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Barbershop singers come to town

Button your vest and twirl wax in a moustache, the annual ballad contest is here
by: Chase Allgood Members of Hometown Harmony lit up the stage at last year’s All Northwest Barbershop Ballad Contest. This Friday and Saturday, the event will return to  Forest Grove High School.

Coney Island Babies, Sweet Georgia Brown… they're all headed to Forest Grove this weekend for the 65th annual All Northwest Barbershop Ballad Contest, an annual celebration of the uniquely American barbershop quartet.

The two-day event pits a-capella quartets from throughout the region against one another for, literally, a bag of money - 800 $1 coins, to be exact.

The event is hosted by the Westside Singers, a regional institution specializing in jazz and swing. The group was formerly known as the Forest Grove Gleemen and Girls.

Along with the competition, the event also offers opportunities for musicians to connect with one another under the shared banner of a very unique musical genre.

'We bring them from all over,' said Westside Singer Wayne Valburg, 84, who is producing the show along with chairman Donald Paulson. '(The groups) get to know each other through these competitions and a lot of them get together and all of a sudden they'll come up with a new quartet.'

The competition begins Friday night with a series of judged performances that narrows the field down to eight groups. On Saturday, the elite eight go head-to-head during two concerts.

In addition to the barbershop quartets, the show is emceed by Miss Oregon Stephanie Steers and includes performances by all-female guest quartet Touché on Friday and legendary Oregon gospel and soul singers Linda Hornbuckle and Janice Scroggins Saturday. The Westside Singers also perform.

National credibility

Valburg, who has been a member of the Westside Singers for more than 50 years and has been involved with the competition since 1950, said the competition has helped solidify Forest Grove as a destination for barbershop music, drawing national and international performers to the city.

'When we visit (other areas) I try to find out where there might be a barbershop chapter and visit them,' said Valburg. 'Invariably - I rarely ever miss - wherever I am on the east coast or in the south or wherever, barbershop is active and they know Forest Grove because of the length of time we've been at it and the amount of shows we put on.'

Valburg credits the decades-long success of the competition to its roots in American music, something he said he is happy to keep alive.

'It's good fun, it's enjoyable,' said Valburg. 'Barbershop style was born here in the United States. It's persevered many things and it's become an international institution.'

The All Northwest Barbershop Ballad Contest takes place March 25-26 at Forest Grove High School, located at 1401 Nichols Lane. Shows take place at 7:00 pm Friday and 2:00 and 7:00 pm Saturday. To learn more, call 357-3006 or visit westsidesingers.com.