Oak Harbor Music Festival celebrates musical milestone

— Created August 31, 2022 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

It’s a musical milestone a decade in the making. The 10th annual Oak Harbor Music Festival opens at 6 p.m. Friday, bringing with it three days of free music, arts and crafts vendors, beer gardens and fun. But it is, after all, all about the music.

Country, indie, blues, jazz, pop, rock, Americana – you name the genre, and you will very likely find it along Pioneer Way in historic downtown Oak Harbor this weekend. Among the 30-plus performers featured this weekend is headliner Ayron Jones.

“Ayron Jones is one of the biggest new rock artists in the U.S. and he is from Seattle,” said Larry Mason, who is responsible for putting the musical lineup for the festival together each year. “In 2022 he toured all over the world, even opening for the Rolling Stones, including their concert to over 50,000 people in Paris.”

Jones will actually close the festival this year, appearing Sunday at 5:30 p.m. on the Island Thrift (east) stage. Unlike Jones’ appearance in Paris, there may not be 50,000 people in attendance, but Mason expects the Sunday performance will draw a good crowd, based on past experience.

“Last year we had our headliner, Larkin Poe, play on Sunday. It was the best attended Sunday show we have ever had,” he said. “Ayron is playing Saturday at ‘Pain In The Grass’ with Alice in Chains at the White River Amphitheater. We are fortunate to have him here on Sunday at 5:30 playing a free show at the Oak Harbor Music Festival.”

There is no shortage of talented musicians playing the festival this year. The trick is choosing a lineup with a little something for everyone and a mix of local, regional and national talent.

“We get hundreds of musical applications from all over the U.S. every year,” described Mason. “It takes a lot of time, patience, research and emails. We love featuring local acts at the festival, but we also like to bring in other bands from outside the area that would probably never find their way to play on Whidbey Island.”

While there are too many acts to list here, a few names sprang to the top of Mason’s mind when asked about some of the performers featured at the festival this year.

“I have 30 bands to name,” he said. “[There’s] Duffy Bishop, Too Slim and The Taildraggers, Miller Campbell, Leroy Bell and His Only Friends, Outer Orbit, Cody Beebe and The Crooks, just to name a few.”

Opening the festival at 6 p.m. Friday on the Peoples Bank (west) stage is Simple Minded Symphony. If that name sounds familiar, it could be because the group will be back in familiar territory. Founded in Oak Harbor in 2010, the band is now based in Seattle and performs its original take on indie ska-punk music meant to get people on their feet.

For the most part, the music festival will operate as it has in past years, but with a few minor alterations.

“The festival has been running very smoothly over the years, so there are only minor changes,” said Mason. “We have added an intimate beer garden and stage, Buskers Cove at Dock Street.”

Look for additional unique performances Saturday and Sunday starting at 1 p.m. at Buskers Cove stage and at noon at Center stage.

Besides providing world-class, free musical entertainment to the community and visitors each year, the Oak Harbor Music Festival has made Whidbey’s youth a priority. Each year talented teens are featured in a special showcase. This year the teen talent showcase will be at noon Sunday on the east stage and will feature performances by Adrienne Root, Kick-Brass, Danika Kloewer and Second Line.

Mason said the showcase remains one of his favorite parts of the music festival and over the years the OHMF board’s commitment to inspiring youth has continued to grow.

“Giving back to our community is very important,” he said. “We have awarded over $60,000 in scholarships to Island County [graduating] seniors who have elected to continue their musical dream into college.

“This year, we added the Quarter Note Fund, created in memory of Gregory Johnson, who passed away suddenly in 2020,” Mason continued. “The Quarter Note Fund for young musicians funds access to musical instruments, reducing barriers to success for students in financial need. Last week at the Sounds of Summer Concert Series, we awarded the Oak Harbor Public Schools’ music program a check for $10,000.”

“We are incredibly grateful for the generous donation from the Oak Harbor Music Festival,” said OHPS Superintendent Michelle Kuss-Cybula. “By providing our children with access to music at an early age, they are able to develop skills, find their passion, and cultivate a deep appreciation for the fine and performing arts that will benefit our community.”

Kuss-Cybula said the money will be used to help fund music programs and education, which has a positive impact on students.

“Music education provides students with the tools they need to be successful by building their confidence and essential skills to excel in all academic subjects,” she said. “Donations like this help to further this important component of our educational program at our schools.”  

Organizers of the Oak Harbor Music Festival are pleased the nonprofit group has been able to make a positive impact on Whidbey Island. Mason credits the organization’s continued success to a supportive community.

“Our dedicated volunteers, proud sponsors, city, state and county financial support through grants, and our community’s financial support through donations [keeps us going],” he said. “Did I forget to mention the music? And our board of directors?”

As Whidbey Island enjoys the 10th annual Oak Harbor Music Festival this Labor Day weekend, one can’t help but think what the next 10 years could bring.

“I am very proud to have been a part of every festival and 10 years is a pretty big accomplishment,” Mason reflected. “I hope we are lucky enough to see a poster in 2032 celebrating 20 years.”

Find information and a complete music lineup online at oakharborfestival.com.

“It’s a great way to celebrate the end of summer and it’s FREE,” Mason said.