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Portland, consider yourself incredibly blessed: there are more music festivals and local series than you can shake a stick at, and certainly more than we have room to list here. You’ll find a wide-range of music festivals year-round, including punk and rock at Lose Yr Mind Fest in fall, loads of shows at the multi-venue Biamp Portland Jazz Festival in winter, and a bevy of classic and contemporary blues at the massive Waterfront Blues Festival in the summer. But what if you want to go out and see a great show… like, right now or in the near future? What follows are a mix of recurring, locally focused music nights, as well as the must-see music festivals that are making Portland a better place.
1. Rontoms’ Sunday Sessions
Though it’s not a traditional music venue, that’s one of the major reasons Portlanders adore attending Sunday Sessions at Rontoms, which is a genuine hipster bar—but in a good way. Sticking to no genre in particular, Rontoms’ Sunday Sessions is always free, and the series becomes extra appealing during the wet and cold months, when artists take to the center of the stylish room for more cozy, intimate sets by the fireplace, where one can eat a grilled cheese and drink mulled wine. In the summer, Sunday Sessions goes off on the expansive back patio, where there also happen to be fire pits!
Rontoms, 600 E Burnside, every Sunday, 8 pm, free
2. PDX Pop Now!
While free music festivals aren’t as common as they used to be (sorry, Waterfront Blues Fest fans!), PDX Pop Now! continues to be a free, all-ages music festival that spans a week and is run entirely by volunteers. Designed to increase participation and inclusiveness for Portland’s self-sustained music scene, the festival uses a somewhat democratic process of having volunteers listen to track submissions and vote for the songs that appear on PDX Pop Now!’s annual compilation album. The fest used to go on at a couple stages nestled under the Morrison Bridge, but in 2022 they chose to do things a bit differently by moving to a multi-venue model with various 21+ shows and a cover charge, as well as two all-ages outdoor shows anchoring the week. This was in response to the pandemic, and to help support Portland’s independently owned venues.
PDX Pop Now!, various venues, dates, and times. Stand by for their 2023 announcement.
Launched in 1999, Pickathon music festival is known to some as the "anti-music festival” by eliminating or greatly reducing all the things about music festivals that are so damn unpleasant: litter, waste, and price gouging concessions. While the festival’s grounds are actually located at Pendarvis Farm in Happy Valley, about 16 miles outside the city, Pickathon has built a cult-following in Portland and beyond for its excellent lineups, gorgeous natural setting, family friendliness (hello family feeding nest!), and wellness programming. Think: mountain views while you see GZA (of Wu-Tang Clan) live, escaping the summer heat to see your favorite artist inside a cool shady forest, or a Sons of Kemet performance with special guest Esperanza Spalding on an eco-friendly art installation stage. And don’t even get us started on their pioneering no-waste model. Who knew reusable utensils, dishes, and cups at a music festival could be so delightful?
Pickathon, Happy Valley, OR, Aug 3-6, free-$410, all ages
4. A Beat Happening
A Beat Happening is a monthly hip-hop showcase/label/YouTube channel that uniquely caters to producers over emcees—and that’s the way we like it. The concert series is co-hosted and resident DJ’d by Portland-based producer Luvjones and DJ Free Tillman, who by the way, has provided yet another version of SZA’s “Kill Bill’’ that I didn’t know I needed. The duo keeps the party energized and grooving before billed beatmakers take to the decks. There’s something about going out on the town to hear well-made production, nostalgic remixes and flips of classic records, and enjoying it all in a venue that makes it all feel very art-y. Formerly held at spots like retro music/art store Future Shock, or popular inner SE bar venue Produce Row, A Beat Happening recently established its new home at Lolo Pass, a swanky hostel on East Burnside. Recent shows have highlighted producers and DJs like VNPRT, Sxlxmxn, Surebert, Sir Nai, Hot16, NorthernDraw, and Snugsworth. ABH is also known to include the occasional rapper on its lineups, like a recent appearance from [E]mpress. The showcase also works with other organizations to shine a spotlight on local producers at more stages throughout Portland; there’s a new Beats & Rhymes showcase co-presented with ABH and former series Mic Check PDX, while ABH also does all-ages events and programming with music nonprofit Friends of Noise.
A Beat Happening, Lolo Pass, 1616 E Burnside, monthly, 4 pm-7 pm, free, all ages
5. The Thesis
We are no stranger to singing the praises of The Thesis, a monthly local hip-hop concert co-founded in 2014 by Grant Stolle (AKA resident DJ Verbz), Mac Smiff of We Out Here Magazine, and Blake Hickman of Good Cheer Records. Since 2014, the Thesis has only missed a few months of shows due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols, and the longstanding series at Kelly’s Olympian has established itself as Portland’s premiere monthly hip-hop showcase. For the 21-and-up crowd, it’s a reliable (and much-needed) home for hip-hop music and nightlife in Portland. Though each show has an intimate, small-town feel, the monthly show continues to add to its throng of followers by way of consistent lineups that merge locals with out-of-town talent. For a very long time, The Thesis’ price of admission was just $5, but nowadays you’ll have to pay the still-affordable-but-more-respectable price of $15 in advance, $20 at the door. (Full-disclosure: I used to help out with the Thesis’ guest list in pre-COVID times.)
The Thesis, Kelly’s Olympian, 426 SW Washington, every first Thursday, 9 pm, $15 adv, $20 door