Kids kick out the blues jams

By Evan Sernoffsky

Savanna Coen plugs in her guitar, walks up to the microphone, and breaks into the first verse of “The Thrill is Gone.”

At 12 years old, she bears little resemblance to blues legend B.B. King, but last year she still racked up 25 gigs in the area.

“It just really gets to me in my heart,” she said. “I feel like I have a big connection with the blues.”

Savanna performs the last Saturday of every month at the BluesOut! Kids Jam for young musicians at the Lesson Factory in Eugene. She is one of many aspiring musicians who are proving that you’re never too young to play the blues.

The jam is put on by the Rainy Day Blues Society of Oregon as part of its “Blues in the Schools” program. Most of the participants at the Lesson Factory don’t even come close to the cut-off age of 21, but they still play blues standards that have been around for more than half a century.

“My favorite song is ‘At Last’ by Etta James,” Savanna said. “She is such an amazing singer.”

Sitting behind Savanna on stage is 9-year-old Ethan Sandoval, who is already getting attention for his guitar chops. “Everybody thinks I’m good,” he said. “That’s why I like playing.”

Even with his passion for playing, Ethan admits to a little stage fright. “I get nervous at first but when I start playing I don’t get nervous anymore,” he said.

Josh Coen, Savanna’s father, is a member of the board of directors for the Rainy Day Blues Society and started the BluesOut! Kids Jam last October. Kids come to the jam to learn the basics and to become better musicians. “We want to take these kids to the next level,” he said. “Whether you want to be a pop singer, play rock, country, jazz or metal, the blues is a fundamental form of music where everyone should start.”

A lot of blues music follows similar progressions so learning new songs comes very quickly to a lot of the kids. The stage at the Lesson Factory has three guitars, a keyboard, two drum sets, microphones and even a tambourine. Throughout the evening kids come up and play different instruments, take a break and take turns singing some of their favorite songs including, “Dust my Broom,” “Stand by Me,” and “Smoke Stack Lightning.”

Starting to jam at a young age teaches kids the musicianship and etiquette of playing with other people. “A lot of older people will come to a blues jam and play super loud or they don’t know what they are doing,” Coen said. “We don’t want these kids to be the annoying ones.”

Because it’s not at a bar, the BluesOut! Kids Jam is one of the only places in town where kids can go to play the blues. “We call this the 12-bar blues without the bar,” Coen said.

While many kids start with the blues as a foundation, musicians like Savanna have found their true calling. “I was at a blues camp in Chicago and they said to picture something that you really love when you are playing. I tried it and it really works,” she said. “I picture my dog.”

This article originally appeared here.

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EmX opponents mount grass-roots campaign

By Evan Sernoffsky

In the new age of mass communication, some forms of advertising stand the test of time. Eugene businesses on West 11th Avenue in Eugene are taking an old-school approach to fighting what they see as a David vs. Goliath battle to stop a proposed bus extension.

“No Build” banners, yard signs and large billboards dominate the landscape of one of Eugene’s most congested, commercial strips. The ubiquitous logo of a green bus with a red line through it has become the dominant insignia of west Eugene, and it’s catching on around the rest of the city.
Tensions flared in recent months regarding the proposed transit system, prompting a group of business owners calling themselves Concerned Citizens of Eugene to start the “No Build” campaign.

“LTD is spending thousands on advertising and all we have is this grass-roots campaign of business owners,” said Erin Ellis, one of the group’s organizers in charge of e-mails and marketing.

The group is also using the Internet and social media to further its cause. On its website,, you can find a point-by-point breakdown about why it thinks this transit system is a bad idea. There are also media links to recent protests and a photo gallery of businesses that support the “No Build” campaign.
LTD is engaged in an advertising campaign of their own that includes television commercials, as well as ads in print and on the radio.

The money spent on the campaign, however, has incensed the Concerned Citizens of Eugene. “Why is LTD spending public money on these ads?” asked Erin Ellis.

Because of growing traffic congestion and lengthy travel time from recently developed areas, LTD says it is working to meet the needs of the community with a more efficient and sustainable form of mass transit.  The Concerned Citizens, however, see West 11th traffic as business — fewer cars mean fewer shoppers.

According to Lane Transit District spokesperson Mary Archer, “the proposed EmX line has only gone through 10 percent of the preliminary engineering design.”

“We are working with anyone who will sit down with us so that we can create a win-win situation with the community,” Archer said. “We have had more than 150 mitigation meetings with businesses to reduce potential impact, including redrawing plans and paying for parking alternatives.” As of now, the engineering plans for the project are still being developed and open to change.

