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It's all about the funk: Funk in the Forest festival returns Saturday to Corvallis

It's all about the funk: Funk in the Forest festival returns Saturday to Corvallis

By this time, even Justin Schepige, the bassist and leader for the Corvallis funk band DTW, is getting a little confused about the origins of Funk in the Forest, the music festival that's scheduled for Saturday in Corvallis' Avery Park.

But his best guess is that this year's event is the ninth such celebration of funk, reggae, jazz and hip-hop.

"Honestly, I get a little confused about it sometimes," Schepige (everyone calls him "Shep") said in an interview with The E to preview the event. Since its founding in 2014, the festival has bounced between spring and fall dates, but it's shuffled back to the fall for this year's event.

But there's no doubt about this: Since that initial event in 2014, the festival has grown substantially. It drew maybe 70 people for its debut outing. This year, Schepige thinks it could draw about 1,500 people: "It's kind of hard to predict these things because Corvallis doesn't like to commit" to events until the last minute, he said.

Regardless of the turnout, those assembled will get a chance to hear a variety of bands from the mid-valley and beyond  — including what could be a signature show from the event's hosts, DTW. 

"We just kind of wandered into a demand that was unspoken in the community," Schepige said. But the festival's growth raises a question: "How big do we want to be? We have the ability to pick a size and stay there if we choose."

Financially, the festival runs on what amounts to a relative shoestring, but Schepige said it's never lost money. Tickets for the festival itself are priced at $15, a relatively low amount, and that's by choice: "We really try to make it fair and equitable," he said. "Our focus has been to make it easy for people to say 'yes' to."

Expanding the festival might require organizers to take some steps that are under consideration: fundraising and lining up sponsors, for example. It also might require additional marketing and social media work, and that, he said, "takes up a lot of time." But he said band members and other festival backers are planning excursions to other similar festivals in the Northwest to get a feel for what works — and what mistakes to avoid.

Part of the success of Funk in the Forest likely comes from the fact that the musical genres featured — funk, hip-hop, jazz, reggae and all the fascinating mashups that result as the boundaries blur — have experienced growth over the past few years.

And the event itself, which initially tended to a draw a crowd of mostly college-age students, has expanded beyond that audience. "Last year was a big turning point," Schepige said. "Now there's a healthy mix" of students and others, he said. "That was our cue for this jumping-off point" — and also helped to drive the decision by festival organizers to hold the event a couple of weeks before classes start at Oregon State University. (It also helped that this weekend is relatively light in terms of other events in the mid-valley.)

For DTW, which first came to life at Oregon State University's Music Department with a variety of students studying under Neal Grandstaff, its performance at Funk in the Forest could well summarize the band's journey to date — and could hint at new directions to come.

Schepige said he expects 18 or so musicians on the stage for the event ("it's the biggest the band has ever been"), including guest vocalists who have performed with DTW over the years. "It's cool to have this rich rotating cast of characters," he said. 

"We're using Funk in the Forest to showcase what we've been up to over the last year or so," and that includes a concert earlier this year featuring music from video games and boundary-shattering gigs such as a session where the band improvised live music for a screening of the silent movie classic "Nosferatu."

But "at our core, we're still a very groovy, funkable band," he said.

And that fits in with the vibe of the entire festival.

"People who come to Funk in the Forest want to dance," he said. "They want to party."


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