Photo by Claudio Casanova


Consider, for example, the wildly popular Portland Cello Project, a distinctive homegrown choir of cellos covering everything from Bach to Britney Spears. Or think of bands like Bright Red Paper or Holcombe Waller and the Healers: Both are ascending Portland indie pop bands, and both lean heavily on the sumptuous sound of the cello to define their aesthetic.

Amid such a cello-tastic frenzy, Erik Friedlander would seem to be the right performer arriving at the right time to this year's TBA Festival. "It's only recently people have started to realize the potential of the cello," Friedlander says, explaining the explosion of love for his instrument across musical styles and genres (and beyond Portland, too). Friedlander's genre-busting TBA debut show, Block Ice & Propane, might expand the near-fetishistic passion people have for the instrument.

The New York-reared musician—whose credits range from playing with John Zorn and Dave Douglas to recording alongside Sting and Courtney Love—describes his solo show as a sort of performative travelogue, combining American roots music, video, his father's photography, and stories from Friedlander's childhood memories of life on the grand American road. He uses wisps of phrases like "Americana vibe" and "this music and memory thing" to describe it.

He also admits it took a "huge leap of faith" for him, as an accomplished solo gigger and sideman, to wander off into theatrical territory. But he says the pungent memories of childhood camping trips, and the music and stories those memories evoked, practically begged for a stage.

Though the material he performs in his show is highly personal, Friedlander hopes notes of universality will rise up from the assembled fragments. "This feeling of memory, and putting memory back together," he says, and trails off. "It's ultimately about the warmth and strangeness of being with one's family." Who knew the cello's popular voice could speak so personally?