Although the weather may not always cooperate, you can usually tell when summer has its hold on Central Oregon. Car roof racks exchange skis for kayaks, the bike lanes are full, and live music seems to emanate from every brewery, park, and farmer’s market. Local bands look toward summer to share freshly-written original songs and sing beloved favorites, while touring bands from all over the world take the opportunity to visit cities like Bend in search of new audiences. With the warmer weather, breweries and restaurants make sure to include a space in the corner for items in the musician’s quiver such as a P.A., a couple of mics, and some guitars tucked neatly in their cases. Whether they’re playing their fourth gig of the week or simply signed up for an open mic, the goal of sharing music is the same. Central Oregon’s summer festival circuit begins with the 4 Peaks Music Festival (of which this writer helps run), travels through the many brewery and cidery anniversary events, and ends with the Sisters Folk Festival. Meanwhile, Downtown Bend gets flooded with music practically each weekend as there is always something to celebrate in our High Desert Home.
Location: The Commons
Find it: 875 NW Brooks Street, Bend. TheCommonsBend.com
Tucked behind the Tower Theatre near the Brooks Avenue breezeway, The Commons is a musician’s dream with the inside’s warm wood floors and good acoustics, allowing for solo and duo performances, and a pop-up outside venue, complete with the enviable backdrop of Drake Park and the Cascade Mountains. Open mic nights and small shows occur weekly and large outdoor performances are scattered throughout the summer.
Location: Crux Fermentation Project
Find it: 50 SW Division St., Bend.CruxFermentation.com
At first glance, summer evenings at Crux could be mistaken for a large block party in your neighbor’s expansive yard. Food carts and games line the grounds while small fires from metal fire pits illuminate the lawn under Cascade Mountain views. Bands set up on the weekends, usually in the early evening and run through Crux’s Sundowner, the half hour before and after sunset where they offer nightly beer specials.
Location: Silver Moon Brewing
Find it: 24 NW Greenwood Ave., Bend.SilverMoonBrewing.com
Sometimes you want to head inside and sweat alongside your friends to good ole rock n’ roll. Although Silver Moon does have a new patio, inside boosts a new sound system, a Bend mural in the back, and long display windows that peer out onto Greenwood Avenue. If there’s a chill in the air, the windows fog up to complete the garage band experience.
Location: Elk Lake Music on the Water
Find it: Elk Lake Resort, 60000 Century Drive, Cascade Lakes Hwy. ElkLakeResort.net
Twenty-five miles from Bend, and well off the beaten path, Elk Lake Resort’s Music on the Water series has become a summer mainstay in Central Oregon. A who’s who of local bands perform, but it’s the location that makes the Saturday drive worth the trip. Set amongst trees, trails, and the gorgeous lake, this seasonal music venue is a true world away.
Style of Music: Folk Jam Band
The Mostest has been a Bend mainstay since 2006 and is the creative outlet for guitarist and songwriter Mark Ransom and bassist Patrick Pearsall, who have seen close to 50 top local musicians play with them on stage or on records in their ever-evolving jam band. The full lineup—Ransom on guitar, Pearsall on bass, Dylan Bernal on drums, Patrick Ondrozeck on keys, and Cutmen Horns' Dave Van Handle and Jason Jackson on trombone and trumpet respectively—allows the band to take Ransom’s introspective Americana folk tunes and transform them into guitar-driven, soulful songs. 2019’s Teleport People is the fourth full-length CD release from The Mostest, but their upbeat live performances prove why Ransom and Pearsall have been able to tour Oregon and Colorado on a consistent basis. MarkRansom.com
Style of Music: High Desert Hip Hop
Rapper, poet, visual artist, speaker, and educator Jason Graham is well known around town as a community activist unafraid to tackle the important issues of the day. A former Oregon state slam poetry champion and TEDx speaker, Graham received the distinction of being Bend’s first creative laureate in September. When you combine Graham’s powerful ideas and performance style with DJ/producer Colten Tyler Williams’ backbeats, you have the sounds of MOsley WOtta (MoWo). Playing festivals, shows, and house concerts in support of their new album What Comes After, MoWo gets people to dance to the music while thinking about the message. The beats move from hard-hitting to soft soundscapes, the themes tackle everything from racism to nationalism, and the performances are unforgettable. IAmMoWo.com
Maxwell Friedman Group
Style of Music: Neo-soul Funk
Regulars to Bend’s concert scene know 15-year-old Maxwell Friedman as the kid on organ who regularly sits in with famed bands, such as Karl Denson, George Porter Jr., and The New Mastersounds, when they stop in Central Oregon. One of the youngest players to be endorsed by Hammond Organs, Friedman was chosen as artist-at-large for both the 4 Peaks Music Festival and California’s High Sierra Music Festival this year. In 2018, Friedman rounded up talented jazz and funk players—bassist Mark Karwan, drummer Connor Streeter and guitarist Gabe Johnson—to work on what he calls, “Inspired neo-jazz funk soul fusion.” Fresh off the release of their first album, Beyond Neblar - Live in Bend, Friedman is well on his way towards the neo-jazz, funk powerhouse he seemed destined for at a young age. MaxwellFriedmanMusic.com
CJ Neary Band
Style of Music: Jazz Fusion
CJ Neary is the very definition of the word “prodigy.” Neary picked up a fiddle at age five and began cultivating his love for music. It wasn’t long before his pure talent and determination lead him to win multiple national fiddle competitions and appear on the Grand Ole’ Opry stage in Nashville. Locals know Neary as the 12-year-old fiddle player in the Bend Broadband commercials. Musically mature well beyond his years, Neary—now a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist—released his 2019 album, A Groovy Kind of Music, with a CD-release party drawing close to a thousand people to downtown Bend. Backed by guitarist Richard Taelour, bassist Aaron Moore, and drummer Logan Anderson, the CJ Neary Band infuses bluegrass, jazz, funk, and blues into each show. CJNeary.com