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Songfest represents a return to good old days

nostalgia -- Longtime Forest Grove event, which has fallen on hard financial times, is still seen as a way to bring the community together
by: , Don Paulson

For Don Paulson, coordinating the annual Barbershop Ballad Contest is all about nostalgia.

'Frankly, barbershop appeals more to older people,' said the Portland resident, who has been involved in the melodious event, a local staple, since 1953. 'We used to have 3,000 people.

'Young people seem to have their own kinds of music, and there's so much entertainment now.'

Barbershop reached a crescendo in the 1960s and 1970s, but Paulson misses the good old days - years before cable television and iPods, DVDs and TiVo.

He realizes that even barbershop contests must make way for progress, but he longs for a time when meeting your buddies at the corner soda shop represented the weekend's high note.

Back then, Paulson lived in Forest Grove - host of the All Northwest Barbershop Ballad Contest, which will roll out its 2007 version Friday and Saturday at Forest Grove High School.

Dozens of bow-tied and tuxedo-clad warblers will step onto the auditorium stage to compete for the top prize: $600 in silver coins.

With $2,950 in total prize money, the barbershop competition is no 'American Idol.' Still, the event is expected to draw as many as 20 quartets from Forest Grove, Hillsboro, Portland, Salem, Eugene and Linden, Wash., all vying for the championship title.

Friday night's elimination round will hone the field to the eight best quartets - then it's on to the showdown on Saturday.

'We announce the winners at the end of the last show,' pointed out Paulson, who has served as the event's general chairman for 25 years.

'Youth and Ages' and 'Signature' are the two entries from Forest Grove. 'Flipside,' the fifth-place international finalist, will be the guest quartet.

The harmonious happening is a benefit for the Westside Singers, which had its start as the Forest Grove Gleemen and Girls in 1947. It is sanctioned by the International Society for the Encouragement and Preservation of Barbershop Singing.

'Each group will be judged on harmony, appropriate selection of song and, of course, singing quality,' Paulson noted.

Saturday's specialty act, at 2 and 7 p.m., will be a brother-and-sister fiddling duo, Alex and Tatiana Hargreaves, from Corvallis, Paulson said.

Master of ceremonies Friday evening and all day Saturday will be the current Miss Oregon, Donilee McGinnis.

For all of its hoopla, the barbershop contest has fallen on tough financial times in recent years. Traditionally held in Pacific University's athletic center, the show switched to a less expensive venue at the high school two years ago.

'It's gotten smaller - that's one reason we moved to the high school,' Paulson said. 'We lost money for a couple of years, but last year we came back some.'

As the date for the 2006 contest approached, Paulson had a decision to make.

'I said we couldn't do it again unless we had financial backing,' he said.

Several downtown merchants came up with one-time donations to keep the contest in the black. The show turned a profit - Paulson didn't want to say how much - but with a director and an accompanist to pay and sheet music to buy, the margin is fairly thin.

'It's never been a big money maker, but I think it's been a good thing for Forest Grove,' said Paulson.

Portland resident Wayne Valburg, also a member of the Westside Singers, is the show's producer. He and Paulson have worked together for several decades.

'I enjoy doing it, and I make a lot of contacts with barbershop people from all over the Northwest,' Paulson said. 'It's been a way for me to keep in touch with Forest Grove.'