Hugging the open mic in Yachats

Sometimes I think to myself that Yachats, population 688, is where all the old hippies from California have gone. Here you still find people with long hair, long skirts, tie-dye shirts and flowers in their hair. They gather for peace rallies and palm readings, craft festivals and Celtic festivals. They also gather for open mics. (Some say open “mike.” I disagree. Deal with it.)
I had had the note on my refrigerator for six months or so before I finally headed south on Friday night. Most of my music time these days centers around church music, but the new song circle in Yachats spurred me to check out the open mic. There, I could sing anything I wanted.
I have been to so many open mics. Bars, restaurants, coffee shops with loud espresso machines, community halls. Drunks, rockers, stoners, Bob Dylan soundalikes, kids just learning to play an instrument, pros reliving their glory days. Good microphones, bad microphones, no microphones. But I’ve been missing the open mic we used to have here in South Beach and my friend and former bandmate Stacy was involved in this one, so I thought I’d give it a try.
The usual venue, the Green Salmon coffeehouse, was not available, so we met at Ona, a restaurant on the west side of the highway. When I arrived a little before 7, not late, there was no parking to be had anywhere around the building. Parking at the grocery store down the road apiece, I lugged my guitar to the restaurant, arriving just as another woman was opening the door, and walked into a noisy, steamy-windowed, orange-walled room loaded with Yachatsians clustered on a variety of chairs and sofas. Stacy beckoned me to the last empty chair, right in the front row, just in time for the festivities to begin. We could barely hear each other talk over the roar coming from this room and the bar/dining room behind us.
You’d think I wouldn’t get stage fright after 30 years of performing, but I do. I get anxious, and I start thinking I’ve had enough of the music business. Why do I keep doing this to myself? I’m too old. These are not my people. Why drive all the way down here when I’m not getting paid? Yada yada yada. I have learned not to take these thoughts seriously because as soon I get behind the microphone, I will change my mind and want to perform every minute of every day until I die.
Our hosts started us with some guitar and mandolin with vocal harmony. Nice. Then “Rambling Ruth” played “Three Coins in the Fountain” on her violin, along with a couple of other oldies. Stacy performed with her brother and a friend. Delicious music. A brand new quartet of women got up and sang gorgeous a capella harmony about peace, love and . . . harmony.
I was number five, thirsty, and nervous as hell. I had been clutching my guitar between my knees for an hour. I had expected to plug my guitar into an amp, but there was just one microphone that nobody seemed to be using. I had pictured us at a white-tablecloth restaurant where we sat at tables and ordered food and drinks. I had thought I’d have dessert. But no, we were just packed in this hot room and told we’d have a break around 8.
The break came after number 4. I bolted to the bar and waited in line while the bartender with the braided beard served actual drinks to paying customers. He gave me a glass of ice water. Ah. That helped.
Then Stacy read a poem written by her mom, and I was up. “Sue Lick?” The MC looked around. Me. I hugged onto the mic, wanting to be heard. I started singing and playing. By the end of the first tune, some people were singing along. They laughed at my jokes, applauded, and made me feel like a star. They also quieted down for my second song, a new one. I couldn’t hear well enough to do the fancy guitar licks I had practiced, but I sang as well as I ever have. And the last song went over big. I said thank you about a hundred times and went back to my chair, feeling happy, wanting to do this forever.
Every act after that was genius. The poets, the woman who sang “Look to the Rainbow” a capella, Ian playing originals on guitar, the woman in the red velvet mini-dress and leg-warmers who fumbled through a song she just wrote on the ukulele, the guy reading from his memoir, the mayor leading us in Roger Miller’s “You Can’t Rollerskate in a Buffalo Herd.” Loved them all. Promised to come back next month.
I’m aging into an exact copy of my mom, but inside, I’m an old hippie from California, too.

New Song Circle forms in Yachats

Ever get the urge to sing or play music with other people without actually having to be a performer? Me too. I spend plenty of time with a microphone in front of my face, but it’s nice to just play and sing for the fun of it. That’s why I was happy to hear that my friend Stacey Smith was starting a new Song Circle in Yachats. She and I enjoyed a former song circle in Newport for a couple of years. We even formed a band called Just Smith with circle host Kurt Smith (not related to Stacey). We played at the Drift Inn and elsewhere until life got too complicated and we disbanded.

This was in the years when my husband Fred was suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease and the music provided much-needed relief from the burdens of living with that difficult and always fatal illness. We made new friends and made beautiful music. The love of music stayed with Fred right up to the end.
So what’s a song circle? People sit around in a circle and take turns leading songs or suggesting songs for someone else to lead. They may sing something that nobody else knows, maybe even an original song, but most of the time people suggest easy songs that everybody can join in with their voices and their instruments. Sometimes we have words and chords on handouts or in an encyclopedic songbook called Rise Up Singing. Sometimes we just listen and watch each other’s guitar-playing hands and follow along. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and if you don’t feel up to leading a song when your turn comes, you can pass. You can even just come to listen.
We had eight people for the first session, with two acoustic guitars and a violin, and we sounded pretty good. Stacey is planning to continue the song circles once a month. I’m looking forward to the next session on April 7 from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Yachats Commons, Highway 101 and West 4th Street, Room 8. If you’re in the area and feeling musical on a Sunday afternoon, come try it out.

