Free Range: Just for fun

Free Range is a musical duo that's out to make sure its audiences enjoy every song.

Drawing from bluegrass, country and folk traditions, they sing and play simple music that makes for great listening. 

In short, their music is user friendly.

Free Range is two voices, accompanied by guitar, banjo and dobro.  You'll recognize some of the tunes -- others will be new to you, but it's all engaging and entertaining. Their major musical influences are Doc Watson, Laurie Lewis, Mike Auldridge, Linda Rondstadt, Tim O'Brien and Gordon Lightfoot.

Look for Free Range at Portland area farmers markets and summer festivals, and think about them when you're looking for a small ensemble for your next event. We love performing for weddings, birthday parties and company picnics!

On Sondheim and simple music 

"If I cannot fly, let me sing." Stephen Sondheim

Singing is the best antidote for overthinking that I've encountered. Now I think that instead of checking my news feed compulsively throughout the day, I should take myself off to sing somewhere instead.

I feel free just imagining this.

Columbia travels 

We've set ourselves a goal of traveling the Columbia River from its headwaters to its mouth over a number of years.  Last month, we started the journey. We drove to the town of Canal Flats in British Columbia and wandered through a residential neighborhood to reach a tiny park and a short trail around a marsh.

After a few minutes, we reached a foot bridge. On one side was the marsh. On the other side, the water formed a small moving stream. That would become the great river that flows a few miles from our home.

Before it gets to us, the little stream will become Columbia Lake, then a free-flowing river surrounded by miles of wetlands, then a series of dammed-up reservoirs and the massive Columbia that flows, albeit much tamer, into the Pacific. We don't know how long it would take the molecules of water that froze Matt's toes (yes, he stood in it) to get to Astoria, or if any of those molecules would make it this far, but it's been fascinating to think about the journey and its implications for our part of the world.

Coming back to Portland, we took Highway 14 along the north side of the Columbia Gorge. We loved remembering the tiny stream and thinking about the massive flooding that created the gorge -- and how it's all interconnected.

As we start our annual farmers market indulgence, we're excited to have more context about the water flowing into our region. That trip helped us feel connected to our own geography. So do farmers markets -- as what could tie us to our region more profoundly than small-scale agriculture?

We came home to fresh local raspberries. Already we know it's going to be a great summer. Enjoy yours -- and your local market. We hope to see you at one, soon.

Columbia Lake


Love happens every day 

I just read this great quote:

"February days are a marketing gimmick; love happens every day."

It was written by an Indian film star named Randeep Hooda. Now I have to watch Monsoon Wedding and everything else he's been in, as this is my new favorite quote.

It's February. It's pouring rain. Neither the Steelers nor the Packers made it into the Superbowl. Valentine's Day is one bloated marketing event.

And the world is full of uncertainty.

But love, like music, happens every day.  

Thanks, Randeep.


A la Carts 

One member of Free Range has a confession. She has long wanted to play music at a food cart pod.

And she got to fulfill her desire yesterday at the great Rose City Food Park at 52nd and Sandy.

In our continuing search to play around as much food as possible, we performed in a lovely sheltered area surrounded by a  mini-United Nations of gustatory delights. (OK, I've always wanted to write the phrase "gustatory delights," too.) 

It's also a great place to interact with people. We got to watch (as always) small people looking quizzically at the dobro and toddling toward the tip jar; listened to conversations in unknown-to-us languages, and asked people if they would prefer we did or didn't play Wagon Wheel. (We had already packed up by that time, so it was an academic question).

We get to play there again on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, and this time I will be sure to be hungrier than I was yesterday.

Continuing our Summer of Food, we're playing once again at Blast Burger in Lake Oswego this Friday, the 12th; and at Fire & Stone on Sunday, the 14th. In between, those talented gentlemen of Slipshod will be performing at Horseradish in Carlton on Saturday night.

Follow the food! 

There's no place like home 

OK, we're Portland-centric, but it seems to me that there's no place better to be during the summer than Oregon.

And if you happen to be in the city, the best place to be is at a farmers market. And for us, it's our neighborhood market in Hollywood.

We love this market for many reasons: First, we're liable to see many of our friends and neighbors there. Second, the stage is positioned among all the luscious prepared food, and folks can sit at one of the many tables and watch and listen while they eat pastries and berries and drink great coffee.

Third, well, that would be a tie between the berries, the veggies, the salmon, the lamb and the beeswax candles.

As always, we are delighted to be performing at the Holllywood Farmers Market this Saturday from 9 to 12:30. We hope to see many of you there.

Claire & Matt

Little girls in pink tutus 

The first time we played at Fire & Stone was on Easter Sunday.   Just a few families were there at 6, when we started playing.

One of the listeners was a little girl in a pink tutu, who wasted no time in dancing after we started playing. In a little while, we got a request for "Ring Around the Rosy," something we had never played but were able to dispatch with great enthusiasm, if little finesse. Three little girls danced and squealed and ended up in giggling piles on the floor -- about seven times.

So when it came time to celebrate her dad's birthday, the tutu'd one somehow remembered us, and suggested that her mom invite us to play at the birthday party. It was lovely to think that a three-year-old would think of us that way, and we had a great time at the party.

