Opinion: Corvallis music louder than ever

Band members of North by North Kendra Blank and Nate Girard play the drums and guitar on stage.

Genesis Hansen, Columnist

Thriving music community requires larger venue to support musicians.

Corvallis is booming with musical talent, although there is a lack of space for those who relish in the art of musical showmanship. 

The music scene in Corvallis has been on a steady incline. It’s hard to ignore this town’s itch to perform when looking at the Corvallis Community Band, Bombs Away Cafe’s live bands and the enthusiasm from the community in stores like Bullfrog Music.

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Steve Matthes became the Corvallis Community Band’s third director in 1979. Matthes has seen a substantial growth in participation since those days, helping them provide more concerts and sustain a greater presence.

“It’s a great thing to do for your whole life. Music is a lifelong activity,” Matthes said.

The non-profit practices in the evening from 7-9:30 p.m. on Tuesdays at Linus Pauling Middle School. The practice space is functional but it bounds the band’s numbers.

A free concert coming up on March 20 will be held at the LaSells Stewart Center at 7:30 p.m. and showcase famous American Composers, featuring the Willamette Apprentice Ballet.

The Benton Community Foundation’s endowment helps cover some of the bands expenses, giving them the opportunity to provide educational concerts to the fourth-graders in town.

“This endowment becomes stakeholder to the community that ensures the longevity of the band so that even after I retire the band will sustain prevalence in the community,” Matthes said.

Members of the band include retirees, middle-aged folk, young college people and some high school students.

“Anybody is welcome to join. If you played in high school or stopped somehow, you can still come back and play in groups like this,” Matthes said.

The Corvallis Community Band isn’t the only one who has seen a musical

change in Corvallis.

Bullfrog Music specializes in fretted instruments like mandolins, ukuleles, electric and acoustic guitars, as well as accessories and parts like pedals and strings. Staying busy with sales, lessons and repairs, Bullfrog is always buzzing.

Kurt Dietrich has been in the music instrument business in Corvallis since 1989, and has been running Bullfrog Music for 15 years.

Seeing a substantial shift in the consumer trend, Dietrich said when he first started out the electric guitar was huge, and acoustic took a back seat in the spotlight. Now, acoustic guitars have grown to be 60 to 70 percent of his sales.

“There has been a slow down in the electric sales. Likely because we don’t see as many electric guitar-oriented groups in today’s music scene,” Dietrich said.

Dietrich sells exclusively fretted instruments because it is a focused market that has proven successful for him.

“You find that if you try to be everything to everybody, you become nothing to anybody, you end up diluting what you do best,” Dietrich said. “I want people to know that this is a serious guitar shop.”

Concerned that the small venues in town aren’t enough space for local musicians, Dietrich would like to see a large venue open in Corvallis.

Steve Hunter is the booker and promoter for Bombs Away Cafe as well as Cloud & Kelly’s Public House. He has been doing live sound for Bombs Away Cafe for seven years and booking for four.  

When deciding how to fill a show, Hunter balances factors like if a group has played in town before, how new they are, if he’s seen them live or if they are known to the community.

“It’s difficult with new touring bands that aren’t quite famous yet, so I usually pair them with a local band in order to get them exposure and ensure a turnout for the show,” Hunter said.

While there is a big following of the Bob Marley tribute band called Belly Full of Bob, Hunter doesn’t see cover or tribute bands satisfying Corvallis’ taste for live entertainment. 

“Corvallis has a big americana bluegrass following, there’s a pretty strong rock scene and a really strong noise scene,” Hunter said.

Noise music isn’t structured like traditional music, using abstract sounds and design techniques practiced with synthesizers. The noise scene surfaced at Interzone three years ago said Hunter.

Alongside Dietrich, Hunter would also like to see a larger venue erected in Corvallis to provide space for budding and established artists to perform.

“A bigger music venue is needed for the sake of the culture in Corvallis. This town needs a venue that can hold all ages,” Hunter said.

He believes since a large portion of the student population is under 21, a platform for the talent and diversity that the students and younger people offer should be available.

“Students bring experience from all over the country and that could make Corvallis an interesting place if there were a way for them to be involved,” Hunter said.

This could be a lifeline for musicians in the area.

“There’s been an increase in music and entertainment over the past few years. Corvallis seems to have a large musician population and it looks like more people are wanting to see live music,” Hunter said.

The music scene in Corvallis is busting at multiple seams. In order to cater to the musical influx, an organized effort to build a large venue for locals should be a priority.