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The concert maestro of Lake Oswego: Gwenn McGill

by: Vern Uyetake, 
Concert organizer Gwenn McGill gets ready for the concert last week by Los Mojitos at Foothills Park in Lake Oswego.

The Lake Oswego Summer Concert Series has steadily increased in notoriety and in attendance over the past few years. This summer has been no exception as nationally known acts are lined up to appear in the city's parks, and record numbers of people have turned up to enjoy the music.

Much of this success can be attributed to Gwenn McGill, who has helped put on the bulk of the concerts each summer for nine years.

Although McGill handles many of the nuts and bolts aspects of most of the concerts, it would be inaccurate to say that she works behind the scenes.

Instead, McGill is always on hand at the gates to welcome concertgoers and is on site hours before the show begins to make sure that everything goes seamlessly.

This summer, McGill will oversee 20 of the concerts, making for some busy weeks. But she wouldn't have it any other way.

When she first partnered with the city of Lake Oswego, there were only four concerts to handle at one location, Roehr Park. Obviously things have become a bit more complicated in nearly a decade but that is good news for everyone involved in the series as that is proof of the concerts' popularity.

'It's great working in a community that is so supportive of the arts and with a city that makes such a strong commitment over the years,' McGill said.

Now there are 29 concerts at four parks, three of which have opened since the concert series began. Both Millennium Plaza Park and Foothills Park were designed with ideal areas to host concerts.

'Foothills has allowed us to bring in bigger acts right by the waterfront. The most important thing is just getting people out in the fresh air and creating an environment where everyone can have a great time,' McGill said.

At one point, McGill was handling all of the summer concerts, which ballooned to 30, but she has since scaled back if only slightly.

Music has always been a passion for McGill. Growing up she was a self-described 'band geek,' playing the trombone and participating in many of her high school's ensembles.

Later on, she worked with the non-profit entertainment group Up With People for 10 years before moving to Portland.

She started Gwenn McGill Special Events and began producing athletic events and concerts.

One of McGill's biggest roles is selecting the various acts that appear in Lake Oswego. The event has started to earn a stellar reputation and now acts from all over the country have expressed interest in performing here.

McGill listens to acts and gives her recommendations to city officials, trying to provide a wide variety of music to appeal to an ever-expanding audience.

'You want a number of different genres but most importantly you want high-quality acts. Every year I receive hundreds of inquiries from artists who want to play here,' McGill said.

Over the years, McGill has developed good relationships with a number of artists, many of whom are more than willing to return the next summer. She also receives recommendations from audience members and has booked acts that came to her attention by a Lake Oswego resident's suggestion.

'We're always looking to top the summer from before,' she said.

McGill also works to get the word out on the concert series, providing the media with press releases and she helps with many of the technical and operational aspects of each individual event, overseeing everything from basic maintenance to parking.

But she is also quick to point out that she is surrounded by a stellar group of people that makes her job easier.

'It's a complete team effort and everyone does a tremendous job. You're only as good as the people around you,' she said.

And McGill also has thoroughly enjoyed working with the city of Lake Oswego.

'I want the city to know that I am honored to have this opportunity. It's been a real gift to me,' she said.

But perhaps the biggest thrill for McGill on a weekly basis comes before and after each concert when she stands by the gates and hears the feedback from the audience which she says is almost always overwhelmingly positive.

'I have been to hundreds (of concerts). I have seen some people every Sunday for eight years and that's very rewarding,' McGill said.

Concerts are held every Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. For a complete schedule, visit the city's Web site at www.ci.oswego.or.us/parksrec/Concerts/allconcerts.htm.