In the peak days of the precious Portland summer, when the entire city seems to open up, there is never an excuse not to have a music festival. Whether it is an inspiring nonprofit salute to our local music scene (PDX Pop Now!), a DIY feminist punk/metal gathering (BABE Fest) or an event sponsored by an upstart mom & pop local business (the Comcast-sponsored Musicfest NW), our town sure loves a festival. Yet nothing quite flexes the artistic muscle of Portland like Halleluwah.
Now in its second year, the three-day event, curated by Yeti magazine's Mike McGonigal and Chantelle Hylton of Blackbird Presents, showcases a staggering amount of experimental music, from the skewed rootsy jams of Chicago's Califone, to a once-in-a-lifetime performance by Damo Suzuki (onetime frontman for the gods of krautrock, Can, the band whose song "Halleluwah" was the source of the festival's moniker). With Halleluwah there is a lot to digest, so for your sake, here are some recommended picks on how to spend the three happiest days of your life.
Friday, August 31st
They Shoot Horses, Don't They? are a loopy octet who hail from Vancouver, BC (a city whose downtown Eastside neighborhood could very well support the motto: "They Shoot Heroin, Don't They?"), who recently released Pick Up Sticks on indie stalwart Kill Rock Stars. This band of Horses shuns the conventional approach in favor of coating layer upon layer of carnival-like excitement and barked vocals on top of their mutant marching band sound. Basically, they sound like the ultimate party band—that is, if they weren't sharing a bill with Panther, the only other act that can lay claim to that title. Now doubled in size with all of two members, Panther no longer relies solely on the onstage charm of Charlie Salas-Humara, and their new material as a duo sounds completely fleshed-out, vibrant, and alive.
Saturday, September 1st
Night number two offers a fine selection of local bands (from the junkyard stomp and shout of the Builders and the Butchers to the psychedelic swirl of Plants) plus two of the festival's finest national acts: Dark Meat and Califone. Athens, GA-based Dark Meat are a wonderful, yet frightening, post-hippie ensemble (their label, Orange Twin, built a 100-acre eco village deep in the forests of Georgia—while other poseurs didgeridon't, real hippies like this didgerido) that bring to mind the finest moments of '60s rock, plus the occasional free-jazz meltdown. Califone are just plain untouchable, a rare musical act whose brilliance—which might not be fully appreciated at this time—will surely be radiating tonight.
Sunday, September 2nd
The final night of the festival is home to the most exciting performance of them all: Can's Damo Suzuki, supported by Adam Forkner (White Rainbow) and Emil Amos (who also backed another underground legend, Jandek, for his ultra-rare 2006 Portland performance). What can you expect from this uncommon gathering of musicians? Lord only knows, but odds are it will be the sort of brain-melting experience that you will wax poetic about for years to come, because after all, this is Halleluwah—a festival where creativity reigns true, and the only common enemy is safe, predictable music.