Booking top acts for Music Fest

Mason works year round to find the best bands

A long lineup of veritable rockstars will soon be on their way to Oak Harbor for the city’s 11th annual music festival.

The Oak Harbor Music Festival will take place Sept. 1 through 3 across multiple outdoor stages set up in the historic downtown area. Larry Mason, director of music for the festival and a board member since the festival’s inception, said some performers this year are coming from as far away as Chicago and Florida to play for the Whidbey Island crowd.

Securing the acts is no small feat, Mason said. He has booked the lineup for every Oak Harbor Music Festival since its beginning and receives hundreds of applications every year. Of these, he must narrow the lineup down to around 30 performers.

Mason said he listens to each band and takes note of the ones whose sound catches his ear. Some groups he books with a quick email exchange. Others, such as this year’s headliner, Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown, he’s had his eye on for years.

The group is a Nashville-based rock band that has released four albums and toured with several of the all-time greats, including ZZ Top, Aerosmith and AC/DC. Mason said he connected with them through the American roots rock band Larkin Poe, which played the Oak Harbor Music Festival in 2021. Larkin Poe’s Rebecca Lovell is married to Tyler Bryant.

Mason said he reached out to the groups’ shared agent two years ago and asked whether he was booking Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown. He was.

“It took me two years to actually secure the date for them,” Mason said. “It takes a lot of time to really secure a band like that.”

Over the years, the festival has attracted performers that have achieved high levels of stardom, such as Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Marc Broussard and The Loving Mary Band, which was Steven Tyler’s backup band on his solo tour in 2016.

“You couldn’t afford to hire Lukas Nelson anymore,” Mason said. “When we hired him, it was expensive to me, but it was a screamin’ deal.”

While some groups come from far away, most are local to the Puget Sound area, including several from Whidbey Island, such as acoustic Americana trio Porch Brothers and Mason’s own band, Broken Banjo. Mason said the key to booking high quality musicians is to treat every performer like a rockstar.

“I was fortunate enough to be on some really nice stages,” he said. “I said, ‘If I’m going to be involved, we have to do this right.’”

Mason said after the first year, the word got out that the Oak Harbor Music Festival provided a prime experience for performers. By the second year, Mason’s email was inundated with auditions and requests to play the festival, he said.

As a musician who got his own start on Whidbey Island, Mason knows how important it is to treat performers well. Mason grew up in Oak Harbor and played in his first rock band as a freshman at Oak Harbor High School.

It was the era of sock hops and roller rinks; Mason said his band, Avocado, would play at school dances and other venues all over the Puget Sound region throughout his high school career. During his sophomore, junior and senior years, Mason said, Avocado had gigs practically every Friday night.

After graduating, as a member of The Allies and later The Brandos, Mason toured all over the United States and Europe. He moved back to Whidbey Island in 1993.

Festival Board President Cynthia Mason thanked a generous community for the continued success of the festival.

“The entire board has worked all year to bring yet another incredible end-to-summer’s celebration to downtown Oak Harbor for friends, family and visitors to enjoy,” she wrote in an email. “Music truly does inspire!”