The show must go on ... smoky skies permitting

Summer typically is the busiest time of year for outdoor performances, but local musicians say they don't want to risk the impact of thick smoke from regional wildfires on their lungs.

Venue owners, too, are concerned about the safety of both audience members and performers.

Show cancellations began as early as Tuesday, when Shybo Torres nixed his regularly scheduled outdoor performance on the patio of the Rogue Valley Country Club in Medford.

"I play the flute, and I'd be sucking in all that smoke with the flute," said Torres. "It's bad enough trying to sing and catch a breath."

Torres said performing in the smoke causes tightness and burning in his throat, accompanied by headache and dizziness from the lack of oxygen.

The event coordinator for the country club agreed to postpone the concert until next week for safety's sake, but the big question is, when will the smoke go away?

Weather officials say don't expect a meaningful respite anytime soon as wildfires continue to rage on 35,000 acres in Douglas and Josephine counties.

"I don't know how it's going to affect us," said Marcus Scott, manager of the Lithia Artisans Market, a weekend outdoor market held behind the Ashland Plaza.

"I tried to think back to the Biscuit fire (2002) and I know it would kind of suck the wind out of you. But people still came out, the tourists are still here," said Scott. "I didn't realize the air quality was going to get as bad as it is."

Air quality was listed as "hazardous" in Medford and Grants Pass at 5 p.m. Wednesday by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

Some event planners, however, say the show must go on.

Donna Briggs, executive director of the Britt Festivals in Jacksonville, said as of Wednesday afternoon, the Classical Festival was scheduled to open Friday as planned.

"We are looking at different scenarios, because we don't know what the weather is going to be like by Friday, and things can change," said Briggs. "Certainly, we're evaluating the situation hourly, we are in close communication with the orchestra and will make the best decision by Friday morning."

The orchestra's rehearsals were moved to the Jacksonville Elementary School Wednesday because of the smoke.

Grizzly Peak Winery co-owner Virginia Silbowitz said she still plans on hosting Bustin' Out, a Southern rock band, at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, although she has an indoor area the band can use as a backup plan.

"We're going to go ahead and have the concert, and if people don't feel comfortable, then they won't come," said Silbowitz. The indoor event center at the winery won't hold the same amount of people who could attend outside, but it holds up to 75, she said.

"We won't cancel, we have the option of moving indoors," said Silbowitz.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Green Show, which normally is held in the courtyard on the OSF campus, has been moved to the smaller Carpenter Hall in the interest of public health. The festival canceled its Tuesday and Wednesday night plays on the outdoor Elizabethan Stage.

"It is that the air quality is in the extreme or very unhealthy zone," said Amy Richard, media and communications manager for OSF. "So to keep our actors and our audiences in better health, we just felt that it was important to cancel the show."

Cancellations for plays will be announced by noon each day and ticket holders are encouraged to check for updates. Like other venue coordinators, the OSF staff is watching the air quality index readings to gauge whether an outdoor performance would be appropriate.

"We're looking at the DEQ index," Richard said. "Of course early in the morning you can't really know exactly what it's going to be that evening."

The unpredictable nature of the air quality is forcing musicians and event planners to hope for the best but plan for the worst.

"Of course I'd much rather be playing gigs than be trying to figure out how to entertain the kids inside all day," said guitarist and vocalist Sage Meadows, who was scheduled to perform at the Lithia Artisans Market Saturday, but chose to cancel her performance.

"I'm not comfortable singing out there. There are particulates in the air," said Meadows. "There is just no way. We had a gig Friday, too, singing for an elderly person, but that's been canceled also because they can't dance because of the smoke. We had all sorts of plans."

Meadows added that the family may head out of town because of concerns about her daughter's asthma symptoms.

"I understand the community is going to take a hit. OSF has a lot to lose by canceling shows, but I think the rest of us should look at that and follow the example. It's just the smart thing to do," said Meadows.

Reach reporter Mandy Valencia at 541-776-4486 or by email at

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