A quick look at the calendar for all-ages music venue the Vera Project reveals recent or upcoming appearances by some of the best our city has to offer: Wet Confetti, Small Sails, Panther, Ghost to Falco, and YACHT. The only problem is the Vera Project is in Seattle. If you are under 21, want to see these bands, and are living in Portland, good luck to ya. We may have our northern neighbor beat in the fields of mass transit, haircuts, and breakfast joints, but Seattle clearly comes out on top when it comes to doing right by people under 21. Portlanders have seen a staggering number of all-ages venues come and go in the last five years. We didn't just lose buildings. We lost the nascent communities they facilitated, as well as the creativity, energy, and money they generated. Washington and Oregon's laws governing minors' access to live music are similarly restrictive, so why does Vera succeed when so many Portland venues have failed?
The answer is simple: The Vera Project is a nonprofit organization. Since its inception in 2000, it has been sustained primarily by grants and tax-deductible donations, sources of funding closed to traditional, for-profit clubs. Seann McKeel, who booked for the now-defunct all-ages venue Nocturnal here in Portland, explained its death: "I think the things Nocturnal had against it were location, finances, and the OLCC [Oregon Liquor Control Commission]." Proprietors of other bygone all-ages clubs point to these same factors, which combine to create a perfect storm of financial non-viability. Oregon venues that cater to young people are, in general, legally cut off from the lifeline that feeds standard clubs—liquor sales. The few exceptions to this rule, like the Crystal Ballroom, are typically cavernous and, though fine for events, make tough turf for community building. Nonprofit status would make a medium-sized, youth-friendly venue possible in Portland.
So why has no one here tried it? Todd Fadel, the man behind dearly departed all-ages venue Meow Meow, remarked, "To be honest, maintaining the calendar and the venue and volunteers and everything took greater precedence than looking into building a nonprofit. It should've been something we thought of before we started."
The Vera Project just celebrated the opening of its new home in Seattle Center, a prestigious location symbolic of the support that city has given the organization. Civic backing would certainly be nice, but there is nothing about the underlying Vera concept that isn't achievable in Portland without it. Private individuals, grants, and community-minded businesses are more than capable of funding a similar project here. To wit, Ben Gibbard, frontman of Death Cab for Cutie, is listed in the top rung of donors to the Vera Project. Think you're fancy, Seattle? Prove 'em wrong, Brock, Malkmus, and Mercer!
Supporters of local, all-ages music-making should check out the Girls Rock Institute's band showcase at Disjecta on Friday, March 23 at 6 pm, and the Deep Roots organization's concert fundraiser at the White Eagle on Tuesday, March 27 at 5 pm.