A joyful front-yard noise

Concert hall? Who needs a concert hall? A classical combo puts on a show in the neighborhood – and rocks out in the process


PHOTOS AND STORY BY JOE CANTRELL


Editor’s note: The thing about music is, people do it together. The thing about Our Current Reality is, people are apart. No concert halls open = no concerts. No matter how much musicians want to get together and make music, social distancing and the long arm of state restrictions say no. And no matter how much audiences want to hear their favorite musicians playing in real time and real space, simple logistics say, not now.

What are they going to do? Put on a concert in the front yard?

Well, yes.

That’s exactly what a select group of prominent Portland musicians of the classical persuasion, tired of hanging around doing études and scales in their parlors and basements, did on Saturday afternoon along a Northeast Portland residential street, with an equally select audience of friends and neighbors and the odd cat or dog or big stuffed teddy bear in a red wagon.

Photographer Joe Cantrell was among the crowd, and along with the photos below filed this report to ArtsWatch, in an email prominently headed THE TALE WAGNER DOGS, or A FRONT YARD CONCERT IN NEPDX:

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“Punsters gotta pun: Seems like there’s another Götterdämmerung around every corner these days, but this was in the middle of the perfect suburban block, far from the corners and farther from destruction. It was the opposite: talented generous people coming as together as the Centers for Disease Control allows to make fun music and be healed, or at least relieved. And as one who went there feeling bleak and disheartened but left joyful, yr fthfl srvnt confirms it worked.

“Five months ago, as the novel coronavirus’ damage spread, the Oregon Symphony canceled the remainder of its 2019-20 live performances; people could not sit side by side in the Schnitz until the disease abated. In response, individual members of the symphony gave seven solo or ensemble performances in their yards, sometimes from their porches. These recitals were quickly put together and publicized only in localized areas to avoid crowding and potential spread of COVID-19. One of those performances was in a particularly homey Northeast Portland neighborhood where two violinists and a trombonist put on a gem for their neighbors. There have been sporadic, scattered individual performances since then, but not many. However, in the words of the immortal cellist Nancy Ives, ‘Performers gotta perform.’

“So this Saturday afternoon, five friends got together again to play music probably/possibly* written before they were born, except this wasn’t Haydn and Vivaldi. It was The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, sort of Blues, and some kindy country sangin’ that had been composed by the musicians themselves. No amps, no electricity involved except that which bound them and the assembled-at-masked-distance neighborhood in the magical charge that music brings. They said they were going to play 45 minutes, topped an hour, and the audience demanded and got an encore. Bravo to all: the smiling eyes above the masks showed that as unanimous.

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“*Rough estimate by a geezer in attendance, but they all looked like kids to him.”

“Cat, a tonic sitting in the picture window next door watching unusual human behavior. She requested Alice in Chains but we told her Alice was occupied elsewhere in a nap.”
Pete Frajola and Trish Thompson, guitarist/singer and singer. “This is rock and roll; I think maybe we can still say that.”
Frajola, Thompson, Alec Burton on drums, Tim Clift, and Max Williams, with “groupies” in foreground.
Portland’s typically eclectic audience.
Wagner dogs with tails, as advertised.
The band in full crescendo.
After-concert group hug, in the Age of Covid-19.

About the author

I spent my first 21 years in Tahlequah, Cherokee County, Oklahoma, assuming that except for a few unfortunate spots, ‘everybody’ was part Cherokee, and son of the soil. Volunteered for Vietnam because that’s what we did. After two stints, hoping to gain insight, perhaps do something constructive, I spent the next 16 years as a photojournalist in Asia, living much like the lower income urban peasants and learning a lot. Moved back to the USA in 1986, tried photojournalism and found that the most important subjects were football and basketball, never mind humankind. In 1992, age 46, I became single dad of my 3-year-old daughter and spent the next two decades working regular jobs, at which I was not very good, to keep a roof over our heads, but we made it. She’s retail sales supervisor for Sony, Los Angeles. Wowee! The VA finally acknowledged that the war had affected me badly and gave me a disability pension. I regard that as a stipend for continuing to serve humanity as I can, to use my abilities to facilitate insight and awareness, so I shoot a lot of volunteer stuff for worthy institutions and do artistic/scientific work from our Cherokee perspective well into many nights. Come along!

2 Responses.

  1. E. Pluribus Yumyum says:

    Whoever wrote the photo captions should have made the one, “Dogs Wagner tails, as advertised”

    Anybody knows that.

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