“There is a lot of confusion out there,” Archer said. “Things are out of proportion and that is why we are trying to educate the public about this proposed bus line that construction won’t start on until 2013 and won’t be operational until 2015.”
On LTD’s website,, visitors can review the “Alternative Analysis” page that outlines all of the proposed designs, mitigation meetings and potential environmental impacts of the new transit system.

For more information about LTD’s west Eugene EmX:

This article originally appeared here.

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Eugene Loves Hayes Carll

By Evan Sernoffsky

“So what do ya’ll want to hear?” shouts Hayes Carll over the hootin’-n-hollerin’ crowd at Sam Bond’s Garage on Wednesday, September the 29th 2010. Tonight, the audience has more important things to think about than what time it is—better yet what day it is.  Whiskey and beer flow freely amongst the devoted fans of Carll, and the man on stage is definitely having his share.

“I don’t want to grow up!” shouts one fan hoping to hear Carll’s version of a song popularized by Tom Waits. Something about his elocution screams either hard liquor or Novocane. Judging from this evening’s ensemble, I bet the former.

Ten bucks is a lot to pay on a Wednesday night for band touring through Eugene all the way from Texas, but somehow Carll knows how to pack the place. His long hair, beard and plaid shirt are the standard uniform of the working-class guitar hero.

Carll’s songs carry a long lineage of American folk and country. Jimmy Rogers, Woody Guthrie, Townes Van Zandt and Johnny Cash all laid the foundation for the songs being played tonight. Carll however, knows his roots and doesn’t pigeonhole himself into one kind of music. “Outlaw country, love Cat Stevens,” sings Carll in one of his jams, right before the band’s guitarist busts into a guitar riff straight out of the Chuck Berry handbook.  The crowd gobbles up every note played and every word sang with drunken delight.

Carll is in the middle of a five and a half week tour that started in Texas, headed north through the Midwest into Canada, and is now heading down the West Coast to California. His receptions have been great. “First time we were in Eugene, whoever was here was here. Now we really got something going,” says Carll after the show while being surrounded by a horseshoe of devoted fans.

Onstage Carll remarks that there are a lot of familiar faces in the crowd from last night’s gig in Portland. Driving two hours to see a man they seldom get to hear off the record player is well worth it to the diehard Carll lovers. “The first time we heard Hayes Carll, a bunch of us were painting the inside of a house and listening to Blood on the Saddle on KWVA. We were all in different rooms of the house and this song came on, and we all started laughing and came to the main room. Then we got the record,” remembers Ayumi Kamata. “Now we see him whenever we can.”

Carll isn’t the only one bringing his A game to tonight’s show. His band lays it down hard and provides a rock solid back bone to the man in the middle. “I tell you, I think Hayes Carll relies on his band like nothing else. Those guys are pros,” says Quinn Brown right after throwing back a shot of whiskey.

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A GrassRoots Effort

by Evan Sernoffsky

The smell of manure fills the air behind St. Thomas Episcopal Church on Coburg Road in Eugene. The two and a half acres of fruits and vegetables that are reaching their peak are a sight to behold.

Merry Bradley, coordinator for FOOD for Lane County GrassRoots Garden, acts as stage manager to the large group volunteers who are eager to get their hands dirty and their clothes soiled. “Hey Ken, can I put you to work? I need some strong people to carry these sheets of garlic,” she asks to one of today’s hands. Bradley is constantly on the move. She walks through the 110 beds of onions, carrots, squash, and more than 30 other vegetables, commanding her troops with the confidence of a true leader. “We make it up as we go—stay in the moment,” she says while quickly stepping over a bed of onions. Bradley is running the show, and all the volunteers here look up to her—some with deep admiration.

The GrassRoots Garden was established in 1991 as a partnership between FOOD for Lane County, St Thomas Episcopal Church, and Lane County Master Gardeners. The garden produces 50 to 60 thousand pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables each year that are distributed through FOOD for Land County’s more than 100 partner agencies.

Today, Thursday July 29, students from Mobility International are volunteering at the garden. “We have students from Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Romania, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Serbia. Part of their exchange program is community service,” says Teresa Koch, program assistant in the exchanges division for Mobility International. “These are all students with disabilities, and we feel this is a wonderful opportunity for them to come to the GrassRoots Garden,” Koch says.

While many of the student volunteers from Mobility International may be limited physically, some in wheelchairs, they work as hard as many of the master gardeners. “They have gone through a truck load of manure, cleared a bed of cabbage—almost done with the other, put down amendments and spaded it in, prepped the garlic, and it’s only been one hour,” Bradley, short of breath, points out. “We have been hustling to keep up with them.”

