For more than three decades, members of The Brownsmead Flats have participated in performances, both collectively and individually, at the Clatsop Community College Performing Arts Center.
“We have a lot of history with it — we’ve done a lot of different performances in it,” band member Ray Raihala said.
In support of what the PAC means to both the community and the band, The Brownsmead Flats will hold a benefit concert at 2 p.m. Sunday at the venue. All proceeds raised at the event will go to the Partners for the PAC, a coalition of local arts organizations striving to maintain the PAC for affordable public arts and educational events.
The Brownsmead Flats perform music with a flavor they describe as “Crabgrass,” meaning a combination of folk and bluegrass with a maritime flavor.
Having started out playing potlucks in Brownsmead, a small community located about 20 miles east of Astoria, the band continues to cultivate a casual, fun atmosphere at shows that is welcoming for children and adults.
“We do believe in getting the audience involved with singing, hand signals, dancing, or whatever we can persuade them to do,” founding member Ned Heavenrich said.
At last year’s benefit concert, The Brownsmead Flats included several sing-alongs for people to join in, a feature that will be more prevalent this year, “because it’s more fun for the audience,” Raihala said.
‘A Great Venue in Astoria’
Although the group was founded in Brownsmead and four of the members still reside there, they spend “a lot of time in Astoria, either making music or doing our daily lives,” Heavenrich said.
He recounted the days when the community college had a variety of performing arts programs and the PAC was the center of connecting them to the public through dance recitals, theatrical productions, musical performances and other events.
The community college, like other schools and public institutions, underwent economic hardship brought on by the 1990 Oregon Ballot Measure 5, which introduced property tax rate limits. Numerous arts-related programs fell to the wayside. The Partners for the PAC, recognizing the importance of theater, music, and other arts, is striving to secure the building so it remains in the community.
“People got together and said, ‘We need this place,’” said Larry Moore, who subbed with The Brownsmead Flats for about 20 years before formally joining the group in 2017.
“It’s the perfect size for musical productions that are suited to the size of the town,” Raihala added. Although there are other valuable venues in town both larger and smaller in size, such as the historic Liberty Theatre and recently opened theater space in the Odd Fellows Building on Commercial Street, the PAC “fills a niche that is really nice,” he said.
“It’s a great venue in Astoria,” Heavenrich agreed. “We’re very comfortable playing there. It has a very homey quality.”
His musical production “Hitchin,’” an adventure-driven bildungsroman inspired by his own life events, debuted at the PAC in 1997 and was followed by two encore performances in 2004 and 2013. The latter production was a fundraiser for the Partners for the PAC. Individually, the members have played as parts of orchestras or other groups, along with one another.
“[The PAC] has a history that we’re a part of,” Heavenrich said, “and have been a part of for many, many years.”