Britt Turns 50: Making the Festival a Reality

JACKSONVILLE, Ore. — When John Trudeau and the others who helped launch the Britt Music Festival first saw this hillside, they said they could see the future. It’s hard to imagine that they could see fifty years into the future to today but with a lot of hard work by a lot of volunteers the Britt Festival is getting ready to move into it’s next half century.

After a January 1962 visit to Jacksonville, Portland State University Orchestra Leader John Trudeau, and a couple other close music friends, discovered a grass-covered hillside above the home site of pioneer Jacksonville photographer Peter Britt. Making some simple acoustics tests, they determined that this would be a perfect place to launch a classic music festival. So, the Britt Festival was launched, and the community eagerly embraced the idea of two or three weeks of classical music under the stars overlooking the Rogue Valley.

Betty Trudeau, the wife of the Britt founder, says the point of having a summer festival was not only to bring classical music to Southern Oregon in an outdoor venue, but to give musicians additional income.

Gloria Bartlett, the first Britt office manager, ran the box office for Britt for those first few years, and much of it was in a closet in their home in Medford, where they had a phone line.

“One of the things about Britt at the beginning, it was really a family situation. Everyone felt like they were a part of this big family,” Gloria says. “They would put on a big meal for them upon the hillside. And so they would come in, off the road. Go up there, be welcomed and have a nice dinner; meet people and receive their music. That was something we all looked forward to, because we could see people we had gotten to know.”

Many musicians stayed in the homes of local host families.

“That was one of the things we did in Anchorage,” says Britt Co-Founder Gordon Solie. We stayed in private homes, with breakfast. And we got to know the people very well, so, I insisted we do that down there and it worked out beautifully.”

Solie says he has a vivid memory of breaking the ice with some of the locals at the J’ville Tavern after the first concert.

“So, we came in and all the local guys moved to one side, and we were there in our white dinner jackets ordering a beer. And I thought, ‘Well, we’re going to be here for awhile, we might as well get acquainted!’” Solie recalls. “So I went down to the other end; introduced myself, and told why we’re here, and that we would be coming in for beer after concerts and rehearsals, and I hope that you’ll accept us, and we will accept you. And so I motioned for everybody else to come down and everybody shook hands. And so now who wants to challenge a game of pool? Somebody did, and so I played them. We were fine after that!”

Over the years, the Britt Festival has evolved into a series of concerts and programs, even extending to other venues from time to time. Mrs. Trudeau says she and her husband, John, could tell from the start that this was going to be something special.

“I’ll never forget the end of the very first concert season. And after it was all over, and everyone had gone home, John and I went back up on top of the hill,” recalls Betty. “And we sat there in the dark. And the stars, you know how beautiful Jacksonville can be, and we thought, ‘Well, we’ve started something. Now lets just see where it goes!’ And it was a really magical moment. It really was. And because it was his dream, and so many people started dreaming just like he did!”