Oregon is my favorite US state.
My first Oregon experience was hitchhiking the length of the coast with my best friend in 1998. We camped on beaches, we got caught in a rainstorm hiking into Manzanita from our campsite and found that completely by chance we had a friend in that beautiful seaside town so got to spend a day and night there drying out (our clothes… we also found plenty of alcohol).
The next time I came through was a decade later: my wife-to-be and I drove much of that same coastal highway, seeing her family’s farm an hour inland and then stopping in Otter Crest to stay in a hotel room that overlooked the ocean from a perch on the rocky shore.
A year or two later we flew into Portland and drove east this time along the Columbia River to the far northeast corner of the state to Enterprise, a cattle ranching community near Idaho, to go to a family funeral. We hiked to the top of a waterfall and stopped in Hood River for a night.
Then in 2018 I came through on my Record of Life/Loss/Love tour, playing in Portland, driving through Eugene and on to another show in Cottage Grove before heading south in the evergreen forests to California and finally Nevada.
So given my affection for it, it has vexed me a little extra that Oregon was one of the final three holdouts for booking an Odyssey performance. I took to making a joke that I performed in Athens, Greece, before I could get booked in Oregon. Which is true.
I’ve also learned as I’ve made a concerted push to perform in all 50 states that there's an arbitrary component to which places I get booked when. Some states have more opportunities, some less, but there's no way to predict exactly when someone takes interest in my work enough to book me.
So earlier this year when the Classics Department at University of Oregon indicated they wanted to arrange an Odyssey show, I was thrilled beyond the fact that it was one of my missing states: I couldn’t wait to spend a couple days in Eugene, which I’d only seen briefly on my 2018 tour.
On a late October Monday, I connected through Seattle and after a short flight down the coast we landed in Eugene, which has an ideal-sized airport: half-a-dozen gates and two luggage carousels. It reminded me (favorably) of Missoula, Montana, another one of my favorite places I’ve performed.
I had no other obligations for the day other than a dinner in the evening so I took the opportunity to run the trails along the Willamette River: Eugene is known as one of the best running cities in the country and it delivered. The weather was in the 60’s and sunny and I ran a mile more than I set out to. My dinner with a cohort of Classics professors was wonderful.
Tuesday morning I got another beautiful (colder and rainier) run in and then was picked up to go to campus for a late afternoon show. I has some time to explore and the feel of the school reminded me a lot of Madison in the 90s (insert Portlandia joke here). I got to the venue to set up and was thrilled: it was a reading room in the library with ornate woodwork and wonderful sound. A sizable audience of students and professors helped themselves to food and drink and I started. I was extremely aware of my guitar playing and felt like I might have balanced my instrument and voice as well as I ever have. I could hear a perfect short tail echo that became more pronounced when I sang louder.
The discussion after just kept going: the students had phenomenal questions. We finally wrapped up and went to another dinner.
In the morning on Wednesday, I took another run, this one along the opposite side of the river past the place where my wife worked when she lived in Eugene years before I met her.
Then I headed back to that perfectly-sized airport for a short flight to Utah (state number 49…) and a show at BYU.
Oregon, you were worth the wait. You might be the 48th state in which I’ve performed the Odyssey but you’re just about the first state in my heart. And I can’t wait to come back.