Uniting Central Oregon's Music Industry | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Uniting Central Oregon's Music Industry

Have questions about the amorphous nature of the music biz? Join Central Oregon Music Network's free, all-ages mixer

If you're reading this, you likely live in Central Oregon. So it's not news to you that Bend is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. Based on U.S. Census Bureau population data from 2017 to 2022, Bend ranks at number 59—that's out of "344 of the largest cities [that were analyzed in a 2023 study by SmartAsset] to determine the biggest growth."

This makes Bend among the fastest-growing places in Oregon, with more than 9% growth in the past five years. While other Pacific Northwest cities are revered for their music scenes and storied histories, Central Oregon's music industry is on the rise, and this population boom has its ripple effects. It's no secret that growing and gentrifying cities with rising rents and property values have historically pushed the artists of the creative class to the margins. The flip side is that larger populations with more disposable income can better support the arts, filling more venues on more nights of the week. Those paying customers sustain local jobs, from the performers and event staff to the bar and kitchen. It's all about finding balance between growth and maintaining space for endeavors that are not purely profit-driven.

click to enlarge Uniting Central Oregon's Music Industry
Photo courtesy of Volcanic Theatre Pub

Established headliners sure to draw crowds grace the stages at Hayden Homes Amphitheater, downtown's Tower Theatre and the 1,000-cap Midtown Ballroom, Bend's largest indoor music venue. But the spaces that cultivate and support a local music community are much more intimate. Midtown's sister spaces, The Domino Room and The Annex (with capacities of 400 and 100, respectively), create homes for plenty of local and regional artists as do myriad bar, restaurant, food cart and cafe spaces in Sisters, Redmond, Tumalo, Prineville and La Pine.

Growing cities prioritize progress through the lens of commerce—meaning they often don't have the greatest track record of looking out for the performing arts. But that's where grassroots, community organizing comes into play, like the burgeoning Central Oregon Music Network.

Spearheaded by John Davis, owner and talent buyer at Volcanic Theatre Pub, the second COMN mixer on Sunday, June 2 is a free, all-ages, casual gathering.

"We want to get a bunch of musicians and music industry people of Central Oregon together in the same room so people can go meet other people, they can ask questions, they can make connections," Davis explains.

For two decades, Davis has booked and promoted concerts and events in Central Oregon as well as other Northwest cities with his promotion company, 1988 Entertainment. In 2023, he purchased the 450-cap Volcanic from founder and owner Derek Sitter, who had created a beloved community space well-known as an incubator for local theater, music and art since 2013. At the time, Sitter told the Source Weekly, "It was important that it was sold to someone who understood the Bend community, music industry and was independent. Running an independent venue is vital to the music industry."

click to enlarge Uniting Central Oregon's Music Industry
Photo by John Davis

After years of swimming upstream in a small market and figuring out things for himself (Davis started booking shows in high school), he would like to knock down some of the industry's roadblocks. "Even on a local level, it seems like there's too many gatekeepers," he says. "And I really just don't like that aspect of the music business."

In an industry that lacks defined structure, Davis understands it might, "be a little far-fetched for me to ask for there to be more rules and regulations or some kind of checks and balances systems," but more transparency would be welcome. Fake it 'till you make it—for both musicians and promoters—means you're also destined to learn some hard (financial) lessons along the way. "It's just a really interesting business that's not really like any other business in the world," he adds.

There are opportunities to shift the paradigm through community and collaboration. Imagine "venues having the same best practices and everybody kind of doing stuff on the same page," Davis says. "It is not only more empowering, but in the end, if everybody is holding everybody to the same professional standards rather than" a patchwork of guidelines. "I think it would be much more beneficial across the board."

With COMN, Davis hopes to create an organic environment for people to meet, chat and network while shedding light on "the reality of the music business: A lot of times it can be a labor of love for a long time."

click to enlarge Uniting Central Oregon's Music Industry
Photo courtesy of Volcanic Theatre Pub

"I hope that it also gives people a little bit more confidence in everything that they're pursuing or that they're doing because the music business can be very intimidating," he says. "The goal is to help people get the answers [to the] questions [they have about] all the things that they're trying to figure out within the music business." He hopes "everybody who comes out is taking away something from the event that they wanted or that they didn't have before, or making a connection that they wanted to make."

So yeah, you can probably meet your new bandmate, your next record producer, videographer or sound or lighting engineer while rubbing elbows with some local bookers and promoters at the Volcanic on June 2 (and even sing some karaoke if you stick around!), but you can also dream bigger.

"The best way for my community to continue to stay strong and to grow and to, hopefully, prosper—all ships rise, you know—[is if] we are working with each other."

Central Oregon Music Network – A Music Industry Mixer
Sun., June 2
Volcanic Theatre Pub
70 SW Century Dr., Bend
Doors 5pm; karaoke 8pm; all ages

Chris Young

A journalist, editor and champion of his local music community, Chris graduated from the University of Oregon before founding Vortex Music Magazine, a quarterly print publication that covered Portland's vibrant music scene, and MusicPortland, a nonprofit music industry advocacy group. He's since moved to Bend...
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