You know that Portlanders' collective attitude toward tobacco has taken a decisive turn for the cancer-conscious when a local decadence-themed music venue that hosts recurring events with names like "Sinferno Cabaret" and "Karaoke from Hell" not only politely complies with Oregon's freshly ratified ban on smoking in bars and taverns, but does so voluntarily a full year before January 1, 2009, when the law requires them to do so. Surprising though it may be, those who have caught a show at unabashedly debauched downtown club Dante's in 2008 can confirm that the nightspot has made such an improbable scenario a reality, having put the kibosh on smoking in its main room beginning this past New Year's Day (it is still allowed in the smaller, partially walled-off Limbo Lounge side of the space, and in the balcony). Hallelujah!

Debunking the counterfactual arguments that the smoking ban could do harm to Oregon businesses, Dante's owner and booker Frank Faillace explained the preemptive shift to non-smoking status: "We thought it would be conducive for our growing regular daily lunch crowd in the main room every day, and we could get new carpet and tables and chairs and paint (all next week) and not worry about them getting so burned and dirty from all the cigarettes and smoke. And a lot of customers and artists, when asked, said they preferred to be in a smoke-free room while watching a performance or performing."

Engrossed as many of us are in the astonishing abundance of music being created in Portland right now, it's sometimes difficult to appreciate the profound effects that glamour-less regulatory policy changes like the smoking ban (or, ahem, proposed OLCC all-ages reform) can have on the culture of music-making by determining where music can be performed, under what conditions, and to whom. The annals of Portland music history are organized by significant, scene-making changes of this nature, and we happily have the opportunity to learn about one such pivotal moment, and the art it made possible, on Sunday, January 27 at 2 pm at Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium, when local music historian Valerie Brown delivers what promises to be a can't-miss lecture for local music fans, titled "Music on the Cusp: From Folk to Acid Rock in Portland Coffeehouses, 1967-1970." Brown's talk will explore the music that flourished in our city's coffee houses before 1973, when bars and taverns became licensed music venues.

Some of the Woodstock Era's communal spirit still lives on in Portland, proven in the way our music community has rallied to support colleagues who've hit upon hard times. Sadly, it's time to rally again: Andre Sanabria, the auteur behind local grindcore band blowupnihilist, lost much of his gear, his merch, and his tour vehicle when his van flipped and rolled in a snowstorm on I-84 last week. Sanabria and the van's two other passengers escaped the wreck essentially unharmed, but the accident has left him with bills to pay, and without the ability to play, record, or tour. Fans and friends can help blowupnihilist get back up and running by making donations to Sanabria via his PayPal account:

If you are looking for a way to support and celebrate the local music community as a whole, stop by Backspace at 7 pm on Tuesday, January 29, for the PDX Pop Now! 2008 kick-off volunteer meeting (Disclosure: I am one of the organizers). All are welcome to be involved in this year's projects, including the festival, all-ages music campaign, and compilation CD. Speaking of which, track submissions for this year's compilation album are being accepted until February 29. See for more information.