Essentially Ashland

OK, it's official.

The badgered and bedraggled Ashland economy has left the town minus a couple more restaurants and retail operations, with more on the ropes. This might be of little consequence to some, but, ultimately, it breaks my heart. It is a self-induced injury, something that need not happen, but we are still operating with a mind-set of years past and if our economy winds down and businesses close, we only hear a collective yawn.

We need to support our local economy with zest and zeal before more local businesses fold under the pressure of a national economy that has literally run out of gas. Yet, through all the talk of gloom and doom a particular bright star sparkles brilliantly: The Ashland Independent Film Festival (www.ashlandfilm.org).

The idea was hatched in 2001 and has grown to be a jewel in Ashland's crown of cultural accomplishments. Its board, staff and volunteers all are top-notch and push daily to promote and polish this now nationally known gem. I plan on paying close attention to its offerings and sharing my experiences with you through this column.

Ashland has a nearly perfect assortment of retail offerings that appeal for those traveling to attend AIFF, which only begs the question: Why do we not have festivals of many natures running year-round?

I was talking the other day with one of Ashland's more creative characters, Dave Bobb, who owns American Trails on the Plaza. As you might know he and a few friends founded our Festival of Lights years ago by hanging those little white lights around town after work. It proved such a success that the Chamber climbed on board and now the annual Christmas parade ends with the lights being illuminated in front of a winter's chill of eager onlookers.

One recent afternoon Dave Bobb and I sat down and started discussing what sorts of events might help our local economy both in the winter and throughout the year. In just a few minutes my computer's memory was jam-packed with festival themes that would make a good fit in a town bursting with restaurants, accommodations and retail operations. The infrastructure is already in place, we just need some fresh ideas and a little prize money to coax the competition. I will enumerate a few, but invite you to send me your ideas, the best of which I will share with the town.

The Ashland Wild Mushroom Festival: Morels, chanterelles and matsutakes instantly come to mind. We have very talented chefs who could turn a long weekend into a regional event. I don't think that anyone would object to having our merchants make a little extra gravy during the leaner months. We have wonderful local wines and foods to complement the fare, making the event easy to swallow and divine to digest.

The Ashland Choral Competition: Using humans as instruments hits us deep in our collective and primitive memories. We could put together a competition spread around town in various venues, offer prizes and recognition and soon angelic voices would descend into town, disguised as choirs, to regally vibrate both our souls and our merchants. I can hear the cash registers signing now, as well as see more full-time employees bringing home a paycheck.

The Ashland Rowing Regatta: Nothing like a little crewing and sculling to warm up the blood and jump-start an appetite. Let's see"¦we have a rowing club, a lake and a host of regional rowers who live to compete. Why not offer live Internet coverage, trophies and some cash and stroke a regional regatta one home?

The list is as limited as our imaginations. Events could be rolled out year-round, shoring up our economy. If we fail to lead the way, other communities will take up the slack as they feel the heavy hammer of decreased revenues.

After all, if Shady Cove can get national attention for a Spam parade and BBX, we can surely do better.

Lance was last seen opening a can of spam with a shovel, studying the inner workings of a successful event.

Please reflect, then send lance@journalist.com your ideas. Copies of Lance's most recent book, Essentially Ashland"¦The Missing Years, will be awarded to the top three ideas.