review by Michael Barton – local dad and local blogger Exploring Portland’s Natural Areas
On Wednesday, July 11th, my son Patrick and I met up at the Oregon Zoo with my friend Sarah and her son Miles.
We were there for the first of the Sunset at the Zoo series of family-friendly evening concerts, which are happening every other Wednesday this July and August. The Oregon Zoo bills these as “summer evenings providing a festival atmosphere for friends and family, with live music from local artists, regional food, beer and wine, and programming for adults and kids focused on the animals that are particularly active at dusk” (summer concerts remain on all other Wednesday nights).
First up, we headed to Pacific Shores Plaza at 5pm to immerse ourselves in the beat of Boka Marimba, “Portland’s Original High-Energy African Style Marimba Ensemble,” as they describe themselves on their website. The four of us really enjoyed watching the ensemble sing and perform music of Zimbabwe and Southern Africa on their various baritone and bass marimbas and percussion instruments. Sarah and Miles even partook in joining some other families in dancing around. While the music was wonderful, the area chosen for the performance was a bit crowded, as the zoo kept a walking thoroughfare going in between the band and the audience.
After twenty or so minutes of watching Boka Marimba, next up was a performance by the Dragon Theater at 5:30pm in a fenced in, grassy spot near the sun bear habitat. Again, lots of people in a relatively small space, but the crowd seemed to be having a good time learning the story of the Princess & the Frog. Sarah and I hung out in back by the fence while Patrick and Miles sat up front with many other kids. In a classroom next to the lawn, the theater group had various princesses (a mermaid included!) doing crafts with kids. We decided to move on to the next event of the evening, Wild Life Live! on the zoo’s main stage starting at 6pm.
We had all seen animal shows at the stage before, so we were excited for it. We found a small patch of open grass up front, laid out our blanket, and proceeded to eat our sandwiches we brought from home for dinner. At 6pm the Wild Life Live! program started, and the animal handlers brought to stage, literally flying over our heads (from stations in the back), a Hadada Ibis (from Africa), a Red-tailed Hawk, and a Bald Eagle. A few facts about each bird were shared, but once each bird made it to the stage, they put them away very quickly. From the stage shows we have seen before, we thought that more time would be taken to see and hear about the animals. But this evening’s show was over after just a few minutes. We think perhaps there were some issues with the animals, but no one said anything so we’re not sure.
Next up was the headliner performance by local folk singer Laura Veirs scheduled to begin at 6:30pm, but when the wildlife show ended we heard someone say, “please join us at 7pm for a concert on this stage. Not sure why they pushd the time back, we decided we didn’t want to sit for almost an hour, so we headed to the nearby Predators of the Serengeti exhibit to see which of the big cats we could see. While the African lions were nowhere to be seen, the two cheetahs were plenty active and walking back and forth along the windows. After getting our fill of Serengeti animals, with our little ones in tow, headed back to the stage and watched Laura Veirs, who has recently released her first children’s album, Tumble Bee, sing a few songs before beginning the trek back to the main entrance. Of course, we had to say good night to the polar bears on our way out.
Despite the short bird show and long wait before Laura Veirs took the stage, Sunset at the Zoo was an enjoyable summer evening full of excited children, great music, beautiful animals, and a wonderful time with friends. These events are free for zoo members at the Plus level or above, or tickets can be purchased by non-members or basic level members. On the Zoo’s website, you can find schedules for the three upcoming Sunset at the Zoo events, on July 25th and August 8th and 22nd.
Michael was given tickets to attend this event at no charge.