“Last year there were 22 thousand volunteer hours,” says Lynn Negus, the Adopt-A-Plot Coordinator for the GrassRoots Garden. “We keep statistics, when you come you are supposed to sign in because we get credit for grants.”

Negus is a one of a few master gardeners who works for the GrassRoots Garden. “I am a retired pediatrician, and adolescent and child psychiatrist,” she says. “When I retired here in 2000, I needed to learn how to manage five acres of my property, so I became a master gardener.” Working at the garden, she was able to fulfill her volunteer requirements to receive master gardener status. She now has her roots firmly embedded in the garden and works diligently to generate donation money from the community.

The GrassRoots Garden is committed to making Lane County a great place for all people. One of the main purposes of the garden is to grow food for the hungry. “Oregon is not a wealthy state. FOOD for Lane County needs gardens like this. They are a wonderful distributor to the community and they need food,” Negus says. According to her just because the food is free does not mean that it should be low quality. “A lot of the foodstuffs in the community are packaged goods. Here you have fresh, organically grown produce,” she says.

Tending to the garden beds are not the only way volunteers donate time to the garden.  “All of the buildings that you see here were built and designed by retired engineers that come to the garden,” Negus says while pointing to a cob oven and stone fountain that were recently erected by a local mason.

The GrassRoots Garden is all about teaching the community. They have tasting tours for kids and make fresh pizzas in their cob oven. “A lot of the food kids see these days is in cellophane, we think it’s important to show them where their food comes from,” Negus says.

Part of the teaching process is through example. By providing a template for community members to work from, people who visit the garden can emulate what they learn here in their own backyard. “What you are seeing now is a garden that is totally self sustaining. We do trench composting. Leaves are put in and they become leaf mulch. We use dairy wash to put a layer of manure on top, spade them in and plant. Each bed that is here can produce maybe two or three crops each year,” says Negus as she drives a shovel into the ground. “We teach all of this in our earth friendly gardening classes. We have compost seminars on Saturdays in the fall where anyone can come.”

The recipe for the garden’s success is the community bonds that are forged. People of all ages, backgrounds and abilities come to help out. When volunteers put on their work clothes and gear up for a day in the dirt, they form a common bond with the people around them.  “There are a lot of young people here from high school. It’s inter-generational.  It’s amazing to me how much young people do like to talk to old people. They can learn and we learn and they keep us young,” Negas says while smiling.

Mildred Wilson relaxes in the shade while taking a break from sorting garlic.

Mildred Wilson is the garden’s oldest volunteer at 91-years-young. She sits and sorts garlic at a picnic table in the center of the garden. Pushing a wheel barrow and shoveling compost are activities that she leaves to the younger gardeners. “In the summer I volunteer here just maybe once or twice a week if I can. If they have something I can do because it’s limited what I can do,” she says. “I just think this kind of activity is the hope of the world. I meet so many interesting people of all kinds of education and from so many different places.”

As the warm summer day progressively gets hotter, the students from Mobility International are ready for a break. They sit on a stone planter and take a few minutes to enjoy fresh watermelon before returning to work. There is a relaxed sense of satisfaction that permeates the air, and few speak as everyone on break looks around at the sublime environment.

Merry Bradley passes out more snacks before checking on workers on the other side of the two and a half acres. She confidently trudges through the soil taking long strides while digging her boots into the dirt. The years she has dedicated to the GrassRoots Garden shows in every fruit and vegetable. The summer yield is already underway with giant onions and garlic going out to FOOD for Lane County. The fall will bring even more food for hungry families and with every season volunteers are standing by ready to give back to their community.

Adopt-a-Plot Program

In 2003, Lynn Negus founded the Adopt-a-Plot program at the GrassRoots garden in order to generate money and expand the quality of service that they provide to the community.

People who donate to the program can sponsor a vegetable bed, a fruit tree, a compost bin, an entire greenhouse, or even something as small as a dahlia plant.

Sponsors of the program receive an honorary plague on the feature that they support, and all contributions are tax deductible. “When I came here in 2000 there were 30 beds, there are now more than 110. We produced 15,000 pounds in 2002 and now we are producing 65,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables,” Negus says. Part of the reason the garden has expanded so quickly is because of donor contributions.

The motto for the program is, “Gifts that Grow People and Food.” The program so far is achieving these goals in spades.

