Move over, Shakespeare! While Ashland is best known for its annual Shakespeare Festival, fewer visitors are familiar with these lesser-known yet equally appealing cultural events in town. If you are not a traditional stage production lover, don’t strike Ashland off of your vacation destination list! Here are 10 excellent cultural experiences that Ashland has to offer.
1. Rogue Valley Symphony Orchestra
Symphonic lovers will be awed by the inspiring concerts of the Rogue Valley Symphony Orchestra. The RVSO holds three concert series over three seasons each year and features soloists from across the nation. Hour-and-a-half-long performances are held throughout the valley (in Ashland, Medford, and Grants Pass). There is also a summer concert at a local winery that plays to an intimate crowd for an evening of fine music, wine, and socializing.
2. Youth Symphony of Southern Oregon
The impressive classical music is not restricted to adults. The Youth Symphony of Southern Oregon (YSSO) is a highly supported organization that cultivates young musicians. Divided into three tiers of graduating skill (Strings, Orchestra, and Symphony), these youngsters (elementary through high school students) will astound you with every recital and are a testament to how greatly this area values budding musicians. For the most part, youth concerts share the same venues as their adult counterpart; however, concerts are limited to the school year (fall, winter, and spring).
3. The Green Show
Want something a little more relaxed? The Green Show offers outdoor entertainment six days a week in the brick courtyard (affectionately called “the bricks”) directly in front of the entrance to the Shakespeare Theatre. It is a free event, so you can come and go as you please… but we bet that you’ll want to stay for the entire show! A wide variety of musical and performance acts provide enjoyable entertainment all summer long. Bring a folding chair or picnic blanked and sit back, relax, and expect about an hour of great entertainment! You can park downtown for a quick and easy walk to the Green Show.
4. Concerts in Lithia Park
In keeping with the outdoor theme, there is not a lovelier way to spend a warm summer evening than at the Butler Band Shell in Lithia Park for a rousing concert put on by the Ashland City Band. These free concerts are held every Thursday from the end of June through August, and the atmosphere is laid back and pleasurable. Get there a little early (around six o’clock) to watch the pre-concert entertainment! The grassy area becomes a patchwork of lawn chairs and picnicking families during the performance. Afterwards, end your evening with a stroll along the trail bordering the creek or take a slow drive through the park to appreciate its lush beauty. Don’t be surprised if you spot several deer and ducks crossing the road!
5. The Oregon Cabaret
Nestled in a residential area just one block from the Ashland Springs Hotel, this former church-turned-theatre offers some of the best stage acts in town all year round. Both fun and professional, you will be hard pressed to find an Oregon Cabaret production that is anything less than stellar. There is an optional dinner served prior to the show or you can order a scrumptious dessert (try the Dick Hay Pie) or grab a drink from the full bar during intermission. There is no need to worry about seating; from the back row to the side box to the balcony, every table in the house has a clear view of the stage. An evening at the Oregon Cabaret is a treat and definitely a first-class experience!
6. The Evergreen Ballroom
Shall we dance? Even though this dance venue is about 25 minutes outside of Ashland, it still deserves inclusion here simply for the unconventional fun! Located in an industrial park off of the Crater Lake Highway in Medford, the Evergreen Ballroom can be a little challenging to find at first, but worth the extra effort. Don’t be shy! ‘Newbies’ can find dance lessons available prior to the Friday night events, and the lesson is free if you stay for the party! The ballroom has a diverse fan following; you’ll find teenagers, ‘silver foxes,’ and everyone in between who come ready to dance! You can get all dressed up or keep is casual, but we suggest wearing a pair of comfortable soft-soled shoes if you plan to keep moving all night long! If your toes are already tapping and ready for some action, make your way to The Evergreen Ballroom.
7. ScienceWorks Museum
If you are looking for something fun and educational to do with the kids, ScienceWorks is an excellent choice for the curious-minded! With interactive indoor and outdoor exhibits and plenty of fascinating experiments (think Bill Nye the Science Guy), this museum is a stimulating experience for all ages. The excitement and noise level can get a little high…but that’s just proof that everyone is having a good time! The museum is on East Main Street and is open every day during summer. It is only a short drive from downtown and there is ample parking available with an entrance fee.
8. First Friday Art Walks
Visual art aficionados will have plenty to see in the downtown art galleries! On the first Friday of each month, this gallery hopping event is a favorite for residents and visitors alike who are in search of stunning creations by local artists, all while sipping on wine, munching on tasty tidbits, and engaging in wonderful conversations. Almost twenty members participate in the monthly event, so there are maps provided at participating galleries to help you track your path in the downtown and historical areas between Main Street and A Street. It is a challenge to hit every gallery in a single evening, but we suspect you will want to savor the artistic experience over several visits!
9. Schneider Museum of Art
You don’t need to restrict yourself to the downtown art houses! The Ashland art experience wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Schneider Museum of Art at Southern Oregon University campus. You can find this impressive multi-level glass structure at the south end of town, and it’s open Mondays through Saturdays. You can find a list of the museum’s current and upcoming exhibits on their website to help you plan your visits. They offer special deals, such as free family days and Tuesday tours, and the entrance fee is suggested donation only. Indulge in the eye candy on display!
10. Brava! Opera
Every year, Brava! Opera Theatre for Young Artists presents operas that even the most stalwart ‘non-fans’ will enjoy. The productions are ingenious and highlight impressive semi-professionals from across the country alongside local Southern Oregon University theatre and music students. You do not need to be multilingual to enjoy these shows, as all productions are performed in English. After the show, actors join the audience in the lobby for a meet-and-greet! The performances only happen over a three day period in the spring, so if you are lucky enough to be in town (or are interested in planning a trip around this amazing event), this is a must-see!
You don’t need to be a Shakespeare fan to appreciate Ashland; these wonderful events just prove that this city has so many more cultural experiences to offer. With such a wide variety of activities, Ashland is absolutely one of Oregon’s “best kept secrets” that often surprises visitors who come for the famous plays, but leave with memorable experiences than they expected!
These suggestions are just a small portion of all the amazing things you can do in Ashland and Southern Oregon. The Camelot Theater Company puts on amazing live shows and musicals all year long at the James M. Collier Theater Building in the nearby town of Talent. Shows at The Craterian Theater at the Collier Center for the Performing Arts in Medford and the Britt Festival in Jacksonville are also definitely worth a visit!
While you are in town, pick up a copy of Revels, the weekly art and entertainment guide published in the Daily Tidings Friday edition, for in-depth listing of all the happenings in the area – it’s a great resource for exploring Ashland like the locals!