There's a fair amount of good stuff going on this week, but there's one must-see show that's head and shoulders above the rest. It's the School of Rock's "Best! of Portland 2" show, the long-awaited sequel to last year's show that paired students from the Portland chapter of the School of Rock with musicians from local bands. It's going to be amazing, watching kids play songs with members of the local bands who originally performed those songs, and to make things better it's a benefit for Music in the Schools, which raises money for music education in local high schools, and PROWUS, which supports performance-based rock programs in the area. It all goes down Friday night at 8 pm at the Crystal Ballroom (1332 W Burnside), and there's lots more info about the event here.
But just take a look at the list of participating bands, each of which will have members on hand to play with the School of Rock kids: Red Fang, Blind Pilot, Blitzen Trapper, Typhoon, Radiation City, Brainstorm, Lost Lander, Portugal. The Man, Laura Gibson, The Mean Jeans, AU, Lovers, Wild Ones, Sons of Huns, Magic Mouth, Blouse, Sloths, 1939 Ensemble, Guantanamo Baywatch, Autistic Youth.
I asked School of Rock's Danielle Fish and Ed Thanhouser to tell us more about this incredible event, which will be awesomer than a bull stampeding across an alien landscape, and which you absolutely should not miss. Seriously. Do not miss this show.
MERCURY: How did this idea originally come about? And how hard was it to convince Portland bands to come aboard?
DANI FISH: Local music is at the heart of School of Rock Portland. Everyone on staff plays in bands. We support each other's bands and are all really excited about other local bands. I talk with the kids about Portland bands all the time. A few weeks ago I ran into one of the Best! of Portland 2 kids at Typhoon's merch table. She was buying a tank top, and I was buying a record.
Personally, I live to nerd out on music, and putting the setlist together is one of my favorite School of Rock activities of the year. It's like putting together a DJ set, only you'll actually get to see everyone play the songs live. I'm not exactly sure how the idea came up, but I know it was obvious that it had to happen, that I had to direct it with Ed, and that we had to make it a benefit. After how killer last year was, there was no question about doing it again.
As far as getting the bands to play, it doesn't take too much convincing. Occasionally there are bands who aren't interested, but luckily we aren't interested in bands who don't get how amazing this is. Usually, if a band is in town, they are totally psyched about playing the show. It's a great opportunity for everyone—playing the Crystal is great exposure for the bands, the money goes to a good cause, and it's life changing for the kids. Fun!
I heard last year's show was, like, the best thing ever, from multiple people. (I missed it for some dumb reason that I can't remember now.) What makes Best! of Portland such an incredible event, in your own personal biased opinion? Are there any special collaborations you're looking forward to this year?
FISH: Just imagine—a playlist of your favorite Portland bands (genre spanning/mind blowing), played live by teenagers (who are really talented) AND the artists themselves. Not to mention it's a benefit for Music in the Schools. It's a tear jerker and unbelievably rockin'. And all-ages '80s Video Dance Attack in the ballroom after the show totally tops the night off.
This year is over the top. We've got 21 bands playing, a benefit photobooth, a silent auction with rad gear and merch from local music stores and the bands, AND StageDive is doing a live stream of the show.
I am over-the-top excited about Red Fang. It's going to shred really, really hard. Also, the Sloths, 1939 Ensemble, and Radiation City songs have developed in really interesting ways. Honestly, I'm excited about it all 'cause they're all bands and songs that I like.
Ed says he's also really excited about 1939, since David Coniglio is a staff member at School of Rock and we've gotten the chance to collaborate and experiment with their song "Sabotage" a lot.
With Backspace almost shutting down last month, and all-ages space Boom Bap! being evicted by their new landlords this month, it seems all-ages shows are more endangered than ever. Is there any hope for kids who want to see live music? How does the work that Music in the Schools does help to foster an all-ages scene? And has the urgency of raising funds for music education abated at all since the passing of measure 26-146?
ED THANHOUSER: There is a very weird paradox in Portland. I've been advocating for all-ages music access for several years now, with PDX Pop Now! and then working closely with School of Rock and Music in the Schools, and I have to say that the support for access has swelled dramatically, especially now that we've seen a measure like 26-146 pass… and yet the physical spaces available for this access have declined just as dramatically. I think there's a question as to whether a venue or space can actually survive using the current model. You have ticket sales, which usually, and rightly, go to bands. The venue keeps the bar and maybe a percentage of the door. If you have no alcohol, or limited alcohol, its hard for the house to pay expenses. Venues have to be larger than a typical bar, and they need things like expensive live-sound equipment, and show staffing that costs a lot of money.
I don't know if I have a great solution to the problem, besides wildly unpractical or fantastical ones, like re-writing Oregon's alcohol regulations or removing the physical restrictions imposed by the OLCC (no bar within X feet of the stage, etc). My hope is that eventually we will have a place like the Vera Project in Seattle, or Holland Reno… a stable, funded, and community-supported hub that's oriented specifically toward young people and the arts. If anybody out there reading this has the desire, resources, and connections to create one, please call me right now so I can help.
The bottom line is that we are a community that has no excuse. We're spoiled, privileged art consumers in an art-centric community that has the resources to provide access to the arts. Portlanders have shown that they value music and arts education by passing 26-146, but they have to understand that access goes beyond the school. It's great to have music classes, but they need to be included in the larger community as well.
Kids want this stuff; they go to enormous lengths to be a part of a community. They throw house shows, they put together bands, they flyer the entire town for a DIY show at Burgerville. Identity is important to them. For some of them, music and arts are that identity. The high school kids that founded and run Music in the Schools are a great example of how organized and passionate young people can be. Every event they organize (and they've done a lot of them) is one more all-ages event that kids can go to. Hopefully, with new funding secured for music education with 26-146, they can move their focus to supporting all-ages events for their own sake year-round, but they need a place to do it. We, the Majors, have a responsibility to provide that space for Minors. They shouldn't have to go around with their hands out, organizing fundraisers, benefits, soliciting donations just so they can have music in their lives.
These kids seem pretty dialed into local music. How do kids become fans of these bands when there is little local music on the radio and a lot of shows are at 21+ clubs?
THANHOUSER: I think that, as a kid, once you start playing music, not just listening to it, your sense for it sharpens dramatically. It makes you hungry, you know? The internet is so seamless for this generation of kids… they don't even think about it, since they've never lived in a time where you had to hunt down bands' limited edition tapes or tiny record label catalogs. Once they start playing music a lot, I find that their taste develops rapidly, and they devour YouTube live videos, streaming tracks, Spotify, and they share everything with their friends, all the time. Pretty soon there's an entire group of kids who worship Battles, or local punk groups like Hammered Grunts, stuff that in another era would be considered "fringe" or hard to find.
So much of the experience of music when you're young is the feeling of discovery and ownership. You want to be the first one there, in the front row, who knows more about this tiny, fledgling local band than anyone else…I know I felt that way about bands like Quasi and Heatmiser when I was young, and I think these kids have that relationship to Portland's music scene. They feel like it's theirs, like they're a part of it. Since they can't go to a lot of these shows, a lot of the interaction takes place online, but that doesn't make them less erudite. In fact they soak up more stuff online because they can't go to the shows… Plus I know a lot of kids who did Best of Portland last year have spent the year becoming total experts in local music because they were inspired by the show, and they've gone on to share their finds with their peers, which is great.