Yachats’ 804 Trail offers both beauty and danger

For my birthday last weekend, my friend Pat offered to take me hiking on her new favorite trail, the 804 Trail in Yachats before having lunch at the Drift Inn. I’ve been there before and would never turn down a chance to walk the 804.
When we arrived at Smelt Sands Recreation Area, where one accesses the trail, the place was packed with cars and people. Pat asked a nearby ranger what was going on and found out it was the dedication of a memorial for two high school seniors from Eugene who died there in February 2011. They were goofing around on the rocks when a sneaker wave caught them and washed them into the wild surf. According to the plaque on the memorial, they could not escape the waves and died within three minutes while their classmates watched in horror.
It’s easy to see the danger. As we walked and took pictures of each other and the waves, the surf crashed against the rocks with loud booms and sprays that went up 20, maybe 30, feet in the air. With the rocks, the sea and the blue sky for background, it’s just beautiful. But it’s also dangerous. Even as loved ones in black suits honored their dead with flowers and speeches and a new monument, other young people walked on the rocks near where the waves were breaking. Signs everywhere warn about the dangers of high surf and sneaker waves, but somehow we all have this feeling it can’t happen to us. It can. Ask the families and friends of Connor Ausland and Jack Harnsongkram. Stay on the trail and don’t turn your back on the ocean.
If you use common sense, the 804 Trail is a fabulous place to walk. The trail, mostly paved and flat, winds along the rocks and through the trees and ultimately comes out at a long sandy beach. Lots of people walk it, many with dogs, and it’s a great place for taking pictures.
Why is it called “804?” This trail is thought to have started as a footpath for tribal people. Later it became County Road 804, from which the trail got its name. Local advocates spent years battling with local governments and property owners before the whole trail from the Yachats River to the beach was finally opened to the public in the late 1990s. You can access it now off Highway 101 from either Smelt Sands or from Yachats State Park. It’s easy walking, and most of it is wheelchair accessible. Bring your camera and please stay off the rocks.
Invigorated by our walk, Pat and I pigged out at the Drift Inn, a favorite local eatery. I was already stuffed with crab and avocado pizza when our waiter brought a huge bowl of marionberry cobbler topped with vanilla bean ice cream and a candle. As he and Pat sang “Happy Birthday,” I couldn’t think of anything to wish for because I had everything I wanted at that moment.
It was a great birthday, and I thank everyone for their good wishes. Even the weather was kind to me on March 9. The next day, the rain returned, but that’s okay. Another birthday survived.

Sunday Drive: Exploring Yachats River Road

Sometimes a mistake yields unexpected rewards. That’s what happened yesterday. I had expected to join a new song circle starting at the Yachats Commons. At 3:00, I showed up with a stack of music books and my guitar, my voice all warmed up. But the doors were locked, and the room was dark. I waited a little bit in the car, not understanding why no one else was here. Then I decided, since I was already in Yachats and had been meaning to explore Yachats River Road, I’d do that instead.

(By the way, for reference, it’s pronounced YA-hots. I know what you’re thinking, but that’s how they say it.)
It was a gorgeous sunny day, God’s reward for all the gray days we get here on the Oregon Coast. Just south of town, I took the steep left turn onto the river road. First thing I saw was a tile roof in all the colors of the crayon box. Cool! Soon the houses opened up into views of the river and vast emerald pastures full of cows and horses. How I envied the homeowners working in their gardens on the north side of the road with that amazing landscape to see every day.
I drove on. In the Bay Area, one can find rural roads to explore, but there are always other cars with drivers who are anxious to drive fast, riding on your bumper or passing with obscene hand gestures if you slow down to look at the scenery. Here, I had the road to myself, passing only a man and his dog along the way. Even better, the road has numerous graveled pull-outs where one can park and take pictures.
At one spot, a sign notes that the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has planted the meadow beyond the trees with grasses designed to improve winter foraging for the local Roosevelt Elks. I didn’t see any elks yesterday, but I’m sure they’re around. Hunters, note: A sign near the other sign says, “No target shooting.”
The road comes to a junction at 7 miles. A right turn takes you to Keller Creek and beyond that to Cape Perpetua. A left turn, the one I took, takes you up North Yachats River Road. The pavement quickly turns to muddy gravel, and the road gets narrow, but at 9 miles is one of Oregon’s famous covered bridges, and the scenery along the way comforts the soul.
I took my time, shot lots of pictures, and then I turned back. In town, I treated myself to a chocolate chip mint ice cream cone, the scoop of green Tillamook ice cream almost as big as my head. I took it to the edge of the ocean, watching the waves and guzzling my ice cream cone as a pug in the next car stared, jealous. Heaven.
If you want to drive up Yachats River Road, look for the steep turnoff on the left just after you pass the heart of town, and head on up. There’s a place about a mile in to park and hike. If you go on to the unpaved portion, know that it’s not recommended for RVs, and I wouldn’t do it in a fancy car. My Honda Element took it just fine, but it got a new coating of mud. Definitely take a camera. For more information about Yachats’ attractions, visit
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