Magical. That was the word organizers and attendees were using to describe the experience as thousands of music fans packed into the Clackamas County Fairgrounds in Canby for an unforgettable edition of the resurgent Wild Hare Music Festival, headlined by Zach Bryan, Marcus King, Morgan Wade, Lucero and many others.
A companion to the tribute band extravaganza that is Harefest, which rocked and rolled across the same stages last weekend, the Wild Hare Music Fest is a jam-packed collection of top-tier talents and rising stars from genres spanning country, Americana, blues, southern rock, folk and even a little gospel and R&B.
Both festivals are organized and presented by the same local team, including founders Joan Monen of the Wild Hare Saloon in Canby and Oregon City, Jason Fellman of J-Fell Presents and the Journey tribute band Stone in Love, and new General Manager Kyle Lang.
“It was a magical weekend on so many levels,” Fellman told the Current afterward. “Inspired performances, lively crowds and an excellent new venue at the Clackamas County Fairgrounds.”
The Music Fest was a smashing success, Fellman said, drawing around 9,000 attendees across the two-day affair.
“I’m not going to lie: It was pretty surreal when Zach Bryan announced that it was his first time headlining a festival,” he said. “We’re already talking about how we can improve the full weekend experience for our attendees, and of course, which acts to book for next year!”
Saturday’s jaw-droppingly robust lineup certainly did not disappoint, kicking off at 9 a.m. with local starlet Olivia Harms and banging to a close some 15 hours later with the frenetic, guitar-shredding stylings of the Grammy-nominated King — at age 26 already regarded as perhaps music’s best guitar virtuoso and a future blues legend.
But there is little doubt that many of the moments fans will be recounting for years to come happened on Friday night, when Bryan, the earnest singer-songwriter and military veteran who by all measures is smack in the middle of a meteoric rise to country music superstardom, took the stage in Canby, Oregon.
“Thank you, Canby,” he said. “It’s a beautiful, beautiful town for all of you that live here.”
Bryan and his band received the full Canby experience, including getting an on-site trim and shave from local salon Head Case Beauty and Barber Company.
Bryan, whose acclaimed major-label debut album from two months ago, American Heartbreak, currently sits at the top of the U.S. country, rock and folk charts, told organizers it was his first time headlining a music festival — but it certainly will not be his last.
“We don’t feel like we should be headlining festivals, but we are,” Bryan told an enthusiastic, sold-out crowd at the Clackamas County Fairgrounds.
Indeed, the morning of the kickoff for the Wild Hare Music Fest, Bryan dropped a new nine-song EP, Summertime Blues, and announced a giant cross-country tour with stops in some of the nation’s biggest amphitheaters and music festivals, including Moon River and Lollapalooza.
Despite taking the main stage after 10 p.m., Bryan had no intention of turning in early, delivering the longest set of the day with more than 90 minutes of inspired performing, including a team-up with fellow Music Fester Charles Wesley Godwin, whose rugged, backwoods baritone had serenaded the throngs earlier in the day.
As if that weren’t enough, Bryan thrilled the audience by returning to the boards once more for an encore performance of “Oklahoma Smokeshow” and “Revival.”
In a Tweet posted in the early morning hours Saturday, Bryan made clear that the outing would not only be long remembered by the fans.
“Tonight in Canby, Oregon, was one of my favorite shows I’ve ever played,” he said. “Thank you guys for having us and being kind. Faith in humanity is at an all-time high.”
But for one group from south of Salem, the night was about more than music. Earlier this year, Jefferson resident Grace Hawley lost one of her best friends, Gary James McDaniel, a multi-sport athlete from Scio who would have turned 19 on July 15 — opening night for Wild Hare Music Fest.
His favorite song was one of Bryan’s first hits, “Snow,” a tender love ballad with a hint of Christian allegory that showed his tremendous early promise as a songwriter. Hawley posted on Twitter asking if Bryan would consider dedicating the song to Gary on his birthday, to which he readily agreed, Tweeting, “I’m so sorry, and I can’t wait to play it. It will be for him!”
Hawley and more than two dozen of Gary’s loved ones wore shirts made especially for the concert and were on hand to celebrate their fallen friend’s love of life and music.
“Gary was one of the kindest and most genuine people I’ve ever met and he was loved by so many,” Hawley told the Current. “Gary was the light of so many people’s lives, and we all miss him so much. It was super special that we were able to honor him in that way on his birthday.”
Though the temperatures were in the 80s, “Snow” came early Friday night, and the experience for the group was almost indescribable.
“Just very special,” Hawley said. “Having almost all of Gary’s closest friends there together for him on his birthday, knowing that Zach Bryan was going to sing his favorite song for him. I can’t really put it into words.
“It felt like nothing else mattered; we were just all there to celebrate one of the most special people we had the pleasure of knowing. It made me miss him extra, but he had the best seat in the house and I know he was definitely there with us. Zach really is amazing. I wish I could repay him for doing that.”
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