Cultured in the Valley
Fine Arts, Live Theater, Music and Much More
By YCVG Staff
Yamhill Valley natives and residents have it good. Not only is the area known for its food and drink scene, the arts are thriving, too. What’s the common denominator? Creativity and good taste, for good measure.
“It’s incredible how much art, how many artists ... how many writers, how many musicians [live in the area],” said Holli Wagner, owner of the McMinnville Event Center for the Arts, which she started in 2019 with husband Mick, a musician himself.
“The food and wine is what draws everyone down here, but let’s have this conversation about the fact that we are a force to be reckoned with — a fertile soil for art,” she added.
Fine Arts The Wagners came along just as another couple, Dan and Nancy Morrow (owners of The Gallery at Ten Oaks, and founders of the McMinnville Short Film Festival), spearheaded an effort to open lines of communication between the county’s 17 galleries, combining forces to market the local scene.
“It was perfect timing for us, getting the opportunity to meet all the other galleries around,” Wagner said, emphasizing they want to promote much more than just what hangs on the wall — from music, to writing and spoken word, to the array of local dance troupes and performances that are part of the cultural fabric of the area.
Together, art enthusiasts are working to make gallery tours as popular as the winery version. “From the Chehalem Cultural Center (in Newberg) down to Mason-Rivera (Sculpture Garden & Art Gallery, between McMinnville and Sheridan), we’ve got a great, whole weekend that you could do,” Wagner explained.
The Chehalem Cultural Center has become a force of its own, featuring five galleries of professionally curated, eye-popping exhibits in rotation all year long.
Each month, downtown Newberg hosts its First Friday ARTwalk, connecting small shops with talented artists — available to chat about the creative process — and wineries, too, sampling their latest bottles. McMinnville’s counterpart is 3rd on 3rd, also an art and wine tour, on the third Friday evening of the month.
The area’s arts and culture calendar culminates in October with the much-anticipated Art Harvest Studio Tour of Yamhill County, when dozens of painters, potters and other artists open their doors for self-guided tours — set for Oct. 2–4 and Oct. 9–11 in 2020. Smaller, but with as rich a tradition, the Willamina Coastal Hills Art Tour follows the second weekend in November.
Performing arts The traditions of community theater in the area are also storied, dating more than 50 years with the founding of Gallery Players in McMinnville. Independent troupes frequently perform at the Chehalem Cultural Center, including its Staged Reading Series; Willamette Shakespeare offers an annual series at local wineries that creates classical theatre that is accessible to contemporary audiences; and Penguin Productions continues to build a legacy of its own, entertaining crowds with outdoor summer performances.
Finally, film and classical music lovers, take note: The Aquilon Music Festival is a month-long celebration of opera and young musicians, June 28 to July 19, at Linfield College and venues around the county. In addition, the McMinnville Short Film Festival, a weekend February affair, draws work from directors all over Oregon and beyond.
Music From Vegas-like thrills to serene vineyards, to barroom spunk that was once the stomping grounds of Merle Haggard, Yamhill County has plenty to offer those who get their kicks attending live music.
The Wildwood Hotel in Willamina has emerged a hidden gem for music enthusiasts. Local and national artists of folk, blues, rock and other genres frequent the hotel for performances as intimate as they are unique. Just about 50 people can pack the little venue, making each gig a special occasion.
The early success of the venue’s music shows paves the way for the Wildwood MusicFest and Campout, July 19–21, which attracts hundreds each year to the Roshambo ArtFarm for world-class roots rock, country, bluegrass and more. The popularity of the Wildwood offerings has created a unique music scene in the West Valley, which also includes patio summer shows at Odd Fellows Pizza Co., and several music-centric celebrations at the West Valley Community Center, including the Wet Season Music Series throughout the winter and Llamapalooza in August, a showcase of the area’s best local talent.
In McMinnville, The Walnut City Music Festival also presents an array of rock, indie folk, blues and more. Scheduled for Sept. 5–6, the festival transforms historic City Park during Labor Day Weekend with a lineup of regional, national and, in 2020 for its first time, international music.
The love of live music is shared weekly at intimate venues throughout the county. New to the scene is Mac Market, located in McMinnville’s recently renovated Northeast Gateway district. A former shoe grease facility and warehouse, the renovated venue has made its Thursday night concerts a regular source for live entertainment.
McMenamins Hotel Oregon offers relaxed shows every weekend in its Cellar Bar. And the Great Northwest Music Tour brings national acts to the hotel’s second-floor Mattie’s Room for all-ages shows.
Weekly live music by regional acts also can be enjoyed at The Horse Radish — all ages — in Carlton and at several tasting rooms, often in the summer. The Mac Club in McMinnville presents occasional rock shows, but has become a comedy destination within the Valley with monthly lineups guaranteed to bust a gut or two.
During the summer, there are three series of free outdoor concerts on Tuesday nights and Thursday evenings, both drawing avid crowds.
Tuesday nights in July and August, bands perform on the intramural field of the picturesque Linfield College campus. The same nights in Newberg, Tunes on Tuesday draws huge crowds to the city’s Rotary Centennial Park. On Thursday evenings in the summer, the McMinnville Downtown Association hosts Concerts on the Plaza with regional, independent music acts and several food and beverage vendors. The wine industry has become a major source of entertainment as well. Whether in downtown tasting rooms or in the vineyards, several wineries offer weekly music series annually or seasonally.
But if it’s big names from the music world you’re after, check out the calendar of Oregon’s No. 1 tourist destination, Spirit Mountain Casino. Legendary acts like Tower of Power, The Pointer Sisters and more are scheduled to play at the venue in Grand Ronde. The casino also hosts touring comedians and offers free live music each weekend in its sports bar.