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"Funk in the Forest" enters a new era Saturday at Avery Park in Corvallis.

Justin Schepige and fellow organizers had a bigger vision for this eighth edition of the festival: make it a Pacific Northwest event with more regional bands and a well-known headliner.

"The goal is to keep things locally focused, but also expand the boundaries to give Corvallis an opportunity to see regional acts that wouldn't normally play in the area," Schepige said.

The festival has come a long way from five years ago, when Schepige was just looking for a place where his band, Despite the Whiteness (DTW), could play.

He, his friend Brandon Johnson and some others rented Avery Park's Thompson Shelter and brought along another band to perform funk music. They charged a $5 cover to anyone who wanted to come listen. Around 60 people showed up to the concert they called "Funk in the Forest."

"There was just something magical about it," Schepige said. "The sun went down and everyone was dancing and having a great time with the music. We just thought, 'We should do this again.'"

And they did, seven more times featuring performances by mid-valley funk bands. Attendance increased with each festival. Last spring's event drew nearly 800 people.

This year's festival will have two stages featuring performances by eight bands, including the headliner Five Alarm Funk, an eight-piece funk group from Vancouver, British Columbia.

People from all over the country have been buying tickets for their show, Schepige said.

"They are playing some other big festivals this summer and have made quite a name for themselves," he added.

DTW, which Schepige founded, has always headlined the festival until this year. It began as a five-piece band, with Schepige as bassist, that played exclusively for "Funk in the Forest."

The ensemble grew along with the event. DTW now plays more regular gigs, and carries 11 instrumentalists, Schepige said. They will add two horn players and be joined by the hip-hop group Salvajes from Santa Ana, California, for their set. 

"I think they (Salvajes) are featured on four or five tunes with us doing some rap and hip-hop," he said. "We're always trying to do something new."

Portland funk bands Swatkins and the Positive Agenda, and Joy Tribe will also perform at the festival.

"I sit down and listen to both of them a lot. I'm very excited to see their live performance," Schepige said.

Sleep Millennium, an experimental-pop group from Salem, will perform. In return, DTW will do the same at the group's independent music festival on July 14, Schepige said.

Clara Baker, a Portland folk singer-songwriter and former Corvallis resident, will open the concerts.

Mid-valley funk group The Space Neighbors are a popular favorite returning to perform. And the funk-soul group Wups rounds out the local acts.

"Funk in the Forest" will include an after party at Squirrel's Tavern in Corvallis. Eugene band Soul Vibrator, Kid April and Reggae Rob are set to play.

In an effort to the make this year's festival more family-friendly there will be art vendors: Amorphous Art, Coexisting Arts, LuxEye Creations, and Nicole Garrett.

Heartland Humane Society will bring animals for kids and adults to pet, Schepige said.

Food carts will be available, along with beer and cider for purchase.

To make all of it possible, Schepige, Johnson and fellow organizers partnered with Freedom Thought Collective, a Eugene-based booking and production company. 

"It's been a lot of work, but I'm pretty proud that our eight-person team has been able to work together and make this happen, especially on such a tight budget, because this isn't a full-time job for anyone," he said.

Schepige said he is most excited by the nonstop music the festival will offer.

"If you show up at 2:30 p.m. when the doors open, by 3 o'clock Clara Baker is kicking things off and you're going to hear great music pretty much until 10 without much of a break," he said.

And if people need a break during the festival there is an area under tents with couches to sit down and relax.

Schepige said people should come prepared to dance.

Every "Funk in the Forest" becomes a big dance party, he said.

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