320 SE 2nd
July 9-11, Free!
This is the story of how one email became a music festival. It's the story of how the PDX Pop List--a long-running listserv on which local music fans post everything from show announcements to meta-critiques of "the scene"--turned enthusiasm, gripes, and superior organizational skills into an all-ages, three-day, free festival showcasing and championing Portland music.
But it's also about the values, idealism, and ideology that keep Portland arts fueled, and keep young transplants coming here.
"Portland's a funny little town with a chip on its shoulder--a funny mix of idealism and cynicism," says Cori Taratoot, PDX Pop Festival co-organizer. In many ways, Portland is a dualistic city--one with wide open spaces, and urban amenities that still feel small town, a sort of weird, progressive urban suburbia. Recently, it has been a city of decreasing jobs and increasing residents. It is a city whose social amiability is manifested in communal craft nights, zine symposiums, and an economy that allows one to do such things.
Personally, in the six years I've lived here, my cheapest rent was $260, when I was sleeping in the dining room of a five-person house; our communal basement was so busy with band practices and sewing circles, we made a schedule and posted it to the door. For some, that is the quintessential Portland experience. It's the promise of what draws them--us--here, and it's the thing that makes it great.
But first: the pop list. "At the end of 2003," says Pop Fest co-organizer Matt Wright, "there was this conversation on the PDX Pop list about how there'd been a lot of good local albums coming out, and how it seemed like there were a lot of good bands in town at the moment."
Fellow co-organizer Cori Taratoot remembers, "Rachel from the Decemberists emailed from the road, and said people on tour think Portland is fucking awesome; that everyone is like, "Your city sounds so great!' But you get here, and people are like, 'Yeah... I don't wanna go see The Thermals again. I'm tired. It's too late,' or whatever. Portland apathy. So Rachel was like, 'I don't get it! Let's celebrate ourselves!' That was the catalyst."
In the words of Samuel Gompers, "You can't do it unless you organize." After the initial discussion, a group of 15 was motivated to begin meeting and flesh out what it would take to create an entirely local music festival. Wright explains, "We had stars in our eyes; at first, there was a lot of enthusiasm, but it was totally chaotic, because it was a bunch of people in bars just yelling out ideas. I don't think anybody thought about the amount of work we were going to put into it."
They were running on pure adrenaline, grassroots-organizer chutzpah, and love for the city.
"I think it's mostly just people who are real big geeks about local music," says Wright. "People who love going out to live shows and have a strong personal attachment to Portland. And the festival is free, the idea being that people who don't normally come to shows and are afraid to immerse themselves can check out all the good stuff. I've been to shows where I'm like, 'this band is awesome'-- and there's nobody there. With the exception of the weeklies, there's no real support system for this stuff. We're just trying to boost it."
With donations from local business--for instance, Meow Meow owner Todd Fadel donated his space, Larry Crane donated recording time, CD Forge offered duplication services to press an accompanying compilation CD--the core organizers soldiered on. Meanwhile, the committee set up an online voting system, in order to make the booking/ selection of artists for the fest more populist.
However, there have been snags in the process. Wright, for instance, is not entirely satisfied with the diversity of artists.
"There's an excess of musical culture, and it's in a certain niche for sure; [the fest is] way weighted towards indierock. And the electronic scene here is really amazing, with people like Strategy and Nudge and audio dregs, and the [hiphop, like] stuff Terrence [Scott] does with Jus Family Records. I think there are major holes; there are elements that aren't represented, and I do wish we had gotten a larger cross-section.
"A lot of the problem stems from the way we did the voting system. A lot of people from the pop list voted, so it sort of shifted to the demographic of the internet--white, middle class, and indierock or indiepop."
And, despite receiving a few complaints and criticism--beef that's inevitable when you're doing something so public--it always comes back to the idealism that motivated them in the first place.
"I would say there's a shared love for regional culture," says Wright. "As the chain-store homogenization sweeps across America, having that is a really special thing."
Unexpectedly, however, the local independent fest has made noise in corporate radio. KNRK (Portland's hard rock station, owned by corporate radio Svengalis Entercom) has recently begun playing tracks from the fest's accompanying two-CD comp, PDX POP NOW! --essentially placing bigger Portland bands like The Shins and The Decemberists, on a playlist that includes Velvet Revolver and Hoobastank.
"They're talking about the festival on the air, and playing The Thermals, Blitzen Trapper, M. Ward, The Decemberists, and The Shins," says Taratoot. "This is unforeseen; we wanted to change the Portland music scene, and we had huge, idealistic notions--but in our wildest dreams we never thought this would happen. I feel like I'm in the middle of some kind of sociological experiment."
But it's also been a personal experiment; Taratoot, for her part, says before she got involved with the festival, she was ready to break up with Portland.
"I've definitely changed," Taratoot says. "I was ready to leave. It was around the time Elliott Smith died, the Blackbird closed--I was just getting bummed out about what I thought the city was becoming. And for a lot of people Portland is a transient thing... but now I wanna stay. In my mind it was an unspoken promise going back to the reasons I moved here. You know, with Heatmiser, Crackerbash, and Quasi. And I felt like, 'Where did it all go?' [With the fest], we are as surprised as everyone else. We weren't ambitious, like 'WE ARE GOING TO CHANGE THE PORTLAND MUSIC SCENE.' We thought we'd have a modest crowd, that we'd get modest bands in terms of peoples' awareness of them. But it's kind of like, tapping into something that was waiting to happen."
And, at these last days before the fest, Taratoot is more concerned with details.
"How can we make sure everyone has enough water? Please, God, let's keep everyone hydrated and happy."
To join the PDX Pop listserv, visit
www.indiepop.com/pdx-pop . The CD PDX POP NOW! is available at all local record stores, or can be purchased at the festival.
PDX POP FEST
All shows are at Meow Meow,
320 SE 2nd, and are free and all ages.
Friday, July 9
8:25 Binary Dolls
9:05 The Punk Group
9:50 System + Station
11:15 Viva Voce
11:45 The Minders
12:25 The Forth
Saturday, July 10
12 pm Ross & the Hellpets
1:20 The Divided
2:05 Junior Private Detective
2:45 Bella Fayes
3:25 wow + Flutter
4:10 Per Se
6:15 The Jolenes
6:55 We're From Japan
8:20 Andrew Kaffer
9:00 Schicky Gnarowitz + the Transparent Wings of Joy
9:40 Sarah Dougher
10:25 Empty Set
11:05 Corrina Repp
11:45 Wet Confetti
12:25 Sunset Valley
Sunday July 11
2 pm Stars of Track & Field
2:40 At Dusk
3:20 Loch Lomond
4:05 Gravity and Henry
5:25 Blue Skies for Black Hearts
6:10 The Snuggle-Ups
8:55 Blitzen Trapper
10:20 Tea for Julie
11:00 Jeremy Wilson
11:40 Tara Jane O'Neil
12:20 The Joggers