play in large part because they had access to a lending library of instruments.

"It changed their lives," Fretwell says.

She said studies show kids who learn stringed instruments are more likely to play throughout their lives.

"People will continue to play and keep instruments in their homes. You'll find at campfires and barbecues people will bring out their mandolins and guitars — which wouldn't really happen with an instrument like a saxophone. Stringed instruments are very accessible," Fretwell says.

She said there is also a strong sense of community among musicians who play American roots music, and kids can tap into that. Playing stringed instruments also allows them to escape the pull of electronic devices, at least for a while.

"With so much technology around them, kids need the tangible experience of being able to create with their hands. They learn they don't need electricity or to text someone to express themselves," Fretwell says.

The family-friendly West Coast Country Music Festival will include a kids' area and food available for purchase, including barbecue by Oregon Iron Chef Neil Clooney of Ashland's Smithfields Restaurant and Bar. Alcohol, including Caldera beer, can be purchased in a beer garden. The Green Springs Rural Fire Department and craft vendors will also be showcased.

The festival lineup includes the San Francisco Bay Area acoustic quartet Steep Ravine. The band uses melodic verse, tight harmonies and rich instrumentals to push folk and bluegrass music in new directions.

Portland-based Scott Law will bring his Appalachian bluegrass sound, while the Winters, Calif., Bonanza King Band mixes country swing with old-timey blues.

Medford's Alice DiMicele Band features the soaring highs and rumbling lows of DiMicele's voice.

Local favorite Eight Dollar Mountain, based in Ashland, combines vocal harmonies with red-hot picking on the banjo, dobro, mandolin, guitar and bass to create a high-energy bluegrass sound.

Other bands include Rainy & the Rattlesnakes, the Creekside Strings All-Stars and The New Autonomous Folksingers.

In addition to helping the Modern Roots Foundation, festival proceeds will benefit the Green Springs Rural Fire District and the cancer-fighting Team Alex organization.

For more information about the festival, see www.westcoastcountrymusicfestival.com.

For more information about the Modern Roots Foundation, see www.ModernRootsFoundation.org or call 541-227-3227.


San Francisco Bay Area folk and bluegrass band Steep Ravine is one of the headliners performing at the West Coast Country Music Festival. Photo courtesy of Chris Balboni