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Britt Turns 50: Making Music History

By Ron Brown

JACKSONVILLE, Ore. — For more than 150 years, Jacksonville has been a symbol of Southern Oregon’s rich cultural heritage and this year marks the golden anniversary for the Britt Festival.

Jacksonville is like a time machine, where the historic past blends with the present: old brick buildings, century-plus old homes and signs point to the time when this was the center of commerce and trade in Southern Oregon. One of the pioneers who helped shape that image was photographer and Renaissance man, Peter Britt.

His home on the higher ground above the main business district burned more than 50 years ago, but the grounds where Britt had his photo studio, and experimented with fruit trees and wine grapes is still there. It’s now home to a park and the Britt Music Festival. When organizers first laid out plans to bring world-class music to the Rogue Valley, they turned to this hillside. It wasn’t much back in 1962. But for dreamers, like Orchestra Leader John Trudeau and a few close friends, it had potential.

At that time, the state and Jackson County controlled the property where the Britt Hill and Britt Festival are now. In the late summer and early fall of 1962, John Trudeau, Gordon Solie and another key backer, Sam McKinney, got the vote of the Jacksonville City Council to go ahead with the festival, and it soon became a race to get things organized in time for the following summer.

Bartlett says that for the first couple years, while he was serving as general manager of the Britt Festival, he and Trudeau were the only paid employees. From a dream by Portland State Orchestra Leader John Trudeau to the Northwest’s first outdoor classical music festival, took a little over a year to bring to pass.