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Britt Turns 50: Looking Forward

By Ron Brown

JACKSONVILLE, Ore. — With a new pavilion and summer-long music, dance and comedy programs, Britt Festival flourished under Ron McUne’s leadership.

“When I took over the festival, we had about 700 members. And when I left, during the height of about 2005 or so, we had 3600 members! And a lot of that membership growth was driven by the acts we were bringing to Southern Oregon,” says McUne.

Another popular feature was the Britt poster that artists developed every year. Jacksonville artist Eugene Bennet designed several. Jacksonville artist Anne Brook-Hawkins, who lives next door to the Britt gardens, designed this poster a few years ago, and will design next year’s poster.

Most agree the Britt Festival have done more than anything else to revive Jacksonville in the last 50 years. But more recently, times have sometimes been tough for the festival, leading to a series of managers, all with different plans for ensuring Britt’s continued success.

“You’ve just got to make sure that the spirit of John Trudeau and that vision that he had, continues to be first and foremost for Britt. I think that the other piece would be that it is an absolutely incredible experience to go there. It’s a love venue, a great setting. Not only do the audience love to be there, but the artists love it too. That’s what I learned while I was there,” says Former Britt Manager Rick Hood.

“We programmed to allow shows for younger audience to start coming, because we’ve gotten a little old over time and we were doing a lot of nostalgia acts and that was great for our core older audience, but we had to build for the future,” says Former Britt Manager Jim Fredericks. “We had to make sure that we were programming for newer audience to get them to come and experience the wonder that is Britt Festivals.”

One of the biggest events is just the announcement of the concert season and who’s coming to Britt each year.

“We looked at each other and said, like, “Hey! This is the most fun thing we do every year, and when we announce that for us and for the audience and community. And so we made that into a big event. And that’s really been a nice thing that people look forward to that even to come and see who’s coming to Britt. That was an important step forward for us, I think,” Fredericks says.

“The bottom line to me is truly that it’s still a legacy of music. It’s about the legacy of music! No matter what the genre. And it’s those, those moments of magic for individual experience. Life experience,” says Britt Manager Donna Briggs.

“I think it’s more, I would say, an incredible experience,” Hood states. “There are very few places where you can see music and dance and comedy or whatever sort of performing art that you really enjoy, with such intimacy.”

“When the moon comes up here, you might–it’s just an “ah-hah!” moment. It’s just beautiful. And when the concerts going on, the moon comes up, I can’t imagine a better place to be,” says Hawkins.

“I think Britt is going to be fine!” Ron says. “But you know, it’s like everything else, things change. And it’ll just have to adapt to the current markets and trends and thing like that.”

Britt is the Northwest’s first outdoor music and arts festival. It’s changed quite a bit in the past 50 years. Those who’ve been involved with it for all that time say they’re looking forward to what may come in the next half century.