While I was watching young gymnasts cartwheel down the street and a young juggler ride a unicycle as part of the 4th of July parade I was feeling pretty good about driving 400 miles to this town in Southern Oregon for this very American holiday. Ashland knows how to hold a festival. It is best known for being the home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival which produces shows for 10 months out of the year and lays claim to being the largest reparatory theatre offering in the United States. The Shakespeare festival started as a part of the 4th of July festival when a teacher, Angus Bowmer, asked permission to add a Shakespeare play to the festivities. Ashland was no stranger to culture as it used to be a stop on the Chautauqua circuit which brought speakers and artists to various small towns in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Ashland can be enjoyed any time of year but we came on this long weekend because of the particular charm of this place on the 4th. The 4th of July parade was 2 hours long. It featured some very small town aspects like the mayor and other local politicians and dignitaries from the sister city in Mexico. Floats from local businesses were sometimes lackluster but some of the local businesses rise to the occasion. One mexican restaurant, El Tapatio, had 40 dancers and a portable restaurant float. Some had very political themes in this very liberal town. I heard a local from a near by town express his outrage at a group who were protesting the treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo as they marched in Orange jumpsuits and hoods. “You sure would not see something like that in Talent” only 5 miles away the local lamented. Undoubtably there are many things in Ashland that cannot be found in nearby towns.
Among the singular pleasures of Ashland are some wonderful restaurants like Munchies (bakery restaurant, try the Marionberry pie), Thai Pepper (great red curry), and Tabu (Nuevo Latino Cuisine). On the 4th these eateries are supplemented by food booths in the park. The festivities also include craft booths, live music and a reading of the Declaration of Independence.
In the evening while the town went to watch the fireworks we attended Othello at the outdoor Elizabethan theatre. What they also don’t have in Talent is ironically enough the talent to produce some of the finest live theatre in the country. Ashland does just that, year after year.