Mount St. Helens gets set for sound of music

Music on Mountain concert series planned at Johnston Ridge Observatory

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter



If you go

What: Music on the Mountain concert.

When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday, July 7.

Where: Johnston Ridge Observatory amphitheater, Mount St. Helens, at the eastern end of state Highway 504.

Cost: Free.

Getting there: Take Interstate 5 north to state Highway 504. The amphitheater is 52 miles east of Castle Rock.

Mention a trip to Mount St. Helens, and most people think of outdoor recreation. Educational exhibits. Spectacular hiking. Jaw-dropping views.

Outdoor rock concerts? Not quite.

That's exactly what the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument will host next week, the first of three planned shows in its Music on the Mountain series. The Saturday, July 7, concert will use the new open-air amphitheater at Johnston Ridge Observatory, facing the crater from the mountain's north side.

"This is neat because it is one of the things we hope to be able to draw to the monument with the amphitheater," monument manager Tom Mulder said.

The series comes as U.S. Forest Service officials look for new ways to connect with local communities and draw visitors to the iconic volcano. Having the amphitheater now open for its first full year raises new possibilities, but managers are still weighing what fits — or doesn't fit — the monument's educational and scientific mission.

Mulder said he's already been approached with the idea of hosting weddings at Mount St. Helens. Some have floated corporate retreats as a possibility, said Travis Southworth-Neumeyer, executive director of the nonprofit Mount St. Helens Institute.

No one has committed to anything yet, Mulder said. And it's unclear how such an arrangement would look. The forest service, which manages Mount St. Helens, isn't interested in becoming a private event coordinator, he said.

"We're welcoming conversations with people," Mulder said. "We're not making any promises."

Mulder did offer this much:

"We're not envisioning drawing political campaigns or anything like that," he said.

Next week's concert will bring two local bands to the mountain: Lincoln's Beard of Vancouver and Riviera, based in Portland. Both groups played during a previous fundraiser show, dubbed "Music for the Mountain," in Portland earlier this year, Southworth-Neumeyer said.

Mick Radichel, a guitarist and vocalist with Riviera, expects a different feel next week. The group has played outdoor shows before, he said, but never a venue as remote as Mount St. Helens, at the eastern end of state Highway 504.

Radichel, who described Riviera's sound as "Americana" and folk-rock, said the group plans to keep its instrumentation and setup as simple as possible in the relatively small space -- and long drive to get there.

"We'll hope to get it all in one car load," Radichel said.

Lincoln's Beard is known for alt folk music.

At least two other concerts are planned for August and September. But this year won't be the first time live music has ever been staged at the mountain. A few years ago, Mulder said Johnston Ridge Observatory hosted a Seattle foursome known as the Mount St. Helens Vietnam Band. (Their music had nothing to do with Mount St. Helens or Vietnam, he noted.)

The first Music on the Mountain show begins at 6:30 p.m., shortly after the Johnston Ridge Observatory facility closes. It's part of a busy weekend at the mountain, with volunteer events and nighttime star-gazing also planned. Activities will take place at both Johnston Ridge and the newly re-purposed Science and Learning Center at Coldwater -- another recent effort to breathe life into a national monument that's seen its management come under the microscope in recent years.

Planners hope the concert series engages nearby communities as much as outside visitors. Southworth-Neumeyer said he's often come across Southwest Washington residents who saw the mountain years ago but haven't gone back. New events can help people reconnect with a place that's still evolving long after its well-documented 1980 eruption, he said.

"Music is part of the human experience, and so is change," Southworth-Neumeyer said. "Being able to celebrate an incredible landscape in an authentic way is about more than facts and figures."

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541;;