This is all a preamble to say that we're playing again at Fire & Stone on Sunday, June 26, and we hope that it is accompanied by much dancing in the aisles.

The following week we'll be at our first Blastburger adventure on July 1. How appropriate to be playing at a place called Blastburger on July 4th weekend.  And that Sunday we'll be at the Vancouver Farmers Market.

We are so happy to be spending this season surrounded by wonderful food, friendly adults -- and little girls in tutus. 


The End of the Oregon Trail 

In about a 20-year period in the mid-1800s, half a million people crossed plains and mountains to reach the Oregon Territory.  Many came over the Barlow Road in what's now Clackamas County, roping up their oxen to keep them from crashing and tumbling downhill -- taking their wagons and all their possessions with them.  The lucky and hardiest arrived in what is now Oregon City.

In 2016, two intrepid travelers will head south on I-205 to visit the same location. Today, it has a lot more people and a lot more pavement. But it remains the market center for some of the best farmland in the world.

And in good traffic, it shouldn't take us quite as long as it took the pioneers. 

Yes, we're headed off to our first farmers market of the year, in Oregon City.

This will make our (I think) fourth year at the market, and it's always a highlight for us. We get lots of pickin' time in, and we get to meet lovely people. We usually find something we can't live without (sweet hazelnut butter was last year's find), and I always browse the used book collection.

It's always an honor to play at any farmer's market.  It's important to control the volume, not interfere with the commerce -- and above all, not annoy people. So we feel happy about being invited back.

One of us is happy that it will be cool and rainy. The other is just happy to be playing and will dig up her hand warmers left over from the Tygh Valley festival last September.

We congratulate Oregon City on its exciting plans for the Willamette Falls area. It's a spectacular piece of scenery and Oregon history, and we are so glad the city and region are working together to remind us of this fabulous place.

We sprang ahead 

We have made it through another time change, which becomes a greater accomplishment each year.

This is a favorite time of year, when cloudy skies make the blooming plants seem even more vibrant than they appear when it's sunny.  And it's time for the annual event -- melting Peeps in the microwave.

Thanks to the folks at Fire & Stone, 3707 NE Fremont, for providing acoustic musicians a friendly place to perform. We'll be playing there this Sunday evening, March 27, from 6 to 8.  No pizza for us (curse the low-carb diet), but it looks fantastic. It would be great to see some friends there and get to introduce them to a lovely new Northeast Portland restaurant.

Free Range is scheduled to play some farmers markets this summer, and Slipshod, with Matt and Steve Blanchard, will be performing at lots of venues throughout the Willamette Valley this summer.

In June, we're going to the Goldendale Pickers Festival (we hope many of you will join us there), and the Sacajawea Festival at the confluence of the Snake and Columbia Rivers. From there, we will take two weeks to explore the headwaters of the Columbia River. Our eventual goal is to drive and hike along and maybe kayak the whole river, at least the parts that are easily accessible. We'll post photos of banjos on the ice field tour bus.

Thanks for following us. We hope to see you sometime this spring or summer.


February contemplations 

It's February, and we're having one of those precious days that sometimes happens at this time of year when the air smells like spring and the camellia buds tantalize us with the promise of summer flowers.

We Free Rangers are feeling happy that this has been a much more normal winter than last year's. We just returned from the Klamath Falls area, where the snow remains piled next to the highway and there may actually be water in the rivers by the time summer comes.

But that doesn't keep us from thinking about summer time; fresh berries; vine-ripened tomatoes; drinking coffee under a sun umbrella; and playing at farmers markets.

So far, we're scheduled to play at the Oregon City Market and the market in Esther Short Park in Vancouver.  

During our period of hibernation, we've been working on songs appropriate for weddings. . . always a tough one for those of us in bluegrass. (Murder ballads just don't cut it at most receptions.)  But Doc Watson, Jim Croce, Lynn Morris and the Beatles have inspired us.  New songs -- hurray!

It's supposed to get cloudier and cooler later this week -- as it should this time of year.  It should be cold and rainy during this called WinterFolk and Wintergrass.  Spring will happen soon enough.

Summer thoughts 

Matt's quite busy playing with Slipshod  this summer, so Free Range has been, well,  in the corral more than meandering about.  But we're looking forward to some more performances this summer and fall and have some new tunes to pull out.

The great news for Matt is that Steve Spurgin, one of the nation's best-known songwriters, heard one of Matt's original songs last summer and recorded it on his own album.  Steve added his trademark nostalgia to the song "Roadside Stand," and made it even better. We hope you get to hear it either from Matt or from Steve -- or both.

Meanwhile, we are joining the rest of the bluegrass community in morning the loss of Steve Waller -- one of the founders of the Oregon Bluegrass Association, founding member of the Sawtooth Mountain Boys, and the personification of bluegrass for much of the Pacific Northwest. Steve lived his life with vigor, joy and presence until his sudden death earlier this month. Steve, we're so happy to have known you.

Half of Free Range is enjoying the heat, while the other half spends a lot of time in the direct path of a revolving fan.  Both of us are wondering when the rain will return and hoping that our farmers' market friends aren't struggling too much with the lack of precipitation.

We hope you're all out at the markets this summer enjoying the early dahlias and sunflowers as well as the magnificent fruits and veggies.  We'll see you there.

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