Pistol River Concert Association veteran performers Jaxon Williams, left, Grant Ruiz and Joseph Thompson will perform during 30th anniversary concert Saturday, July 7. The Pilot/Submitted photo
PISTOL RIVER – It’s been 30 years of music and fellowship for the Pistol River Concert Association (PRCA) folks.
And they will celebrate their three decades – and estimated 300 shows – with “three generations” of guitar masters: Jaxon Williams, Grant Ruiz and Joseph Thompson at 8 p.m. July 7.
“Our main ambition is to hire bands and people who are very professional,” said Les Stansell, who with his wife, Mary, founded the association in 1982. “Most of them make their living touring and recording. We want to be credible so people know when they see a gig here, they’ll like it a lot.”
Such was the case earlier this month, when music lovers filled the hall to hear Houston Jones, a five-piece “rockin’, Americana, bluegrass and gospel band,” Stansell said.
The organization has a lot to show for 30 years worth of work they’ve put into the music and the hall.
In the past 30 years, the PRCA has hosted a wide array of live music that has filled the Friendship Hall in Pistol River, just south of Gold Beach.
Concerts are held once a month and the hall can accommodate 100 people.
The Friendship Club owns the hall and hosts meetings, weddings, funerals – it’s a place to congregate for the 200 or so who live in the immediate area, Stansell said.
It started with a vision, said Thompson, the first musician to grace the stage at the Friendship Hall.
“He (Stansell) told me he had this vision of doing concerts in the area where his great-grandmother had homesteaded,” he said of the now-seventh-generation family.
“He went back to Pistol River, and I got the phone call and he said ‘We’re ready; come over.’ It was quite incredible. They had packed the house.”
The list of artists has been non-stop since that first concert in 1982, Stansell said, adding that they have to turn down about 10 artist requests for every one they accept.
In addition to the music, the intimate hall itself rounds out the experience with state-of-the-art equipment and acoustics.
That wasn’t the case in 1982.
“The stage was sinking into a sand dune, pulling the building with it,” Stansell said. “But the pure luck of having the hall – it’s a community meeting place. It’s the heart of the community right now.”
And it’s hours from anywhere. Perfect.
“Even though Pistol River is way out of the way from anywhere, touring musicians love to come there and play,” Thompson said. “All the people are so warm and welcoming. It’s a delight. That spot on the coast is just magical.”
Halfway between Portland and San Francisco – two major music venues – the hall is ideal for the intimate presentations Stansell hoped to host.
“I like to say we’re centrally isolated on the West Coast,” he said. “Typically, they’d be up and down the I-5 corridor. “This gives them the opportunity to swing out and see the coast. A typical itinerary has become Seattle, Portland, Pistol River, San Francisco.”
Through his connections with other musicians and their agents, bookings came fast and furious.
“We immediately got all these calls,” Stansell said. “Musicians want to play here – we’ve never had to seek out musicians to play here.”
Paul Renner of Gold Beach has fond memories of numerous shows hosted at the hall.
“We had a tall chair with a big cushion on it,” he related of a performance by Pop Wagner. “He had this magnificent Mark Twain-esque mustache and when he played the harmonica, he practically disappeared under that mustache. He had a lot of music in him.”
He recalls the humorous tunes of Sandy Bradley and the Small Wonder String Band, and Norman Blake who “played his guitar with zen.”
“There was a lot of piano music back then,” Renner said. “A lot of new age-y stuff. We weren’t sure if they were making it up or if it’d ever been written down.”
The PRCA averages 90 people per show – and many are sold out, as is expected for the 30th anniversary concert.
“The musicians are playing venues three, four times as big (in larger cities) and not getting the turnout we get here,” Stansell said. “There’s so much competition in the big cities.”
Thompson’s favorite aspect is the audience.
“What struck me was how warm the reception was from the people, how gracious,” he said of the July 17, 1982 show. “The space felt like a living room: old couches were scooted up to the front row, it was really relaxed. There is no greater crowd to play for than someone who appreciates what you’re doing.”
Renner misses the couches.
“You could see over the people in the front,” he said. “But still, there are two women who come early and bring their lawn chairs. If you can get in behind them, it’s like the old days of having couches.”
According to Mary Stansell, the PRCA has the distinction of being the longest continuous-running, non-profit concert venue on the West Coast.
“I’m sure there are other venues older than us, but not too many,” Les Stansell said. “I’ve seen a lot of venues come and go. We’re pretty fortunate. We stay consistent, the artists love us, and everyone’s happy.”
Thompson hopes nothing has changed since the last time he was at the hall.
“They had a winning formula right from the beginning,” he said. “Over the years, there have been new faces, but the audience hasn’t changed.”
“We’ve got a long and sordid history,” Stansell joked. “It’s been a pretty good ride.”
In the past, the association has hosted the likes of Tony Furtado, Peter Rowan and Tony Rice, Maria Muldaur, Chris Smither, Oscar Lopez, Greg Brown and various Grammy and Canadian JUNO winners.
“Some people think we’re just folk, bluegrass, but we’re all the genres that can be done,” Stansell said. “We’re international. Even if someone’s not crazy about a genre, to see someone live in the hall, hang out with the musicians during the breaks ... it’s just the icing on the cake.”
He estimates the organization has hosted about 50 bands representing at least a dozen countries.
Thompson alone has played at least 10 shows.
Next month’s concert will highlight Jaxon Williams, who began studying classical guitar at the age of 7 and was a student of Thompson’s since Williams was 10.
He recently graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in music, and is now studying toward a master’s degree in guitar performance at Arizona State University.
Also performing will be Grant Ruiz, who has played classical guitar since he was 10, studied flamenco in Spain and performs regularly throughout Southern Oregon.
Thompson began playing guitar 50 years ago as a concert guitarist, then worked as a recording artist, composer and music teacher; he is currently learning how to play ukulele and slack-key guitar.
He said he looks forward to performing in the hall sans a PA – just like 30 years ago.
“We are so inundated with music in our society; you can’t go grocery shopping without music droning,” he said. “When music is quieter, people listen more closely, their ears are more sensitive. You hear things in quiet music that you miss entirely in other music.”
“I do like it a lot,” Renner added. “I like the variety. People came through and played there that I never would have had a chance to see otherwise. It’s absolutely incredible.”
For more information about upcoming shows, to join the organization or order tickets, visit pistolriver.com or call 541-247-2848.