Sidewalk Shindig: Capturing a musical guide to community

November 2017 Posted in Community, Music & Band


Screen Shot 2017-10-25 at 11.09.55 AMBy Michael Turner

Oct. 7, 2017, 1:30 p.m.
I got off work and walked across the bridge over Silver Creek into downtown Silverton, where the Sidewalk Shindig was already in full swing. Crowds had descended for the sixth year of Silverton’s homegrown eclectic music festival, and I made my way to the info booth to talk with one of the organizers, Gregg Sheesley.

“Silverton’s a mecca for the different, for the art lover, for the music lover, and it reflects in the children,” Gregg said. “While the marimba ensemble was playing, there were seven or eight little two and three-year-olds playing with vegetables! There was one little girl playing with two carrrots on the marimba. Now if that doesn’t make up for Las Vegas and Newtown, Conn. …” Gregg’s eyes became a little watery thinking of these recent American tragedies, but the glow about him was tangible as he directed locals and tourists toward his favorite artists.

2:00 p.m.
Next I listened to Clara Williams, 16, play harp in front of the yarn store. In the background, I could hear a kid banging away at a makeshift drum kit on the corner bleeding into the Zimbabwe-style marimba ensemble into a gentleman in lederhosen playing an accordion. Some like the fiddle, some like the trombone, as they say.

Clara finished her song and told me she got hooked on playing the harp in kindergarten: “I like the emotional connection I have with music. It’s not just notes on a page – I can bring it to life. Me and my instrument can bring it to life.”

Just like the different musical traditions emanating from nearly every shop and overhang on the street, each performer I talked to had their own reason for being there. Thomas, the young man playing the drum kit on the corner, told me that music is his release from the pressures of school. The singer of reggae band Sakamuna, Espérance Kouka, had to leave the Republic of Congo, in central Africa, at a time of war; music saved his life when he needed it most. 

2:30 p.m.
On Oak Street, in front of B&ST Realty, I met Humble George, a Eugene punk folk band, and talked with a young woman who sang and played the cello. “I started playing when I was eight,” she said. “My grandmother said I could pick any instrument I wanted. The violin was too squeaky, so I picked up the cello and ran with that.”

“Music is what makes sense to me,” she continued. “The best way for me to communicate is rarely out of my mouth, it’s usually best said with an instrument in my hand.” I asked her what she thought of our town’s little festival. “I want this every day, across the country. I think it’s this kind of event that brings the community together.”

Meanwhile, my dad was playing ukulele at Gallon House with his group from the senior center. Something drew him to that instrument, that sound, as he neared retirement. My daughter, a year and a half old, dances and claps to the marimba ensemble, spinning in circles like the yellow leaves falling on the pavement. I wonder if she’ll be playing here someday, having found an instrument that expresses some part of herself I can’t see yet?

Watch our video documentary of the “Sidewalk Shindig” and more at  vimeo.com/ourtown

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