THE FIRST PDX POP NOW! FESTIVAL took place in July 2004. It was held at what was then the all-ages club Meow Meow, in the space that's also been home to B Complex and Loveland, and currently holds Rotture and Branx. An outgrowth of a discussion that took place on the PDX Pop mailing list, the festival's three days of free music were made up exclusively of local bands, and the fest was deliber- ately, crucially all ages—so none would be excluded. That first year was an experiment in uniting the disparate strands of the Portland music scene for a weekend, to see what would happen when all of its various corners and pockets converged in one place.

It worked. This year, PDX Pop Now! is hosting its 10th festival, and as with every year, it's a barometer of what's happening musically in this city. While Portland's music scene has risen to national prominence in the past decade as several bands have found widespread success, the fest has always been at the front lines of what's really happening in the city's basements and bars and practice spaces. For three days, established and unknown bands alike will share a stage and an audience, as all kinds of genres butt up against each other. In addition to being a feast of great local music, PDX Pop Now! has allowed a chance for our quickly evolving music scene to stand still for a brief moment, to pose for a class photo of sorts.

This year's festival boasts a completely new venue. Taking place at the Eastbank lot at SE Water and Yamhill, this is the first year the festival will be entirely outdoors. I asked PDX Pop Now! Artistic Director Chris Cantino about the changes and developments taking place, and what the festival needed to do differently without the aid of the infrastructures of the existing venues from previous years (which have included Refuge, Rotture/Branx, and AudioCinema).

"We've wanted to do an all-outdoor festival for a long time," Cantino says, "and we're going to still have all of the production values that we had last year, as far as the staging we're bringing in, and the lights and sound system. One thing that people didn't like last year was that they felt crammed in the 21-and-over area. This year, the street will be shut down next to the festival and Bunk Bar is hosting what they're calling 'Bunk Beach' out there. It's going to be the 21-and-over area and you'll be able to see the stages as well.

"We'll also have our first street fair this year with local vendors," Cantino continues, "and Adidas has put together an activity area for us. My Voice Music will have workshops for kids—and anybody, really—where you can learn to play a musical instrument. We'll have lockers for people to put their stuff in, and lots of bike parking. And Rigsketball will have tons of games going on there constantly."

These Rigsketball games—in which 32 local bands will compete on a custom basketball hoop fused to the back of a van—are emblematic of just how the festival has grown. The festival is looking to incorporate all the social elements of the Portland music scene to augment the performances happening on the two stages. And the street fair and workshops are further evidence of how PDX Pop is tied into the community. With close to 20 coordinators on the PDX Pop team, it's not simply about throwing bands up on a stage for a weekend. There are people in dedicated fundraising and sponsorship roles, as well as people handling manufacturing, development, and finance.

The budget for the festival, which costs thousands of dollars to stage, comes from fundraising events—like the annual Make It Pop! fundraising concert—and various sponsorships and grants. The board takes on sponsors cautiously and conscientiously, realizing that the wrong type of sponsor can easily tarnish the credibility of a community-based music festival. Additional money is also raised through the Willamette Week's Give Guide campaign, and Cantino tells me that 2012 was their most successful year yet.

But it all comes down to the great bands who play the festival. There was some early controversy when it was discovered that 8 Track Relay, a track and music festival taking place the same weekend at Portland International Raceway, was also snapping up local bands to play their festival. Wielding a larger booking budget and asking for exclusivity—bands would not be permitted to play both festivals—8 Track Relay seemed to put a dent in PDX Pop's ability to draw headliners. But that more or less resolved itself. "It definitely didn't end up being as much of a factor as we thought it would be," Cantino says, "although we did have one or two artists that we would have booked, or bands that wanted to play, but they couldn't because they were obligated to play that festival."

Headliners are one thing, but the best thing about PDX Pop has always been discovering new bands, something the booking committee recognizes is just as important as having bands that can draw a crowd. Every year, a clutch of unknown Portland bands has a breakthrough moment at the festival. Last year, famously, Shy Girls played their first live gig and turned heads; they quickly vaulted to the top of the local music scene in the ensuing months.

