Portland concert photographer Heather Hanson—who was known for her Super Groovy Cosmic Bus project, which centered "around the travels of a toy VW bus, the places it goes, music it hears, art it experiences, and people it meets"—died last week. She religiously supported and documented the Portland music scene; the new issue of the Mercury coincidentally includes a picture she took of the band Dreckig. Below are some memories of Heather from friends and fellow members of the local music community whose lives she touched.
Heather came into my life to support the first music festival I ever co-produced, the Grrrl Front at Slabtown. She was a timeless presence, half existing in the 1960s with her yellow VW bus imagery, boho feathers and face paint, and ethereal beauty, yet she was also a modern social media master, using technology to capture her favorite PDX artists and support them in ways that the rest of Portland did not. She took footage at my festival, particularly of Kris Ray of band Wayside Ghost, and cheered on the lineup of all women and queer performers. We remained friends online and she continued to be a positive presence in the Portland music scene, wishing us all the best. I wish her the best, as well. LUCIA FASANO
I met Heather a few years ago at a carnival-themed canned food drive in the parking lot of a dive bar. We had both signed up for a shift at the dunk tank. It was not really warm out (overcast af), and the dunk tank water was brown. A lot of people who signed up for a dunk tank shift decided to opt out. Heather and I shook hands, exchanged pleasantries and were like "okay... I guess lets do this?" It was cold, gross, and an absolute blast. We sat up in the dunk tank giggling like middle schoolers. We quickly got to know one another between rounds of our seats dropping us into the rust-water. We remained social media acquaintances and I always enjoyed watching her adventures 🚌 This is a post from her Instagram of the two of us shivering and giggling. See also, how gross the water was. She was one of the good ones. I hope this story serves as a testament to how purely warm and kind she was. MARY NUMAIR
I can't remember if it was 2012 or early 2013 when she first started to be involved in what Banana Stand was doing. Immediately she was our biggest supporter. From what I saw, that's how Heather was with any artist or community group making music in Portland. She was so many bands' biggest fan. Soon you couldn't go to a local show without seeing her. She was still living outside of the city then and having to commute back and forth. She wasn't always feeling safe about the trips so late or trying to find space to crash. So for a short while, she lived in the Banana Stand basement until she got a place of her own. Heather was a sensitive soul, but she was also one of the passionate people I've ever met. If she liked you, then she supported you almost every step of the way. She didn't just come to recordings. She would come to one-off movie fundraisers, she would come to your birthday party, she would go to meet ups trying to make the scene better. She would buy your merch and your album and help promote your show without asking. She was righteously angry about how women were treated. She was so unifying that any kind of elitism would have been a foreign concept. I don't think I've ever seen someone wear our Banana T-shirt shirt as much as Heather, not even me. She cut it up to make it fashionable and would post pictures and links to our records. She was honestly better at promoting what we made than we were. And of course, her Super Groovy Cosmic Bus. I remember thinking it was a fun, little toy, but soon it was her brand. It was this seal of approval from one of Portland's most connected people. It wasn't a review, it was just an endorsement and a celebration of our city. She evolved from taking photos with just her phone to shooting with nice gear. She was recently morphing from fan to musician herself. Unfortunately, like a lot of people in the scene, it was too easy to take her for granted. You knew she was going to be at the next show, so you could just talk to her then. Or you would run into her at the grocery store or the corner bar. When her posts got stranger and darker this year, it was too easy to think it was just a phase or that someone else was making sure she was okay. It's going to haunt me for the rest of my life that I didn't do more to reach out to her. She was, without hyperbole, a ray of light in the music scene here. I wish I would have told her that more. Losing Heather is like losing family member to a lot of us. It feels like losing a sibling who always cheered you on at the race; someone who would run up to hug you no matter what place you got. I think that was what made her so unique. She wasn't just some scene kid. She was earnest in her support in a way that is impossible to mimic or replace. AARON COLTER
Heather had the beautiful ability to make everyone feel special. She brought out genuine kindness and silliness in those around her. She was one of the first people in the Portland music community that helped me when I moved here. She made this big city seem like a family. Her laughter and sweetness and genuine kindness made me feel confident and less anxious in this world. MAIAH WYNNE
As I was first getting started in the Portland music scene, Heather welcomed me with open arms. Every Bus stop interview with her just felt like talking to a friend I had known for years. She just got it. She was so authentically herself and present with you. One of my favorite memories of Heather was when I was when I miraculously ran into her at a small music festival at Pappy and Harriet’s in Pioneertown, CA. We danced all night to desert psychedelic rock and gazed underneath the stars until the sky got a little brighter. The next day, she offered to do a photoshoot with me in Joshua Tree National Park. I just remember having to fight the smile off my face to take some moodier shots because Heather’s energy was so bright. We couldn't stop laughing. I also had the pleasure of giving her voice lessons earlier this spring, and was watching her slowly rediscover her singing voice. During those lessons with her, she went from nervous and coy about her voice to belting her heart out. It’s like she had re-met an old friend. She was even starting her own band at that time. I felt so proud of her. My favorite part about those lessons though was the time we spent being vulnerable with one another and sharing our doubts and fears and how we can overcome them. Heather was an insanely talented artist, a friend to many, and just about every Portland band's #1 fan. Heather’s sweet presence and her super groovy cosmic magic will never be forgotten. <3 HALEY JOHNSEN
Mathieu Lewis-Rolland (drummer in several bands) and I were at a BBQ and he was shocked that Heather and I hadn't met yet. He basically threw a fit and said we needed to meet. My initial reaction to Heather was in disbelief - how the hell did Matt think this gorgeous leggy blonde and I would have anything in common? As soon as Heather opened her mouth though I got it. She had a practically encyclopedic knowledge of Portland bands and was super down to earth. She didn't just care about the band or the musician we were talking about; she genuinely cared about each one as a person. After that day, I was stoked to see Heather at local concerts and nerd out about the music scene with her. Very rarely would I mention a local band that Heather didn't already know about. As soon as I did though she immediately whipped out her phone as insisted on putting on her calendar when their next show was and finding their Bandcamp/Facebook/Soundcloud page. RACHELLE SCHMID
If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, the Portland Suicide Lifeline is 503-972-3456. And for those outside of Portland, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433) or 1-800-273-8255. You can also text "help" to 741-741.