Roger Hancock is cutting his friend's hair, and talking to my reflection in a barber's mirror. He is remarkably calm for someone detailing the metaphorical collapse of his present surroundings.
On February 28, 2009, public safety officials showed up at NW 3rd and Couch to discover approximately 125 people in a packed room watching Meth Teeth play, with 50 more waiting in line outside, hoping to watch Explode into Colors and Panther take the stage later on.
"When the building actually emptied out that night, I kinda got a firm understanding of what they were on about, too," Hancock says of the officials and their capacity concerns, which led to the evacuation of the space, known as Hush, effectively ending its run as an all-ages concert venue. "There's five police officers, and two OLCC [Oregon Liquor Control Commission] agents, and two fire marshals yelling at everybody to get [out], and it still took at least 10 minutes to empty the building. It's understandable."
We are speaking on the second floor of Hush, an eight-unit artists' residence and the unofficial, all-ages music venue in question. The young man getting a trim, Rocky Tinder, moved into the building and began to organize concerts there with Hancock, who also occupies a unit and serves as the site manager.
Hush was, to an extent, a victim of its own success. According to information officers at the respective agencies, the attention of the Portland Police Bureau was drawn by the large gaggle of would-be showgoers congregated outside on 3rd Avenue. The police then contacted the OLCC and fire marshal, and requested their presence during a walk-through of the space. OLCC inspectors found several alcoholic containers inside, but no sign of alcohol for sale, and no citations were issued. However, fire marshals cited the space's lessee $500, deeming that the maximum occupant load of the two floors of Hush was only 10, a laughably far cry from the 125 present at the February 28 show. Additionally, they informed Tinder and Hancock that they were lacking the necessary permits for using the facility commercially and for amplifying music. At the time of this publication, representatives from the Portland Bureau of Development Services, the municipal government arm overseeing many zoning and usage rules, was coordinating a visit to Hush to discuss possible solutions to the zoning and permitting issues.
After about a week of mourning and, as Tinder described it, "feeling like [their] dog had died," he and Hancock collected themselves and began the search for a new property to develop into a small, all-ages concert venue (Hush 2) that would operate according to the same DIY, volunteer ethos, and would be funded similarly by sub-leasing residential units to music-friendly tenants and bands. This is the one alcohol-free business model that has proved sustainable for an all-ages venue in Portland—both at the Artistery and at Hush—and Hancock and Tinder believe they now have the experience to run a legitimate show space.
One hopes that Portland will, in this case, actually make good on its motto "The City that Works" and work expeditiously with the Hush organizers to make such a multi-use arrangement possible in a new location with sufficient capacity. While municipal government debates the pros and cons of work/live space for artists regularly and at length, they generally fail to take into account Portland's greatest source of cultural capital—musicians—whose needs are significantly different than those of visual artists. Thankfully, the music community has developed its own practicable DIY solution to its live/perform conundrum in the form of house shows and tenant-supported venues like Hush.
Portland doesn't need any more multi-story condos with Quiznos and framing shops on the bottom floor; but wouldn't legally viable, prudently located, multi-use live/work spaces for musicians with ground floor or basement community performance spaces be a beautiful and welcome thing?