Prose and Pensées on Portland

A little used section of the site is Musical:Mondiale, which gives that down-to-earth exploration of a music scene from the comforts of your chair or wherever you read our thoughts. It’s been a while, but let’s dust it off…

Portland is under-appreciated, I feel, due to the nearly-eclipsing, magnetic attraction of its neighbor to the north; Seattle. Unless you’re from the West Coast, you may not give Oregon adequate consideration upon first glance. Surely if you’re from the Midwest, Portland feels like a world away compared to the music meccas, rising and established, of Minneapolis and Austin respectively. Current musicians generating buzz from Portland include Menomena, Portugal. The Man, Grouper, Steve Malkmus, The Thermals, Christopher Walla of Death Cab for Cutie, Nick Jaina and YACHT among others. Yet it posses not only what we thrive upon-a supportive community of artists, musicians and promoters alike-but a natural beauty we definitively lack in geographic diversity, also known as altitude.

A few days is not enough as evidenced by The Fresh Pot’s staff in the Mississippi neighborhood. The barista left Madison, Wisconsin three years prior for Stumptown and her sister just made the move this summer. With brick walls and a bar-like counter extending towards the back of the room similar to Minneapolis’ Spyhouse Coffee Shop, it serves a hint of how any displaced Midwesterner could fend off homesickness; the aromas of the multitude of coffee roasters in the region. Brunch? Apparently Portland’s the brunch capital of the States. It’s sacred to our habits back home, so while I missed out on Tin Shed over on Alberta, Gravy proved Portland’s worthiness with two stunning slabs of French toast on Challah bread. I could go on and on about the culinary discoveries, but hey, music time.

PDX is essentially a mix between Austin with its outdoor, attached patios and Madison’s appreciative public that goes out for music. It was all too easy to find an abundance of quality music, even on a Sunday afternoon. One standout was a solo performance by Dustin Hamman, the voice and guitar behind Run on Sentence, on the Doug Fir patio. The only song I knew going in was “Stonewall”, via a live video upon the recommendation of Thomas Paul, who served as the tour guitarist for Nick Jaina back last fall. The songwriter is the epitome of a traveled musician with the ridges of mountains serving as the neck of his guitar and the blades of prairie grass as strings. Potential disappointment was squashed in an instant after the adjustments and tunings were silenced, replaced by a soulful, bouncing voice as when he performed “Carrie Pt. 1” and “Carrie Pt. 2”. What’s often the case these days is I know one song going in, then put all faith behind that singular example. “Stonewall” did show up, and was as captivating as standing at the foot of a trail disappearing town into thick, overgrown wilderness. The sneering turns to the voice to the mimicked trumpet, all highlights of the too-brief stay in the city. (Video of “Stonewall”, via Thomas Paul’s recommendations to Mezzic’s Limelight section)

The other discovery is one of the best iterations of a record store I’ve yet seen. It’s admittedly hard these days to generate sales off of physical music, and the remnants of past glorious storefronts have faded and disappeared in time. The other side of the coin include those like Tender Loving Empire. From what I’ve experienced and seen, they take the idea of an artist and expand upon it, encompassing crafts and more than just music, while fostering a common point of community. The store itself sells the typical vinyls, albums and t-shirts, yet brings in specialty books, gifts (lil’ knit PBR cans), bags and more. Not only does it draw you in due to the music they help release as their “family”, but the nooks and crannies are filled with intrigue. It’s the kind of store that every town should have…not to say a carbon copy, but a store that visually says they embrace and are embraced by the community.

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