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Jazz Tourism Descends on Oregon Coast Town   by Andre' Hagestedt


On Oregon's central coast, where wild waters meet placid sands, sits the town with two lighthouses and a bustling bayfront. Newport is the hotspot of activity on this mild weathered section of U.S. coastline, boasting some of the most pristine beaches on the continent as well as loads of history, fine hotels, centers of science, famous restaurants, nightlife and a burgeoning art scene that includes the "other jazz festival in Newport."

It's the kind of place where jazz is experiencing an interesting upsurge, featuring the now-famous Jazz at Newport Festival, held this year September 7, 8, 9, and 10, 2006. Between that festival - which is held all over town - and a handful of other venues hosting jazz of all kinds throughout the year, it's becoming a sort of mecca for music tourists and jazz enthusiasts.

You'll have to begin your tour of the town on the beaches, the highlight of which is the Nye Beach area. This ancient neighborhood was once called "the honeymoon capitol of the world" in the early 20th century - back when it was a separate town connected to Newport proper by only a mud-laden wooden plank road. It's here where charming old buildings, both short and tall, dot the streets that are often gussied up with bricks, grandiose archways and old-style street lamps. All this is interspersed with more modern constructions, which gives the area a vibe that's a mix of old Europe, whimsical Americana, upscale sleek and beach funk.

Meanwhile, a bundle of interesting shops and lip-smacking restaurants fill this section of town, such as the gourmet pleasures of Mediterranean-inspired April's at Nye Beach, the innovative lunches of Village Market & Deli, and famed cuisine of kid-friendly Café Stephanie and the Chowder Bowl.

Wine is a vastly popular business here, with two wine bars, three wine shops and many of the restaurants bending over backwards to specialize in fine wines.

These immaculate sands host the Jump-Off Joe rock structure, which has captivated the minds of generations. Just north of Nye Beach, famed Agate Beach again has agates and other geologic points of interest, thanks to a particularly stormy year in winter of 2006.

The beaches are interrupted by Yaquina Head, atop which sits the 130-year-old Yaquina Head Lighthouse and numerous hidden rocky areas to explore.

On the bayfront, Marine Discovery Tours caps the fun options for this stretch of town filled with funky shops, high-profile restaurants and unique attractions like Ripley's Believe It or Not, Undersea Gardens and the Wax Museum. Nearby, Newport's other lighthouse, the Yaquina Bay lighthouse, welcomes tours and visitors with open arms.

Across the Yaquina Bay, the Oregon Coast Aquarium is a nationally famous tourist attraction with massive tanks and sprawling exhibits, including the 360-degree glass tube that runs through three underwater environments. Practically next door, the Hatfield Marine Science Center boasts all sorts of interactive exhibits, including realtime results and reports from a variety of cutting edge research being done behind the scenes here.

But the newest phenomenon for Newport is its wine and jazz attractions, which are growing. Swafford's Champagne Patio was the first major wine shop, boasting hundreds of labels. Nye Beach Gallery and Village Market & Deli popped into the area in recent years, bringing small but proud wine shops as well. In 2005, Blu Cork Wine Bar was the first wine bar in this portion of the coast, immediately attracting a huge following. Within a year, Swafford's also started a wine bar with limited hours.

In Nye Beach, Blu Cork and the Newport Performing Arts Center have been huge supporters of the jazz world, hosting live bands there which are often in a jazz vein. During the summers, the Performing Arts Center has typically hosted a jazz series. Meanwhile, on the bayfront, the lounge at the Embarcadero hotel has been hosting small jazz duos for years.

For three years now, the entire town has joined in the massive Jazz at Newport Festival, now with four days of jazz and beach fun.

The third annual event, with the theme of "An Eclectic Jazz Party at the Beach," brings together a wide mix of jazz styles from musicians who are legendary in the Northwest as well as those who loom large on the national scene.

The Grand Opening Event will be on Thursday, September 7, 2006 and features the Jeff Hamilton Trio and the Houston Person All Star Group, beginning at 7 p.m.

Other national luminaries include guitarist Dan Faehnle, Canadian jazz diva Barbara Blair, bassist and Quincy Jones cohort John Clayton, Capri Recording artist/flutist Holly Hofmann, sax player Houston Person and clarinetist Ken Peplowski.

Throughout the festival weekend, guests will participate in lectures and workshops featuring several of the festival's artists. There will be informal conversations with musicians in the popular Jazz Dialogues series. The grand finale of the festival on Sunday afternoon will be three dynamic sets culminating in an "All Star" jam session with many of the weekend's featured artists.

The venues include Blu Cork Wine Bar, Newport Performing Arts Center and Shilo Inn all the way down to smaller motels and lounges in the area.

The result of all this jazz activity is a steady and growing stream of "jazz tourists," a particular niche of the "music tourist" group which runs around the country indulging in the pleasures of musical performances. Local business owners are reporting a year round trickle of this that's increasing in Newport, especially with visitors from the Portland area who are jazz fans. But each year, attendance of the festival increases as word gets out nationally, and many come from around the country to take in the jazz.

Jazz at Newport Festival happens September 7, 8, 9, and 10, 2006. For tickets or additional information call (888)701-7123 or (541) 265-ARTS (2787) or visit www.jazzatnewport.org.

For more on Newport, see www.beachconnection.net for extensive virtual tours and arts, entertainment and lodging information, or www.discovernewport.com.

About the Author

Andre' Hagestedt is editor of BeachConnection.net, a tourism site which covers the upper half of Oregon's coast.

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