Founders of the organization that stages folk concerts in and around Ashland are leaving town, but the collective effort will continue
By Jim Coleman
A concert Saturday at First United Methodist Church in Ashland was a landmark night for local fans of folk music. The show, featuring the Michal Palzewicz Trio and world music band Malinka, was the last to be promoted by Ashland Folk Collective founders Jacqui Aubert and Dan Sherrill before they move to the Philadelphia area.
The couple and the folk collective have helped to present dozens of touring and local folk acts in the Rogue Valley over the last five years. They’ve staged shows in churches, houses, barns — all venues where the music is in the foreground, not a background to conversation.
Aubert and Sherrill, who have performed as the folk act Hollis Peach, are leaving to raise their infant son closer to the boy’s grandparents and extended family. But the Ashland Folk Collective will continue to bring music to the valley and Aubert will continue as the group’s president. Production manager Hanna Winters is now the hands-on leader in Ashland for the nonprofit group.
Aubert and Sherrill established the collective to bring music to town, to help performers — oftentimes their friends — earn a living, and to make a living themselves.
Musical acts on a West Coast tour regularly head up and down Interstate 5 for dates in Northern California and the Portland and Seattle areas. Oftentimes it makes sense to add a show stop in the Rogue Valley.
But folk music thrives in quiet venues. Although the area has plenty of wineries and bars where musicians can play as a backdrop, a quiet space where the focus is on the music is harder to come by.
Aubert said she and Sherrill saw a situation in which “there are a lot of listening spaces but there’s no one really putting on concerts that are listening-focused.
“We had a lot of friends on the folk circuit who were just coming through Ashland … and we had so many people ask us, ‘Where can we play?’ It just came out of a need from our peers who just couldn’t find the right setting for their music.”
Helping out their musician friends led to founding a nonprofit business. Aubert’s approach was: “I don’t know if we’re gonna make this a job but we like our friends enough to put on concerts for them. Then we saw the potential for making money at it.” Ultimately, she said, “I realized how much work it was and I just decided to make it my job.”
The first shows were often done in houses. Sherrill, who plays in several bands, runs a studio, produces records and teaches, handled a lot of the technical details of putting on shows. “Initially it kind of sprung out of, ‘Hey, I have all these skills, Jacqui has all these skills, how can we parley those skills into some sort of business?’” Sherrill said.
Friends would lend microphone stands, monitors and cables for shows, he said. “I’d ask to borrow equipment and people would say, “Yeah, come on over. Here’s my house key.’ Which is an amazing thing about Ashland in general, that people are very supportive of the arts and also very supportive of people who are motivated to start something new.”
It took a lot of effort initially to get people interested in the collective, Sherrill said, “But where we’re at right now it’s like that work has paid off times a hundred.”
They now have business sponsors to help with expenses or to host musicians on tour. Neuman Hotel Group puts up musicians at the Ashland Hills Hotel. The Ashland Food Co-op provides meals, giving road-weary performers a break from fast food.
In the last year the group has staged shows at the Historic Ashland Armory, La Baguette Cafe and the nondenominational church The Story in Ashland; Fry Family Farm in Medford, and the Cedarwood Barn in Talent. A team of volunteers helps the collective put on the shows.
The collective’s Feb. 4 show was something of a farewell for Aubert and Sherrill. He plays guitar and banjo and sings as a member of the Michal Palzewicz Trio along with percussionist Reed Bentley and cellist Michal Palzewicz. Their performance featured their own compositions plus works as varied as a Bach cello piece and a Led Zeppelin tune.
The trio begins a concert tour of the Northwest this week. After that, Sherrill and Aubert will land in Pennsylvania to see that their baby gets “lots of grandparent time” and continue their involvement in Ashland music from afar, Aubert said.
“My vision for the folk collective is that it outgrows its founders,” she said. One step toward that end might involve forming a network with northern California music venues that have reached out and could coordinate with touring acts. Sherrill said he would like to see the five-year-old Ashland group become “a 20-year project.”
During a break in the Feb. 4 show, Aubert, Sherrill, with their son Fable in their arms, took the stage together for an emotional goodbye. A tearful Aubert told the crowd at First United Methodist, “We sell out about 80 percent of our shows, so if you keep coming, we’ll keep putting them on.”
The Ashland Folk Collective’s next scheduled show will feature the Bart Budwig Band on March 4 at the Cedarwood Barn.
Email longtime journalist and Ashland resident Jim Coleman at email@example.com.