Gino and the Lone Gunmen open up the Southern Oregon Music Festival Friday at Howie's on Front. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]

Music fest cranks it up

Southern Oregon Music Festival has morphed with the times, spanning tastes from traditional jazz to blues, zydeco and '50s rock 'n' roll.

A common element as the 29th edition of the festival cranked up Friday afternoon were dancers waiting to strut their stuff from the Inn at the Commons to Howiee's and Studio C at KOBI.

"My volunteer joy at the festival is that I get to dance with all of the women," said Steve Gillyatt of O'Brien, who ventures to similar events in places like Fresno and Seaside, and maps out his days and evenings based on his band taste.

"They've made some big improvements," Gillyatt said. "They have a much bigger floor at Howiee's — twice the size as last year.

Over the years, his favorites have been Steve Lucky and Rhumba Bums, Gino and the Lone Gunmen, Sister Swing, and the Young Bucs. But he's always open to new artists.

"I'm waiting to see how this year turns out," Gillyatt said.

Frank Surma, a retired engineer who lives in Talent, first attended the festival a quarter century ago.

"It was mostly jazz at that time, swing, Dixieland," said Surma, who professes to be a Dave Bennett fan. "But I like it better this way, there's more variety."

Lately he's been learning to dance at the Evergreen Ballroom, and the festival gives him the opportunity to work on his steps in a friendly environment.

The event has long been a draw for out-of-town music fans.

Judy Zimmerman traveled the West attending music festivals with her late husband, first finding Medford about 18 years ago. Traditional bands, such as High Sierra, attracted the Zimmermans to Southern Oregon, but since her husband's passing her daughter has joined her on music trips.

"My husband liked traditional bands, but my daughter likes a broader spectrum of music," she said. 

Mother and daughter booked their room months in advance and drove down from western Washington Thursday.

"We'll be here until Monday so we didn't miss anything, including the after-party," she said. "We had to skip last year, only because my granddaughter got married."

Medford resident Bobbie Templeman had attended the event every year before missing last year after breaking her neck. The transition to different styles and an array of bands appeals to her.

"I like that you can get almost any kind of music you want. Jazz isn't for everybody, and some people don't know what jazz is," said Templeman, whose favorite over the years as been Cornet Chop Suey. "But I love Tom Rigney, Dave Bennett and Gator Nation."

Steven Fogelman, a business coach for entrepreneurs, has attended the festival for the past five years. His office is right above Howiee's.

"But when the music starts, I'm right here," Fogelman said. "Clients can see me later. You can hear some incredible musicians that you would have to go to Louisiana, New Orleans, Atlanta and places like Chicago just to hear."

He counts Dave Bennett and the Memphis Speed Kings, Gino and the Lone Gunmen and Tom Rigney among his favorites.

"We're really fortunate to have them here," Fogelman said.

The festival continues through Sunday afternoon. For details and schedules, see

— Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or Follow him on Twitter at, and on Facebook at

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