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Making It Better: Peter Walters In Pendleton

There are some people who never hold elected office, or make a fortune, or create a masterwork, but who still manage to touch an entire community.
Guest Curator Rebecca Gates clues us into Pendleton native Peter Walters, a graphic designer, promoter, and director of Pendleton’s Rock Camp.

Walters was born in Salem. His family had roots in Pendleton and moved back when Walters was quite small. His parents, Ric and Pat, run a photography business - they’ve been involved in Umatilla County’s arts scene for years. He grew up in the McKay neighborhood.

“I was the band nerd, angry punk-listening kid every high school’s got,” Walters told us.

Carol Hanks and Ken Schulberg have known Walters since he was a kid. They say, as a young person, Walters was a bit of an oddball.

“He always wore costumes from an early day on,” Carol remembers, “and loved to act out, even though he wasn’t into acting as yet.”

“He was very outgoing in his appearance,” Ken laughs “but wasn’t a leader in school.”

At least, not in the traditional sense. It was during high school Walters started hopping in cars with friends and making the 200-mile trip to Portland to hear bands. Sleater-Kinney, Quasi, and others. Pretty soon, they were making friends with people in bands, and going to watch people they knew who’d moved away. From there, it wasn’t much of a leap to booking his own shows, closer to home.

“My friend Gwen, her parents had a truck stop outside of town. Floyd’s Truck Ranch - Fabulous Floyd’s. We started putting on shows out at her parents truck stop, and every weekend in the summertime, kids would come out, we’d have these great big free shows out there,” Walters says.

The first time Walters and his friends called up an actual band and tried to get them to come out, it went pretty well.  

Walters recalls, “They called us back the same day! They said ‘That sounds great! What bar are we playing at?’ ‘Well, it’s actually a truck bay…’ “

The Great Pacific was already a haven for pickers and regional singer-songwriters when Walters started collaborating on bookings. Now artists like The Builders & The Butchers and Sallie Ford are on the schedule.

The Great Pacific was already a haven for pickers and regional singer-songwriters when Walters started collaborating on bookings. Now artists like The Builders & The Butchers and Sallie Ford are on the schedule.

April Baer/Oregon Public Broadcasting

More shows, bigger venues followed. Walters’s friends Ken and Carol were booking bands at their cornerstone venue, the Great Pacific Wine and Coffee Company on Main Street - known universally in Pendleton as the GP. And he realized they were open to his ideas about who else should play at their place.

“You know, it just evolved. he was booking shows for his own venues.” Ken Schulberg says. ” He’d rent small spaces or— “
“Houses and upstairs in some of these buildings,” Carol Hanks says.
“We were always hanging with each other anyways,” Schulberg continues. “He has certainly put us in contact with bands we would not have otherwise had here.”

Walters was finding ways to make his own life more sustainable and interesting. He spent a few years bumming around, dealing blackjack at the Wildhorse Resort and Casino. Then a friend recommended him for a graphic design job. That positioned him to keep his bills paid, while still having evenings and weekends to book music and see shows.

Walters keeps tabs on which bands are traveling along I-84 on their way to or from gigs in Portland, and might want to take a break in Pendleton, make a little money, and play a fun venue for an  appreciative crowd. And Walters has a solid sense for what kind of acts will draw in a town of 13,000.

“When you’re advertising in Pendleton,” Walters says, “you’re advertising to everybody you know. You have a different mindset about it - what will get people to come out.”

About ten years ago, Walters was doing his work and booking shows. And two longtime figures in the arts scene - JD Smith and now-councilwoman Jane Hill -  decided to create something specifically aimed at teens, showing how art could save lives.

JD Smith is a burly man with a mustache, and a dry wit. For all his background in fiction and journalism, he says he doesn’t really know much about bands and bookings, explaining he’s really more conversant in classical music.

“Knowing that Peter was well connected with the music scene in the west,” Smith says, “we asked Peter if he would pull it together and be the director of the camp.

Artists like Portland's Laura Gibson regularly pass through Rock Camp's doors, meeting up with kids and playing shows.

Artists like Portland’s Laura Gibson regularly pass through Rock Camp’s doors, meeting up with kids and playing shows.

Pendleton Center for the Arts

Smith says Rock Camp has kids coming back year after year.  They do everything, from metal guitar to folk traditional, to free arts classes at the Pendleton Center for the Arts.

“I think Peter’s got the hole plugged,” Smith says. “There are various bar bands playing around, these smaller indie bands, many of them have graduated from our rock classes at camps at the Art Center.”

Peter Walters (left), with  Wilson Vediner of the band Point Juncture, WA, Rock Camp organizer Greggory Dallas. Walters and Dallas worked closely with J.D. Smith in starting the camp.

Peter Walters (left), with  Wilson Vediner of the band Point Juncture, WA, Rock Camp organizer Greggory Dallas. Walters and Dallas worked closely with J.D. Smith in starting the camp.

Pendleton Center for the Arts

Pretty soon, Walters was in demand for other projects.
Andrew Picken is a doctor who’s leading the Rivoli Restoration Coalition - to re-open downtown Pendleton’s Main Street theater.

When Picken asked Walters to joined the board, Picken just hoped for some fresh blood for the project. The group was deep in complicated negotiations to get the title to the theater.

“We were at a bit of an impasse, ” Picken remembers. “And uncertain about the future of the project. And I had become despondent and decided that we were out of options, and And Pete suggested we take the request for funding to the urban renewal district, which we referred to as the Pendleton Development Commission. And I said, ‘Well, Pete, that’s a great idea, but I don’t think it’ll work. They’ve been very supportive, and they like the project, but they’ve never funded the purchase of a historic building in Pendleton.’ And he said, ‘Well, have you asked?’ And I said, ‘No I haven’t.’ And he said ‘We should take it to them’.”

So Picken and Walters went to the Commission and the Commission decided to buy the theater and donate it for the restoration. Picken says he thinks the whole thing would not have moved forward if Walters hadn’t convinced him on this “…and that’s part of what I really admire about Pete is he’s willing to look at the big picture, and not accept the status quo, and challenge people’s assumptions in constructive and thoughtful ways.”

Peter Walters is the kind of guy everyone says will someday be mayor of Pendleton, but he says he has zero ambitions in that department.
He goes to work, comes home, hangs out with his roommates. Goes to shows.
He calls Portland his second home, and comes over frequently to see friends and bands, maybe catch a Blazers game.
It’s not that he isn’t thinking about the future.  

“I would like to divest myself a little bit in certain things so I can have more of a focus,” Walters says. “But also you don’t’ want to do that until there’s somebody to take your place. And in Pendleton, everyone’s stretched real thin!”

He remembers what it was like when he graduated high school in 2003. A lot of his friends were leaving. It felt lonely.
He’s says he’s glad to have played a part in making places for younger people who want to stay, and giving them ways to be involved.

Because Peter Walters does not have enough to do, with his day job, rock camp, the Rivoli board, and other projects. he also plays in a band - James Dean Kindle and the Eastern Oregon Playboys. They’ve got a date at the Treefort Music Festival in Boise next month.

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