The return of the Concerts In The Park brought out hundreds of music lovers.

COTTAGE GROVE – Everyone seemed to be in a celebratory mood last Wednesday.

They had a good reason to celebrate – the Concerts in the Park series was back at Bohemia Park.

“It makes us happy to see everybody smiling, all the kids dancing, people back together, everybody gathering again, that’s what music is all about,” said Gabe Schliffer, whose Eugene-based band, the Sugar Pine String Band, put on a real toe-tapper of a show in front of a robust crowd in excess of 300 on June 23. 

“We took a long hiatus during covid and at one point I thought the band was falling apart but the minute we got back together the songs came back and we got a bunch of new ones,” the fiddle player said. “Everyone sat at home and made a bunch of new music. It makes it special when everyone puts their own art into the band.”

“Live music has always been like a gathering place for people. We’ve obviously always missed this, so this has been great,” mandolin player Cory Briar said. “I don’t think I recognized one single face out there but it was great to play.”

 “I’m thrilled at the outcome,” Cottage Grove Chamber of Commerce CEO Shauna Neigh said. “It’s so nice to see our community come together and be out again. Kids were playing, we had lots of good food, good beer … a good time was had by all. Plus, we had a lot of community involvement.”

The Chronicle is one of the Chamber’s “gold-level sponsors” and helps sponsor the community event. 

Although there was no official headcount, Neigh said the crowd felt like it was bigger than most of the concerts held here in the past.

“I think it was more of a turnout because (the fans) missed it, plus the band was really good,” Neigh said. 

She wasn’t kidding. The Sugar Pine String Band – which also includes Gordon DiQuattrro on banjo, Bonnie Doran on stand-up bass and Jack Wheeler on dobro – is a collaboration of musicians who migrated to the Eugene-Springfield area from virtually every direction on the map. They joined forces after becoming entrenched in the city’s bluegrass-jam scene.

The band has opened for Donna The Buffalo and some other “name” performers. Schliffer says he also shared the stage with Richie Stearns, banjo player for the Horse Flies. 

Schliffer’s diverse background is apparent in some of his original songs, such as “Burn It Up,” which has sort of a swing feel. 

He said he started playing cello at age 5, and studied mostly classical until college, when he was introduced to Irish and bluegrass music and country and western. Later, he joined an Irish punk-bluegrass band, and after that it was bluegrass-rock-n-roll. 

“I’d like to branch out and do more jazz and do more swing, but as far as blues and funk and folk and country and bluegrass … I’ve covered a lot of genres,” Schliffer said.

Hitting a home run in the year’s first Concert in the Park?

Schliffer and his band have that covered, too.