For more information on the Adopt-a-Plot program at the GrassRoots Garden contact Lynn Negus at: or call: 541-687-2669

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Eugene Group Works For Small Dogs

by Evan Sernoffsky

Eugene, Ore– Moments of loss shape the human character, and how we overcome our most stringent emotional hardships often defines who we are. Early last fall, while at the Amazon dog park in South Eugene, Renee Hart took her eight-month-old Havenese named Lola for a walk. After snapping on her leash and getting ready to leave, a Bullmastif came from behind, grabbed Lola by the stomach, and mauled her to death.

Grief speaks volumes about the human experience, and for Renee, losing Lola was almost too much to handle. Something had to be done. “There needs to be some kind of segregation between sizes because even if a small dog tried to do something they’re not going to kill another dog,” says Renee at Amazon Park close to where Lola was killed. “I started researching and found out that they are all over. Many other cities have small dog parks.”

Renee Hart is now working with a group of community members and petitioning the City of Eugene to build a dog park for small dogs. The group recognizes the financial constraints that the city is under and is working alongside Parks and Open Space planners to make their project happen.

“It could be as little as five or ten thousand dollars,” says Lauren Chouinard, a member of Renee’s organization. “If you are going to take a new park and put it in a new place, it could run as much as twenty-five thousand dollars.”

Neil Bjorklund, Parks and Open Space planning manager for the City of Eugene, handles new park proposals. “There isn’t funding to build much of anything now…it’s very directly related to the state of the economy.” He goes on to point out that when it comes to changing or building a new public parks things aren’t always simple. “Any proposal that gets made needs to go through a process to vet it with the current users of the park.” While the initial funding for a small dog parks may be nominal, there are costs that are often omitted from initial estimates. Long-term maintenance and drainage costs are closely examined by the city and factored into the cost of any new park project. Something that drives up early estimates in cost considerably.

Austin Shepard, who years ago lost his pup  in a dog attack while camping, points our how simple the project could be. “I think that its definitely a good idea to have a dog park for small dogs because all they really need to do is just put a fence up through a regular dog park.” For now he plays with his three small dogs at home but would visit a small dog park if it were built.

Renee has received a lot of local media attention after the events surrounding Lola’s death. She was interviewed on KVAL News, Eugene’s CBS affiliate, and an article was recently published in the Register-Guard detailing Renee’s efforts to have a dog park for small dogs.

In order to raise awareness for her cause, Renee set up an online petition where more than 700 visitors have signed and left comments. She hopes to transform the emotional support she is receiving into financial support for her project with a website where supporters can pledge money electronically.

Almost all of the large metropolitan areas on the West Coast have dog parks for small dogs, and Eugene hopes to be among them. Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles all have parks specifically for small dogs, or a separate area fenced off within an existing park.

A Recession Proof Industry

Even though the economy was dealt a crushing blow last year, the pet industry is still thriving. Ellen Warren, senior correspondent for the Chicago Tribune writes, “Instead of investing in a human baby (and his college education), we’re getting started with dogs, cats, birds, fish.” Pets also cost very little compared with the amount of affection they have for their owners—something that is warmly welcomed in times of financial woe.

According to American Pet Products Association’s (APPA) statistics, $2.21 billion was spent on live animal purchases in the United States this year. This does not factor in shelter dogs, or dogs given away for free.

As the number of pet owners continues to rise, the money coming into the city has ebbed to little more than a drip. This means that more dogs are using existing public dog parks with no plans from the City of Eugene to add new ones. Little dogs are encountering more big dogs when they visit the park, and pet owners opt to just stay home.

Aggressive Breeds

Dog parks are places where dogs with a lot of energy get to let it all out. Unfortunately, dogs that need to run the most are often the most aggressive breeds. Pit bulls, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, and Dobermans  frequent off leash dog parks because of their high levels of energy.

A Bullmastiff, the breed that killed Lola, can be aggressive and because of their enormous size the results of attacks are devastating.

Cities across the United States have even gone so far as to ban citizens from owning certain breeds of dog. In Denver it is illegal to own Pit Bulls because of the increasing number of attacks on people (the State of Oregon has considered a similar ban). Pit Bulls are frequently seen at off leash dog parks and inspire a feeling of unease among large and small dog owners alike.

With the peer group at the dog park being mostly large breeds, and some very aggressive, small dog owners like Renee, Lauren and Austin feel that dog parks are really just for big dogs.

A Future for Small Dogs

While funding continues to be an obstacle for getting a park for small dogs built, the City of Eugene is very supportive and helping Renee and Lauren with a clear process to get their park built. Neil Bjorklund feels optimistic. “There are options. There are things that we will be able to approve for them to be able to move forward.”