I ask Cantino for his picks this year. "I think our breakthrough bands—the bands that we're banking on people really enjoying that they haven't heard before—we really are excited about Magic Fades. We gave them a pretty late slot, and although they've gotten some acclaim nationally, I don't think Portland necessarily knows who they are much more than they knew who Shy Girls were last year. And Ghost Ease is a fledgling artist that we're really excited about. It's an all-female trio and they just play really great, heavy, sludgy music. It sounds like Sleep's Dopesmoker or a female Naomi Punk."

It's also a great place to see bands that you've heard of but may not have seen yet. Mercury readers may recognize several names on the bill from these pages: Sons of Huns, Gaytheist, Hausu, WL, Natasha Kmeto, the Woolen Men, PWRHAUS, and lots of others have all been profiled in this paper in recent months. For my part, I'm particularly looking forward to seeing Like a Villain, the experimental loops-and-clarinet project from Holland Andrews, who devastates audiences on a regular basis. The mossy Northwest rock of Genders is one of the city's most captivating live shows; Ancient Heat adds disco flash and synth funk, and Mojave Bird (AKA Grace Peters) makes spookily gorgeous lullabies. Meanwhile, well-known favorites like Richmond Fontaine, Luck-One, and Ramona Falls remain must-sees.

Looking back over the festival's 10 years, the number of memorable performances is almost too many to count. I ask Cantino about his personal favorite PDX Pop Now! moments. He has two.

"In 2008, right when I moved to Portland, I walked into the festival by accident and White Fang was in the middle of breaking the stage. They were all wearing masks and there were probably eight different drummers, and the stage started falling apart. It was pretty funny.

"And the Shy Girls thing last year was pretty personal to me," Cantino continues. "Nick [Johnson, last year's artistic director] and I really pushed the committee to book them. Nobody knew who they were at all, and they hadn't played any shows, so we just totally went out on a limb. And when everyone saw them, everyone was like, 'Holy shit.' They immediately got show offers from the Doug Fir and Holocene and all those places, and started blowing up right away."

While it'll be interesting to see which band's performance will catapult them to greater local prominence, virtually every band on the immaculately curated bill is worth catching. Ten years and going strong, PDX Pop Now! shows no sign of slowing down—much like the Portland music scene, for that matter. Ten more should be a snap.


6 pm: Like a Villain
6:40 pm: Blue Skies for Black Hearts
7:20 pm: Genders
8:05 pm: The We Shared Milk
8:45 pm: Youthbitch
9:25 pm: WL
10:10 pm: PWRHAUS
10:50 pm: Ramona Falls
11:30 pm: Wooden Indian Burial Ground
12:10 am: Sons of Huns

noon: Mojave Bird
12:40 pm: Fanno Creek
1:25 pm: Grammies
2:05 pm: Dusu Mali
2:45 pm: Palo Verde
3:30 pm: Billions and Billions
4:10 pm: Mattress
4:50 pm: Ancient Heat
5:35 pm: Minden
6:10 pm: Y La Bamba
7 pm: Richmond Fontaine
7:45 pm: Orquestra Pacifico Tropical
8:25 pm: Portland Cello Project w/Janet Weiss
9:05 pm: The Woolen Men
9:50 pm: Hausu
10:30 pm: Natasha Kmeto
11:10 pm: Luck-One
11:50 pm: Magic Mouth

noon: Hot Victory
12:40 pm: Trio Subtonic
1:20 pm: The Satin Chaps
2:05 pm: Warm Hands
2:45 pm: Ghost Ease
3:25 pm: Unkle Funkle
4:10 pm: Gaytheist
4:50 pm: Vice Device
5:30 pm: Sun Angle
6:15 pm: Litanic Mask
6:55 pm: Witch Mountain
7:35 pm: The Memories
8:20 pm: Cassow
9 pm: Dangerous Boys Club
9:40 pm: Magic Fades
10:20 pm: Slimkid3 featuring Doo Doo Funk Allstars
11 pm: Shy Girls