Best Cellar History, Part 2

The  Sept. 11-18, 1992 GT Entertainer Article About the Best Cellar and the Cookie Recipe.   Originally published , Sept. 11-18, 1992

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20 Years on the Best Cellar list  by Rob Priewe, Gazette-Times reporter

Monthly coffeehouse starts new season of folk tunes at prices folks can afford

In June 1973, a group of folk musicians and their friends got together to put on a few shows in the basement of the First United Methodist Church.The setting was nothing elaborate, just a few tables and chairs, some couches and pillows on the floor, candles, a makeshift stage and a supply of coffee and chocolate chip cookies.Admission was 50 cents to hear an evening of songs by some of the area’s folk musicians. It was called the Best Cellar Coffeehouse. And — although it has moved to a second-floor room across town — it still is. The popular series starts its 20th season tonight.

“The idea was to kind of form a coffeehouse that would give people a place to play,” recalled musician Tom Demarest, 45, one of the founders and a frequent performer during the Best Cellar’s early years. Demarest and some of the other organizers got together last week to reminisce about the early days of the coffeehouse.

“I couldn’t tell you why it endured all these years,” joked Larry Edgar. “It had nothing to do with us.”  Edgar, 47, now works as a coffee roaster for Allann Brothers. He still helps at the Best Cellar and its younger sibling, the Second Cup Coffeehouse.

Among others who were instrumental in the Best Cellar’s beginnings were Tom and Linda Wheeler, Mark Aron, Theresa Demarest, Jim Arnold and Kent Buys. They’re not sure exactly why the Best Cellar succeeded when similar efforts failed. But they know it caught on partly because the area was loaded with good musicians.

“We could book three, four, five months in advance because there were so many people who wanted to perform,” Edgar said.

With the steady popularity of folk music in the valley, founding members said they weren’t surprised that the Best Cellar is still around. While the venue has changed to the Odd Fellows Hall, which holds more people, the ambience and the acoustic music featured at the Best Cellar has remained pretty constant. From its beginnings, organizers wanted to provide music that seemed accessible to those who attended.

“People didn’t have to be stars to perform,” Edgar said. Nonetheless, the Best Cellar attracted some of the top folk musicians from around the Northwest. Several bands had to be turned down, said Tom Wheeler, 42, now a substitute middle school teacher.

“We didn’t want electrified music,” he said.

Besides singers and guitarists, the Best Cellar has presented fiddlers, banjo and mandolin players, harmonica and dulcimer players, you name it.Among the notable regulars over the years have been the Highwater String Band, Judy Fjell, the Mudtones, the Maple Trio, MC Squared, Secular Country, the Gladstone Band, Jon ten Broek, and the Swing Beans.During one of the early shows, songwriter Daniel Moore showed up and sang “Shambala,” a song he had written for the nationally famous group Three Dog Night.

The Best Cellar became so popular that it staged two shows a week during the early years. The Friday and Saturday night shows frequently went past midnight.

“We couldn’t believe the crowds. It was amazing,” Tom Demarest said.

More than 100 people often packed the basement activity room of the Methodist church, where the concerts were staged. Among the attractions was the relaxed atmosphere that organizers created. Alcohol still isn’t served, smoking isn’t allowed and families are encouraged to attend.

The only lull in the Best Cellar’s run occurred around 1980. By that time many of the founders had left town or gone on to other interests, and nobody seemed to step forward to keep the coffeehouse alive. But with the support of the Corvallis Folklore Society, the Best Cellar was rejuvenated. Several years ago it moved to the Odd Fellows Hall, which holds more people. But a smaller clone, the Second Cup Coffeehouse, soon reappeared at the Methodist church. Both are monthly events.

“For whatever reason in this community, there is a big following for folk music,” said current coordinator Mark Weiss.

Making Ralph’s Cookies

Though it’s impossible to replicate that first Best Cellar without a church basement, a PA system, some cable reels and Varathane (or a working time machine!), you can enjoy one of its treats while listening to music at home. And who knows: you may attract a crowd yourself. Thank you, Linda Benson!


1 cup shortening

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 1/4 cups sifted flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 cups rolled oats (old-fashioned)

1 6-ounce package chocolate chips

Cream together shortening and sugars. Add eggs and mix. Sift in flour, baking soda and salt, and mix well. Add vanilla and rolled oats, and mix by hand. Stir in chocolate chips. Bake at 350 degrees on a greased cookie sheet for 12 to 15 minutes. Enjoy!


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