By Dan Shryock
For complete information on upcoming performances and tickets for both the classical and popular schedules, visit the Britt Festival website.
The house light goes down and the stage lights go up. Excitement builds as performers walk on stage. Sounds like a typical stadium concert scene, right?
If you’re at the Britt Music & Arts Festival in Jacksonville, nothing is typical. Those house light going down? It’s the setting sun. The stage lights eventually compete with the stars.
And, instead of bumping elbows with a herd of strangers on a arena floor, at the Britt you’re sitting on a gently sloping hill with slightly more than 2,000 fellow concertgoers.
The summer music schedule is as eclectic. There’s something for most any musical taste. How about Willie Nelson with Allison Krause? Boz Scaggs singing the blues? Smashmouth?
Then there’s Portland’s favorite, The Decemberists. And that’s just a few names taking the stage in 2015.
The Britt Festival, as it’s commonly called, is a Southern Oregon institution with a legacy built on classical music. Its popularity has grown on the strength of dynamic annual concert schedules that appeal to a variety of musical tastes.
The featured attraction, though, is the festival itself, says Donna Briggs, the festival’s president and C.E.O.
“It’s the intimacy of this venue,” Donna says. “Even when it’s full, it’s still not a lot of people. And it’s the beauty. The scenery. It’s the magnificent stage. It’s the proximity to the audience.
The Britt Festival accommodates 2,200 people at capacity, Donna says. “It’s very cozy. It’s a small venue.
“Most of these pop acts are used to performing on stages that are 6 to 8 feet off the ground but here the performers are so close to the audience,” she says. “There’s something magical that happens here, the synergy between the performer and the audience is palpable.”
And while the popular music has become an attraction, Britt has not forgotten its roots. Classical music remains a major focus.
“The core of Britt Festival is our classical program and our education programs,” Donna explains. “Fifty years ago, this was built by a former music director, John Trudeau. John was a professor from Portland and a maestro. He came here and discovered this hill. So he gathered the community together and said, ‘I’m going to make this hill a classical venue. And that’s how it"started.’ "
That legacy continues with the annual Classical Festival, featuring seven concerts during a three-week period each August.
“We have a 90-member world-class orchestra that comes in every summer,” Donna says. “They come in from all over the United States, Canada, South America. It’s multi-cultural and we really get the cream of the crop.”
Dan Shryock is an Oregon-based journalist and travel writer. When he's not visiting Southern Oregon or sampling local wines, he can be found cycling throughout the state.