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Jeb Bladine: Nutritious walnuts go best with music

Combining music with walnuts? I suppose it makes sense, but only in McMinnville.

Five years ago today, a small crowd attended the inaugural Walnut City Music Festival. Few of those people will forget one truly extraordinary music experience that afternoon, which drew this lyrical description in the news:

“A torrential downpour accompanied by lightning strikes and rumbling thunderclaps closed the outdoor show at the first Walnut City Music Festival … The thunder and lightning rolled right over the festival grounds while The Hill Dogs delivered a passionate and awe-inspiring duet with Mother Nature.”

Some hardy souls were dancing — actually frolicking — during that epic rainfall, while crescendos of electric strings punctuated the massive thunderclaps. The next day, they discovered a large tree, just behind the stage, split in half by lightning.

Whatchamacolumn

Jeb Bladine is president and publisher of the News-Register.

> See his column

The fledgling event survived. After several years of small, incremental improvements, the WCMF this year moves to Lower City Park for a Friday-Saturday engagement on Labor Day Weekend.

“Amazing live music events,” the website declares, “aren’t only for big cities or rural campgrounds.”

WCMF is a fundraiser for local nonprofit Partners for Parks. Volunteer event organizers describe a long-term goal “to build am amphitheater in one of McMinnville’s many parks or green spaces.” Their website at walnutcitymusicfest.org provides information, ticket sales and intriguing snippets about 13 musical groups taking the stage this year.

Oh, and about those walnuts:

A hundred-plus years ago, McMinnville was a hub of commercial walnut harvests that gained national and even international prominence. We were dubbed “The Walnut City,” but over many decades, weather, disease and competition from California reduced and eventually destroyed that nutty marketplace.

In 1954, there still were an estimated 100,000 walnut trees in Yamhill County, and I believed all of them lined the east and north sides of our Yamhill Street house. Or so it seemed, when my older sister and I picked them off the ground by the thousands on cold fall mornings.

Today, we have just a few reminders of that era: Walnut City Wineworks, located in a former walnut processing plant; Walnut City Lanes for bowlers; the spectacular walnut display in the lobby of the Atticus Hotel.

And of course, the Walnut City Music Festival. Response to this year’s change of venue to McMinnville’s historic, urban park setting will go far in determining whether the WCMF can become an enduring Labor Day Weekend destination event for the region.

Move over, Woodstock.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@newsregister.com or 503-687-1223.

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