February 13th, 2024

Hitting the High Notes: The McMinnville Keynote Concert Series

A man looks to his left and holds up a simple lamp.
Peter Eldridge is set to perform in March.

McMinnville’s live music scene just keeps getting bigger.

The McMinnville Keynote Concert Series, launched last fall by retired high school teacher Dana Libonati and his wife Kim, has mounted a series of eclectic concerts the third Wednesday of the month at McMinnville since September, when Portland jazz pianist Randy Porter came to town.

Word is spreading, and audiences are getting bigger. Standing ovations happen, and afterwards guests can chill with the musicians while enjoying refreshments courtesy of Harvest Fresh, our popular downtown grocer.

“The response from the audience is always, ‘Thank you so much for doing this, keep it going!’” Kim says. Dana chimes in: “Everybody who has been associated with it has been super kind and supportive.” 

So even as we face a few more months of Oregon grey and cold, they’re going to keep it going. As of this writing, the Keynote series booked monthly concerts through May, and a peek at the schedule illustrates an astonishing variety of music: pop songs by Bart & Clark of Hit Machine, some opera by Linfield University’s Anton Belov, Element String Quartet and the concert rock musician Aaron Meyer, who will offer everything from Vivaldi to Led Zeppelin—on a violin.

As word has spread, musicians in the region are now starting to reach out directly to Keynote organizers to get in on the action. 

“That is definitely an area that takes music very seriously,” says Peter Eldridge, a vocalist with the Grammy-winning jazz ensemble New York Voices who has known Dana for a quarter century and is all in for a solo concert March 20. The Libonatis, he told me, “don’t mess around. They know a lot of people, and their love of music is palpable. McMinnville should be pretty happy with what they’re bringing in.” 

Dana and Kim are members of the McMinnville Lions Club, which helped get the series off the ground along with the nonprofit McMinnville Performing Arts Association. 

All concerts are held at the First Baptist Church, 125 SE Cowls Street, which has plenty of seating, a grand piano and a new digital sound system. All opening acts are local musicians and school groups like the MHS Twilighters. Ticket prices are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors, $13 for students, while high school music students get free admission. 

“This is a nonprofit venture,” Dana said. “We’re not trying to make any money. We just want to bring music to the community and do it at a reasonable price.”

Tickets may be purchased online, and as word spreads, they’re starting to sell fast. So to do that, for more information or to inquire about sponsorships, visit keynoteconcertseries.com.

David Bates (he/him) is a McMinnville writer whose work can also be found online at Artlandia.