In an interview with The Bulletin a few years ago, Cameron Clark, of Bend, described the origins of the annual Munch & Music concert series in Drake Park.
“(I was) one of the poor and humble masses gathering outside the vinyl walls of the (Cascade Festival of Music's) tent (in the summer of 1990),” he said. “There were hundreds of us that would sit outside who couldn't afford to buy tickets to go inside. I looked around at these hundreds and thought, 'This town needs a free summer concert series.'”
The next year, Clark met that need, founding Munch & Music, one of the longest running and most popular events on Bend's cultural scene. On Thursday, the series' 22nd season kicks off with a concert by the Jamaican reggae act Live Wyya (see “If you go” and schedule).
Live Wyya is an authentic reggae band, adept at pumping out the bouncy island vibes and fronted by Tafadzwa “Katt” Del-Ali, who has toured through Central Oregon as a solo act many times before.
But if you've been to Munch & Music, you know that while music is the focal point of the event, it is hardly the only thing going on. For many, it's a sideshow, a soundtrack to a see-and-be-seen scene like few others in this region.
Munch & Music is a community gathering, where families lay out blankets and bop along, and babies test boundaries by trying to bolt off those blankets for the park's soft green grass. It's where many local teenagers first feel out newfound freedoms in a setting deemed safe enough by Mom and Dad for a parent-less excursion with friends. And for the kids in between babies and teens, there's a play area with plenty of places to bounce out their abundant energy. (Reminder: Dogs are not allowed.)
There is business done here, too. A bunch of food vendors line the park's walkways, offering the kinds of foods you usually find in a mobile kitchen. Deschutes Brewery beer is available for purchase in an enclosed beer garden. Other booths set up here and there in hopes that you'll take an interest in what they're up to.
But back to the center of all the action. Each year, Clark and his C3 Events company book six artists to come to a central spot in Bend and play for free. They take great care to brew up a cosmopolitan blend; this year's globetrotting lineup finds reggae, Russian rock 'n' roll, Portland funk-rock and classic American blues tucked around a couple of '80s hitmakers.
The common thread, of course, is music — music that, for six summer Thursdays, turns Bend's Drake Park into a community dance floor where all are welcome.