Each year for two weeks in July, the small coastal town of Coos Bay comes alive with the sounds of music for the Oregon Coast Music Festival (OCMF). Last summer I had the opportunity to attend the OCMF and experience what I’d like to call “the greatest thing you’ve never heard of” on the Oregon Coast.

Now in its 39th year, the OCMF offers musical performances for a broad range of tastes. During week one attendees are treated to the sounds of big band, blues, barbershop, folk and jazz among others. Bands, choirs, quartets and solo performers spend the week playing at venues throughout the town. The two outdoor concerts, played at Mingus Park and Shore Acres State Park, invite picnics, bare feet and dancing. Most of the shows are free and open to the public.

Week two is where the real musical magic begins when over 80 professional orchestral players, regional and national, come together to perform three orchestral pieces, of which no one has practiced together until arriving.

I arrived on Sunday last year, the same day the musicians begin to arrive. Immediately I noticed a huge sense of camaraderie between the musicians because many of these players have been playing together in the OCMF for years. This is the one time of year they get to see each other and form the musical bonds and memories that last a lifetime.

Sunday evening the musicians take their seats in the Marshfield High School auditorium (known to have amazing acoustics) where Conductor and Musical Director, Maestro James Paul taps his baton on the music stand and raises his arms to begin their first practice. Paul, widely acclaimed as one of North America’s most distinguished conductors, has been with the Festival Orchestra since 1991.

After their second rehearsal the musicians attend an annual BBQ at one of the host family houses, where they’re able to catch up with each other for the first time in over a year. A unique aspect to the OCMF is that each musician is hosted by a local family for their lodging and meals during their time in Coos Bay. As I talked with musicians and families at the BBQ, I found that most of them had been staying with the same family for more than decade. Stephen Chong, a violinist in the Eugene Symphony who’s been staying with the same family for over 20 years told me, “This is where you come to play music you love with people you love and show off the beautiful state Oregon.” Never before had I experienced such a warm and welcoming sense of community at a music festival.

Throughout the week, the Festival Orchestra plays three themed performances including a “POPS Concert,” which is a lighter more family-friendly experience. This year the POPS Concert is “A Festival of Film Favorites,” which will include Broadway favorites from The Wizard of Oz, Cabaret, Wicked and Frozen, to name a few.

I can truly attest that whether you’re a novice or seasoned classical music fan, seeing an 80-person orchestra perform in such an intimate venue is an incredibly powerful and unforgettable experience. There’s no denying the intensity you’ll feel the first 30 seconds of the performance.  Make sure to watch the video above to get a sense of this.

Being a huge music enthusiast myself, I would highly suggest putting this on your Oregon Coast bucket list. The 39th OCMF will take place July 25-29, 2017. Click here for the full list of this year’s performances. Tickets for the orchestral concerts range from $15-$25.

Visit Oregon’s Adventure Coast’s website for traveling tips on lodging, dining and other activities to enjoy during the festival.

about author Allison Keeney

Allison Keeney is a part of Travel Oregon's Communications Team. When she's not blogging or photographing the thriving music scene in Portland, you'll find this native Oregonian exploring the many wonders of her home state, savoring the bounty of local craft beverages and eateries, and enjoying the company of friends and family.

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  1. kitty says…

    Steve Price will you be playing there?

    Written on May 28th, 2015 / Flag this Comment
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