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Ashland Summer Celebration Series kicks off Saturday

If you think Ashland’s festivals have gone away, think again.

In an attempt to save crippled businesses, the Ashland Chamber of Commerce has cranked up a dozen “fun, socially distant” events, called the Ashland Summer Celebration Series.

The slate of events begins with a Fourth of July celebration that will include the Ashland Brass Quintet and singer Livia Genise at noon, Saturday, on the Plaza.

She will also sing Saturday at 4 p.m., and Thursday and Friday at 5 p.m. Barry Craft will read the Declaration of Independence at the chamber, and storefronts will be decorated with Fourth of July memories.

There will be no parade, park booths, flyover or fireworks. The day will focus on dining outside, with mask-wearing, spaced-apart friends strolling around, shopping and grabbing a brewski or glass of vino. Participants can also join in the 44-year tradition of the Fourth of July run, but virtually, on your own time. Details are at www.ashland.or.us/Julyrun

There is no Shakespeare Festival this year, but small business owners, landlords and chamber tourism officials have created a syllabus of a dozen three-day weekends that loop in family-friendly themes of flowers, local produce, nature, Harry Potter, wellness, bicycling, wine, art, music, sidewalk sales, fall harvest and back-to-school. It goes like this:

  • July 10-12, In Full Bloom — See all that’s blooming in Ashland from the summer season, including flowers, gardening and farms.
  • July 17-19, Our Earth — Celebrate eco-friendly products and enjoy locally grown plates from Ashland’s culinary scene.
  • July 24-26, Discover Nature — Honoring the 20th anniversary of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, home to 3,500 species and among the top five most biodiverse temperate forests in the world. Celebrate biodiversity, nature, science, animals, educational discovery and sense of place, as Ashland sits at the convergence of the Cascade and Siskiyou mountain ranges.
  • July 31-Aug. 2, A Family Jubilee — Friday July 31 is Harry Potter’s birthday, which Ashland has been celebrating for years. The rest of the weekend is for family picnics, bike rides, ice cream sundaes, family-oriented music and kid-friendly specials and activities.
  • Aug. 7-9, Wellness & Self Care — Ashland’s wellness roots run deep, from healing waters to natural beauty and inner peace. Participants can pamper themselves with comfort foods, a welcoming vibe and wellness education classes.
  • Aug. 14-16, Get Outside! — Explore your own backyard by pedaling Ashland by bike, explore downtown, trails, parks, wineries and views. Ashland is a Bike City USA town, attuned to all ages. Get some new gear, a grab-and-go lunch and dine alfresco in the sunshine.
  • Aug. 21-23, From Grape to Glass — Discover Ashland’s fine wines and the Rogue Valley wine country. Enjoy pairings showcasing local wines and Ashland’s culinary scene.
  • Aug. 28-30, Art at the Heart of Ashland — Appreciate the visual arts in Ashland, see artists doing live work, enjoy special pairings at restaurants, food art, chalk walk and the creative community.
  • Sept. 4-7, We Got the Beat! — Local music will play and artists will display as participants stroll Main Street and enjoy dining, shopping and downtown Ashland.
  • Sept. 11-13, Fall Sidewalk Sale — Ashland’s shopping scene will be the highlight, provided by innovative retailers who help make Ashland a true destination. Enjoy deals and specials while soaking up the ambiance of Ashland’s historic downtown and Railroad District.
  • Sept. 18-20, Fall Harvest Festival — Taste Southern Oregon’s agricultural bounty and bring in autumn.
  • Sept. 25-27, Welcome Back Raiders! Go Ashland Grizz! — Ashland is home to the SOU Raiders and the Ashland High Grizzlies! The town will celebrate students and education, welcoming all alumni, SOU supporters, students and faculty for a fun collegiate weekend.

If it works out, more events will be added, said Chamber Executive Director Sandra Slattery. You’ll see lots of “pop-up” events, sales, music, which are there for a short time, then morph into something else, somewhere else.

Leaders in the attempt to spark life during the pandemic are landlords Matthew Haines and Alan Sandler, who have reduced many rents. But, said Haines, the coronavirus has had such an impact on small business that he’s not sure many restaurants could survive even if they had no rent at all.

“A lot depends on what mandates come from our state and how much coronavirus gets under control,” said Haines. “So we have to be smart and wear masks. If people don’t wear masks and distance, that would be a violation, and the city or state or Health Department would shut us down.

“If we’re safe, we can all benefit. If we have an outbreak, it will all go backwards. These are going to be personal choices people make. We’re all connected and have to support each other through our behavior. It’s not just about money. If you support the business community, you have to think safety.”

The chamber originally asked the Oregon Department of Transportation to close Main Street, but because it’s a state highway, they said, it can’t be used for commercial purposes, said Slattery. So planners will let restaurants place tables and musicians in parking places, with ample distancing between them.

“People love the idea of being outdoors,” she said. “It’s not a free-for-all. There will be barricades for where they will and won’t do business. Government and business are showing willingness to work together to figure out safe access to our businesses.”

The Summer Celebrations Series represents a new direction for Ashland, which has focused on the “big splash” events, such as Fourth of July, Halloween, Festival of Lights, Ashland Independent Film Festival and Shakespeare. But a dozen of these three-day galas, she said, means 36 days of lower-key fun, spread over a longer time, enabling tourists and locals to come and go, picking their own time, resting, going on a hike, coming back and it’s still going on.

“It’s a much bigger opportunity for people to engage,” she added. Events may be in flux, so attendees can keep up with what’s going on at www.ashlandchamber.com/summercelebration.

File photo Tim Julian cools off after winning the 6-mile race during the Fourth of July Run. The 2020 race has gone virtual.