Bluegrass, brown bags a double hit
By BEN TERTIN
Of the News-Register
Folk musicians Mick Doherty and Kevin Shay Johnson sowed a little bluegrass onto the corner of Third and Davis streets Thursday, turning the US Bank Plaza into a mellow country meadow during their 90-minute set.
As a prolonged winter finally broke, glowing sunshine blended with Doherty's crisp dulcimer and Johnson's acoustic guitar to deliver a truly intoxicating afternoon breather. More than 200 people filled the Plaza for this first outdoor show in the Brown Bag Concert Series.
"We had March winds and April showers in June," Phyllis Koch said, smiling. "But it sure is beautiful out today."
Koch, an 84-year-old who came to Mac almost 40 years ago from New York, regards her adopted community as a "very special place." She said she can't wait for the Celtic music set scheduled for July 17.
Manager Patti Webb of the McMinnville Downtown Association said the first show of the series, which featured Michael Allen Harrison playing First Baptist Church's grand piano on June 5, drew a record crowd.
"People really feel that these concerts belong to them," Webb said. "Last week, we had the most money ever donated by a single audience in 14 years of Brown Bag concerts."
But the bluegrass duo proved a good draw in its own right.
By 11:45, the Plaza was filling up. Wheelchairs and strollers allowed the community's oldest and youngest concert-goers to find prime, shady seats under downtown maples.
By 12:15 p.m., the place was packed. Sandwiches, carrot sticks, potato chips and even leftover pizza slices emerged everywhere from a sea of brown paper lunch bags. By then Doherty and Johnson were introducing their second song.
"I wrote this next one during a premature mid-life crisis," Johnson said. "It's called 'Metal Detector.'
"It's about this guy I saw who had a metal detector and really knew what he was doing. Most of it's true."
Skilled musicianship and dry, witty humor characterized the partners' show. Doherty hopped on the stand-up bass for a few songs. Johnson blew his harmonica for a few others. And they both proved true folk artists as they sang about living off the land, moonshinin', makin' love and traveling through pretty mountains and pine forests.
After hitting a wrong note, Johnson said, "When you're playing bluegrass music, if you miss a chord, you can talk to your partner while you're playing and then call it 'jazz.'
"So be fearless," he said, pointing at the crowd and chuckling. "Play in public."
Dan Hinmon hustled to the festivities from his new Hinmon Agency office, which lies kitty corner from the main stage. He grabbed a $3 hot dog from the corner stand, pulled up a picnic table seat and melted away for about 15 minutes.
"This is such a perfect excuse to slow down for a minute and break from the stress," Hinmon said, tapping his foot to Doherty's rhythm. Then he hurried back to work.
Attorney Mark Bierly said he attends every Brown Bag concert he can, as long as it's not raining.
"There's quite a variety of music at these shows," he said as he finished the last bite of his turkey sandwich. "Performers here expose you to stuff you wouldn't ever listen to on the radio."
Tabitha Doughty had just completed kindergarten the day before, and was tickled about her new status.
"I'm a first grader, and I'm on vacation," she proclaimed. "And this is the first time I've ever had a loose tooth!"
Doughty generally bounces around and dances during concerts, but the loose tooth was her No. 1 concern this afternoon.
An hour into the show, Webb meandered through the crowd to collect donations, and people readily stuffed cash into her brown paper bag.
"We never make a profit on the Brown Bags," Webb said. "In fact, we're always just a little short. But it's amazing how supportive the crowd has been all these years."
Webb plans to retire in September, making this concert series the last she will organize.
"I'm going to miss this," she said. "When you see the moms laying blankets out for their kids and the shuttles from the retirement communities unloading to come to the shows, you see a community coming together."