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Preview: Willamette Valley Music Festival brings together local talent with big name headliners



The annual Willamette Valley Music Festival will return to the heart of the University of Oregon campus this Saturday to celebrate Eugene’s music and art scene. The festival will feature a wide variety of music throughout the day with a lineup that includes a slew of local talent in addition to the festival’s two main headliners, STRFKR and Mr. Carmack.

“This is a big part of building the University of Oregon tradition,” said Elissa Carlson, one of the festival’s student coordinators. The event was originally founded 50 years ago as the Willamette Valley Folk Festival, but in the late 2000s, the name was changed in order to bring in more genres and cater to a broader student audience.

“Since this is for students, we want to try and encompass as many interests as possible,” Carlson said. The lineup this year touches on everything from indie-rock to electronic music and hip-hop.

The Portland-based indie band STRFKR is set to close out the festival, from 9:45 to 11 p.m. STRFKR’s sound is based around a blend of catchy hooks and bright, synth-driven production. The band gained notoriety back in 2008 with its self-titled debut and the popular single, “Rawnald Gregory Erickson the Second.”

It’s been over a year since the release of STRFKR’s latest album, “Being No One, Going Nowhere,” but since then, the band has been touring extensively. STRFKR’s most recent stop in Eugene was just earlier this year at the McDonald Theatre downtown.

DJ and electronic music producer Aaron Carmack — better known by his more formal stage name, Mr. Carmack — will perform just before STRFKR from 8 to 9:15 p.m. Over the last decade, Mr. Carmack has built up a prolific discography with a number of eclectic EPs in addition to a stream of remixes and collaborations released through his own SoundCloud page.

For the most part, Mr. Carmack’s music blurs the line between dance music and hip-hop. For his set on Saturday, fans can expect a wide-ranging mix of high-energy music that pushes boundaries, touching on all different styles and genres.

But outside of these big-name headliners, the Willamette Valley Music Festival aims to highlight a number of up-and-coming performers, many of which are local acts or student artists. The music will be split throughout the day between two different stages: one in the EMU amphitheater and another behind the EMU on the lawn.

The Portland-based synth pop duo Small Million will perform at 4:30 p.m. on the EMU Green Stage while Ghostnaps, a Eugene-based producer and DJ, will bring his chilled out house music to the EMU Amphitheater at 6 p.m. Other sets to look out for include the Los Angeles-based garage-rock trio The Gooms, as well as Portland’s Sharlet Crooks with its self-described “desert Americana” sound.

“The thing about Willamette Valley Music Festival is that it brings together a bunch of different bands that we don’t usually play with,” said Macks Johanesen, who will also be performing on Saturday with his band The Shifts. Johansen describes his band’s music as “sardonic indie garage rock, or dadrock for the kids.”

On the opposite end of the musical spectrum is hip-hop artist August Jefferson, who performs under the name AJ. Jefferson mixes ‘90s influences, pop culture references and the Black experience into his own brand of conscious hip-hop.

As a senior at the University of Oregon, Jefferson is grateful for the opportunity to perform on campus.

“This was my dream back in freshman year,” Jefferson said. “I was living in Hamilton, making shitty music on my shitty microphone, but now I’m going to be performing on my campus about 500 feet away from my freshman dorm, doing something that I love doing.”

Spiller, a local favorite that blends both jazz and emo influences into its sound, shares this sentiment.

“It’s cool that it happens on campus,” Luke Broadbent, Spiller’s guitarist and vocalist, said. “People that go to shows are there, but there’s also a lot of people that wouldn’t have otherwise checked out local music.”

One big reason for this is the fact that Willamette Valley Music Festival is completely free and open to the public. But the festival also offers a number of things for people to enjoy outside of the music.

This year, the University of Oregon Craft Center will be partnering with the festival to bring an interactive vinyl spin art project to the event. The ever-popular therapy dogs will also be present for people to relax and hang out with behind the stage. Student artwork will be on display and a number of campus organizations will be tabling as well, allowing for plenty of things to do during the breaks in the music.

“It’s our last year as students,” Sam Mendoza, Spiller’s second guitarist and vocalist, said. “It’s a good send-off. We’re really excited.”


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Nic Castillon

Nic Castillon

Nic is an Arts & Culture writer at the Daily Emerald.