Confused as I am about who exactly Musicfest NW is for—it's too expensive for casual showgoers, yet it lacks the clout of an industry showcase like CMJ or SXSW—I must admit that this year's installment of the four-day music festival features a humdinger of a lineup. In addition to the national acts I'm excited to see, I'm particularly happy that some of my favorite new local bands—I'm looking at you, Starfucker and Au (who will, I expect, seduce quite a few Grizzly Bear fans)—get a chance to play for some fresh ears.
Irrespective of the concerts themselves, I get the sense that people most enjoy Musicfest for its atmosphere, when Portland's sleepy downtown temporarily becomes a carnivalesque playground populated by roving street performers and mirthful club-hoppers, many of whom sport Musicfest's official wristband, a $40 wearable ticket that secures its bearer's admission to all Musicfest shows and venues, as well as the adolescent joy derived from leaving the wristband on for a few extra days.
But why does the feeling that Old Town is a "destination" have to be relegated to one weekend a year? Many people move to Portland because they rightly believe that, musically speaking, something special is happening here, something they want to be a part of, as musicians or fans. Yet this aura of artistic prosperity is often belied by the thin crowds at most clubs on most nights. Perhaps if Portland's many venues, particularly those densely packed together around inner W Burnside, banded together to create and accept a common ticket or wristband that would be good for admission to all participating clubs on the night it was purchased, we would begin to see more people coming out to shows, which would be a win for businesses and bands.
Portlanders reluctant to spend $7 to see an unknown band might be more inclined to do so if the cost of admission included an escape clause allowing them to move, for free, to another show down the street if not smitten by their first choice. No one would be put off by planning stress, as you could simply head downtown and enter the first club to cross your path. Despite its collectivist undertones, a common wristband would increase profits. More people would come out more often and show-hop, meaning more food and drinks sold, and more bands heard. As it is, who's paying admission to more than one club a night? People freely moving between venues might even create the sense of a happening downtown scene with an allure similar to Austin's famed 6th Street, and Old Town's rousing, celebratory ambience during Musicfest could be a year-round proposition. Clubs of Portland, unite!
Musicfest NW happens Thursday, September 6 through Sunday, September 9.