Recently, Renee has been exploring options to generate funding for her project including an online contest through the Purina dog food website. Whether she decides to enter it does not have much bearing on her attitude for her park. “I’m excited. I think the Eugene has a lot of good energy for creating a safe place for small dogs.”

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Sticking Up for Small Breeds

This video was shot and edited by Evan Sernoffsky. It was originally published at

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Medical Marijuana Dispensary Initiative may be on Oregon Ballot in November

Eugene, Ore—Jim Greig, a patient on medical marijuana with a severe form of genetic rheumatoid arthritis, lays at home in the hospital bed that his condition has confined him to. “I use marijuana in conjunction with opiates to help relieve pain,” he says while watching the men’s US Olympic Hockey Team on television. Greig has worked as an activist for medical marijuana since moving to Oregon more than 20 years ago.

Although it is still regarded by the federal government as a Schedule 1 narcotic, marijuana is approved for medicinal purposes in fourteen states. Proponents of a new initiative in Oregon however, are trying to take their state’s medical marijuana policy one step further.

Petitioners have reached 75,000 of the 82,762 signatures needed to get Initiative 28 on the November ballot. If passed this initiative would allow for state run medical marijuana dispensaries in Oregon, and expand the current law that requires patients on the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program to grow their own medicine.

Initiative 28 is similar to legislation already passed in California and Colorado, and would expand the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act passed in 1998 by setting up small state controlled stores where patients can purchase marijuana in a variety of forms.

For patients like Jim Greig this legislation would make it easier to get the medicine that now is hard to come by. “There’s a severe shortage of growers,” says Grieg from his hospital bed. “It’s a labor of love. You’re asking someone to dedicate a room in their house, thousands of dollars, and hundreds of hours a month for free.”

Marijuana grows easily under controlled indoor conditions. Proponents of Initiative 28 want to eliminate the need for patients on the OMMP to have to grow their own medicine.

According to Greig, most patients on the OMMP purchase their marijuana from illegal dealers because of the time, effort and cost involved in growing it. In an effort to eliminate the criminal element involved with medical marijuana, Initiative 28 would provide a resource where patients can purchase their medicine, and reinvest the money back into the state general fund.

This is not the first time that legislation of this kind has been proposed in Oregon. In 2003, ballot measure 33 called for a supply system of marijuana, but failed to pass with voters because it mandated that all counties without a dispensary use state funds to set one up within 6 months. Initiative 28 does not have the same requirements.

Reverend William Winget of the Church of the Caring, a compassion group dedicated to providing marijuana to patients with terminal illness, supports Initiative 28 because of the time involved in growing marijuana. “When you first get your card it can take you three months or longer before you get your first medicine,” he explains. For patients who are close to dying, three months is time they do not have.

Not all Oregonians however, are sold about the idea of expanding Oregon’s medical marijuana laws.

Dan Harmond, Executive Vice President of Hoffman Construction in Portland, says that his company refuses to hire any employees who use medical marijuana. In a recent statement to the council members of Hoffman Construction’s business chamber, Associated Oregon Industries, Harmond addresses Initiative 28, “Over 70% of Oregon employers rank substance abuse as a concern, and marijuana use is by far the most prevalent use for testing failure…Unfortunately, the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program has added to the problem.” For Harmond, expanding the program is out of the question.

Another point of contention with Initiative 28 for Harmond is that most of the organizations involved in its petitioning, such as Oregon NORML and, are advocates for the complete legalization of marijuana, and he says are using Initiative 28 as its Trojan Horse.

Employers are not the only opponents to Initiative 28. Chris Gibson of the Office of National Drug Control Policy in Salem Oregon cautions against the increased socialization of marijuana. “I think that the more we legitimize the use of marijuana, the more use is going to occur and subsequently the more abuse is going to occur.”

Many opponents argue that Initiative 28 will increase drug abuse in Oregon.

Many opponents argue that Initiative 28 will increase drug abuse in Oregon.

Gibson has been working in law enforcement for more than eighteen years, and has encountered marijuana on a street level for all of them. “After arresting a pretty good number of people who are involved in hard narcotics…cocain, methamphetamine…I don’t think I ever talked to a single one who didn’t start out with marijuana or alcohol—or both.”

When the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act was passed 12 years ago, voters showed that they were ready to accept a new form of alternative medicine. Today, a new debate comes to the forefront regarding expanding the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program. If Initiative 28 comes to a vote this November, many stakeholders affected by medical marijuana will have a chance to voice their opinions. As Jim Greg points out, “I think that section in the voters pamphlet is going to be very thick.”

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