For The Daily Astorian
The Brownsmead Flats recently took their tunes on a tour of Costa Rica, playing eight concerts over six days. The group was invited to participate by the cultural exchange group Partners of the Americas to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the group’s inception. Partners of the Americas was created during the John F. Kennedy presidency as part of the Alliance for Progress program.
As luck would have it Oregon and Costa Rica were paired up to share cultural and educational exchanges which are still occurring on an annual basis. In September of each year, a group of Costa Ricans come to tour Oregon and share experiences. The visitors are housed and fed by volunteer families in a true immersion experience. In February a group of Oregonians visit Costa Rica and get their own immersion experience with weeklong home stays in four different towns.
For this 50th anniversary celebration Karen Graham, president of the Oregon Partners wanted a musical group that would represent a unique Oregon experience and offered it to the Brownsmead Flats, who were only too happy to accept. The group spent its first five days at playa Ocotal on the Nicoya peninsula, resting up and enjoying the beach and warm waters of the ocean (80 degrees Fahrenheit).
They began their tour playing in Liberia and playa Ocotal, then traveled inland to Grecia near San Jose (the capitol and largest city) and played for Costa Rican partners’ groups in Grecia, Zarcero, La Quesada, two locations in Guapiles, and a final concert and big celebration of the 50th anniversary at the Eugene O’Neill Theater in San Jose.
Performing for Ticos
In each place the venue was different and attendance varied from 30 to 150. The band played in a church annex, a hall for retired teachers (think Alderbrook Hall), several cultural centers, two restaurants and a theater for the performing arts with excellent acoustics.
The concerts lasted about an hour and we got the audience up on their feet and taught them a country dance (with the assistance of two Flats’ wives Lulu Heavenrich and Tory Sutherland). Ticos (the nickname for Costa Ricans) are generally enthusiastic dancers and responded well to learning a new dance everywhere the band played.
The instrumentation of the band’s guitars, mandolin, fiddle, banjo and harmonica are novel in Costa Rica and the Ticos were especially enthralled with Ray Raihala’s banjo playing. In Playa Ocotal where the band stayed first, one of the workers there said that the banjo looked like una llanta (a tire). At every concert, the band sang “De Colores’ a well-known song in all of Latin America, and the audiences all joined in singing with gusto.
Following each performance, the band was treated to a potluck lunch or dinner with Costa Rican-style fare and often the Ticos would sing songs of their heritage to entertain the Flats.
One of the most enjoyable parts of this trip was being hosted by Tico families who welcomed the band members into their homes. The group spent four nights in the company of their Costa Rican hosts, enjoyed communicating in Spanish and sign language and sampling their comida tipica (typical meals). The fresh tropical fruits with rice, beans, eggs, fried plantains and tortillas in the morning along with local coffees and juices were especially delightful.
To see more photos of the tour visit the Brownsmead Flats facebook page. For more information about the Partners of the Americas programs please visit oregonpartners.net or partners.net for the national organization.
Ned Heavenrich is a band member of Brownsmead Flats.