PUBLISHER’S NOTE: Music On The Half Shell is celebrating its 21st anniversary this year. One of Roseburg’s most popular venues, the nonprofit group is able to bring professional music to the outdoor Stewart Park stage through the summer due primarily to a handful of sponsors. We hope you will make a contribution to help keep the music coming. Any amount will be welcomed. You may donate online at halfshell.org. News radio station KQEN (1240 AM) will also host a donation call-in 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday.
Dick Nichols is one of those guys who can’t sit still, a trait he probably picked up on the family ranch outside of what is now Winston.
Nichols’ persistence and vision are largely the reasons Roseburg’s Music On the Half Shell will celebrate its 21st season on July 2. As a longtime member of the Roseburg Parks Commission (30 years), Nichols envisioned a place where all parts of the community — regardless of social or economic standing — could gather to enjoy some great music at a great price.
And the price doesn’t get any better than free.
“Our original vision was we were going to get music that you couldn’t get without going out of town and spending a lot of money,” Nichols said, taking a break from his busy “retirement” schedule last week.
“It has turned out better than I ever imagined.”
The parks commission had secured grant money and wanted to use it to help clean up some property by the river, according to Nichols. “I suggested we use the money at Stewart Park,” he recalled. “It looked like a jungle. It was completely brushed over with every kind of shrub you can imagine. The people who left us the money wanted it used for riverside park development.”
They city’s parks director at the time, Jerry Hassler, was instrumental in transforming the future Half Shell site. The grant funded a sprinkler system and new lawn. By the second year there was a bike path. All it needed was a stage.
What Nichols needed was someone who knew something about music and that led him to local businessman and accomplished musician Clint Newell. Nichols and his wife, Mo, met Newell at Little Brothers Pub in Roseburg, where Newell frequently plays drums with his jazz quartet. “I asked Clint if he’d be interested,” recalled Nichols. “I told him I’d raise the money to build the venue if he would help bring the music.”
Newell didn’t hesitate to jump at the opportunity. “He (Dick Nichols) came to me and described what he was looking to do,” recalled Newell. “I said ‘Sure, let’s do it.’ So he and Mo went out and started raising some money, and I started calling around to some musician friends of mine and booked six shows.”
Dick Nichols started working on the stage. “I got in touch with the music director at the college and asked him where he would put it,” he remembered. “Once we found the spot, we knew we had to get a cement pad and a cover for the stage, but we had no idea beyond that.”
By coincidence, Dick and Mo Nichols were driving to see Mo’s family and saw a half shell stage set up in Spokane, Wash. They tracked the company to Calgary, Alberta, in Canada and ordered a portable half shell for $16,500. “They even agreed to come down and put it up for us,” Dick recalled.
But the clock was ticking. “It didn’t look like we could get it done in time,” said Dick. “With a week to go before the first show, we still didn’t have power to the stage.”
The first six shows in 1992 were on Thursday nights, according to Newell. That conflicted with the free concerts in Myrtle Creek, so Music on the Half Shell was moved to Tuesday nights the next year.
Dick Nichols — who, with Mo, would go on to start the Riverbend Live free Friday night concerts in Winston — raised $6,000 to sponsor the first six Music on the Half Shell concerts. Organizers raised another $4,000 from passing the hat during the shows.
They split from the city parks department the next year, forming their own nonprofit group. “We were working as a subcommittee of the city parks committee,” said Newell. “We were in each other’s way, so it made sense to spin off and form a private nonprofit. We have a services agreement with the city that spells out who is responsible for what. The city has been a great partner.”
Music on the Half Shell has grown from six to eight shows, attracting roughly 50,000 people per summer. “It’s evolved into a communitywide event with no boundaries,” said Newell. “The beauty of it is that everyone can enjoy it, and it’s the best cross-section of Roseburg you will find anywhere.”
The committee has grown from its original four members (community leader Jim Macke was also there at the beginning) to more than 26 and a budget of $150,000 annually. “This is a unique venue for an area our size,” said Newell. “The only reason we are able to do this is through broad-based community support. But it is getting more expensive every year.”
There is no way to measure the community impact of Music on the Half Shell, but Newell and Nichols believe it is one of Roseburg’s greatest assets. “One young couple came up to me at one of the shows and said they grew up with the Half Shell,” said Nichols. “They said they would date there and eventually married. It’s turned out far better than I could have ever imagined. These days my job is to make sure we don’t screw it up. It’s important that we sustain it.”
“The musicians love playing here,” said Newell. “We’ve had concerts with over 10,000 people spilling over everywhere.”
The July 2 show features blues band Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers. There will also be music at the Half Shell during fair week, since this year’s Douglas County Fair won’t start until Wednesday, Aug. 7. Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue is set to play Tuesday, Aug. 6.
The concerts begin at 7 p.m. and seating is first-come, first-served. “You can put a blanket out at dawn the day of the concert,” said Newell. “But if you put it out too early it might get run over by one of the trucks used for moving the equipment. Dogs aren’t allowed and beer and wine are allowed, but only during the concert.”
• News-Review Publisher Jeff Ackerman can be reached at 541-957-4263 or email@example.com.