The air is electric as a sellout crowd surges toward the elevated stage, crisscrossed with thick cables powering amps, microphones, lights, smoke machines, soundboards — and a veritable arsenal of electric guitars, keyboards and other instruments.
The beer and seltzer are flowing; the band is rocking out. Hundreds are hanging with their family, friends and neighbors, having a grand old time.
It’s a scene that would have been practically unthinkable just 12 months ago. But on Saturday night at the Wild Hare in Canby, it feels almost … normal.
“It’s freaking amazing,” said Canby resident Mike Cofflin, who had secured a spot near the stage with his wife, Nicolle, and other friends. “It feels so good to get out, feel normal. We’re outside, no masks, everybody’s having a good time — that’s what it’s all about.”
Cofflin was far from the only one in the estimated crowd of 650 enjoying the return to some semblance of normalcy after nearly a year and a half of statewide restrictions on large gatherings due to the pandemic.
“It feels fantastic,” said Natalie Lesperance, who made the drive from Milwaukie with her friend Tiffany Meyers and their husbands. “We’re having such a great time. This is actually our first outing since everything shut down. We actually feel normal again.”
For some, the chance to go out and relive some nostalgia after so long was not only exciting — it was also emotional.
“My wife cried through about half of it,” said Glenn Ellis. “She really loves this band, and the chance to see them again, out here with everybody else, it’s amazing.”
As desperate as folks have been for live entertainment, they likely would have forgiven the night’s headliner, Tom Petty tribute band Petty Fever, for showing a bit of rust after more than a year out of commission.
But they, too, didn’t seem to miss a beat, drawing rave reviews from the local crowd.
“I’m a massive Tom Petty fan,” Lesperance admitted. “I saw Tom over 10 times in concert. This guy’s pretty good.”
Bob Farster and his companion, Jen, made the three-hour drive from Belfair, Wash., north of Olympia. They’re “huge fans” of not only the late, great Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers — but even more specifically, Petty Fever, and its dynamic frontman, Frank Murray.
“We came all this way to watch Frank do his thing,” said Farster, who was one of a number of fans sporting a Petty Fever T-shirt. “I’ve seen him over 50 times. I’ve seen probably 30 different Tom Petty tribute bands, and these guys are the most authentic I’ve ever seen. They’re the best this side of the Mississippi — absolutely.”
While many fans said Saturday night was their first big outing since statewide restrictions were lifted late about one month ago, perhaps none had a more relevant bookend than Farster: His last live concert before the pandemic was also a show by Petty Fever at The Point Resort & Casino in Kingston last March.
“I bought the T-shirt for their spring break concert series,” he said with a laugh. “I think I might have the only one.”
Saturday night’s sold-out show was part of a new run of concerts throughout the summer showcasing many of the acts that headline Harefest each year.
The brainchild of Harefest founders and organizers Jason Fellman, of J-Fell Presents, and Joan Monen, of The Wild Hare Saloon in Canby and Oregon City, said the series has been a hit so far, being well-received both by the Harefest faithful as well as many first-timers, eager to turn in their cabin fever for a bit of Petty Fever.
“As an event producer, it just feels so good to be able to bring people live music again,” he said. “To see people out here smiling and having a great time. The vibe has been amazing; everyone has been getting along and being very positive.”
Following the grimness of the pandemic and the months of strict restrictions, some people may have wondered how quickly the live music scene could pick back up again and whether folks would be eager to return to large gatherings of strangers.
But Fellman was not one of those people.
“I was never afraid of that, to be honest,” he said with a chuckle. “We always knew people were going to want to come together again. It was just a matter of when we could do it safely and responsibly.”
Another, more surprising group that has welcomed the return of the live music and party scene: high school student-athletes.
Specifically, the Canby Cougar Dance Team, which has been partnering with the Wild Hare to run event parking — a much-needed fundraising opportunity for the teens, considering most of their recent efforts had to be canceled.
Coach Jenn Chaffee explained that it is actually adults — parents, mainly — doing the work.
“My parents have been doing an awesome job!” Chaffee told the Current. “Some of them even dress up to match the tribute band of the night. It’s a pretty great gig because we get to hear all the awesome music and the concert-goers are so excited to be attending a live music event. Joan is so generous!”
For more information about upcoming shows in the 2021 Wild Hare Concert Series, visit j-fell.com or stop by the Wild Hare Saloon in Canby.
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