Drive into town and make a great sound. That could be the motto for SoundsTruck NW, a brand new, comprehensive mobile stage that can expand performances throughout the Pacific Northwest.
What started as a germ of an idea with Yoko and Jon Greeney hatched into something much, much larger. The wife-husband team are acclaimed Portland-based musicians. Yoko is a pianist who plays regularly with many ensembles, maintains a studio, and teaches at Lewis & Clark College. Jon is the Principal Timpanist of the Oregon Symphony, collaborates often with local musicians, and teaches at Portland State University.
“During the pandemic, all of the concerts were cancelled,” said Yoko during a Zoom call. “No one knew how long the pandemic would last or whether the concert scene would be different afterwards. So we thought that on outdoor venue would be a good way to keep performances going.”
Like many married couples, Jon quickly filled in the next sentence without skipping a beat.
“Our little idea morphed organically from an outdoor stage to a mobile outdoor stage and then a multimedia mobile outdoor stage,” said Jon. “We thought of how we could bring music to communities, including those that don’t have a venue. So then we started a non-profit organization, and began working with a tiny-house-building company called Tiny Heirloom, and a sound company, Tone Proper. It’s been a snowball effect. Now the snowball is the size of Mt. Hood!”
“How did this happen!” laughed Yoko. “It’s been amazing!”
The stage is custom-built into a trailer that includes a stage extension.
“We can set up in a flat location,” explained Jon. “After you drive up, you detach the trailer from the truck. The trailer has motorized jacks that you use to level it. Once everything is level, you can attach the stairs to the back, which has a door, and go onto the main stage. From inside the stage, you can then extend the stage extension, which has manual jacks. Once it is extended, you can open the awning door. All of that is done electronically.”
“The SoundsTruck is totally off the grid,” said Yoko. “We have solar panels.”
“And a huge battery bay with at least eight or more hours of power,” added Jon. “So there is no need to plug in anywhere. And it is all water resistant.”
“Everything is built in,” remarked Yoko. “You don’t need to set up speakers, and we have two screens – one on either side of the stage – to play video too.”
“The initial set up takes thirty minutes,” said Jon. “Then the musicians can go on stage and the sound engineer can mic them up and start working on the audio. There is a rack that the audience can’t see that has inputs for the audio engineer, and there are inputs throughout the walls on the stage for easy plug in. The audio engineer will have an iPad and can go out in the front and walk around and tweak things with their iPad. There is a lighting design with presets that can also be controlled. So depending on how complicated the audio and lighting are, that could take 15 minutes or a half an hour. The only other thing remaining is to put the skirt around the stage.”
SoundsTruck NW includes a high-end Yamaha N3X AvantGrand piano.
“The Yamaha is a hybrid baby grand that uses real piano action but with digital triggers instead of strings,” said Jon. “It has a lid that opens and a soundboard with eleven speakers. It responds and acts like an acoustic piano. It sounds terrific.”
The Greeneys estimate that the SoundsTruck with the extended stage can accommodate around eight performers.
“We initially thought of chamber music, but this has morphed,” said Jon “Because the performances are outside, they will need to be amplified. We realized that we could accommodate singer-songwriters, jazz groups, and other small groups.”
“But it doesn’t have to be just music,” said Yoko. “You could have story-time. The pages of the books could be displayed on the screen. Or you could have a camera on an arts and crafts person, and you could see their hands on the screens while they made something.”
“The SoundsTruck comes with two crew members: the truck driver and the engineer,” said Jon. “Both will set up the stage and the audio engineer will do his thing and boom you are ready for the show. We have a Chevy 2500 to drive it to the performance location. There have been driving sessions with the tiny home builders. I’ve been going to those, but I think that I will be last on the list of backup drivers. We’ll have a professional driver and engineer!”
I had to ask if Yoko will drive the truck.
“I want to drive it someday,” she replied quickly with a laugh.
“A site visit is required,” said Jon. “We have to make sure that it is feasible to maneuver the trailer there. We have to look at things like where the sun will be. Where will the audience be.”
SoundsTruck NW can be rented, but it already has bookings.
“We already have twenty concerts lined up,” said Jon. “We are cooperating with Portland Parks and Recreation. We have a free community concert series. Niel DePonte is renting the SoundsTruck for four shows at The Barn. So things are underway. It’s exciting!”
Charlie Brown III, Lo Steele, and folk duo Faith & Majesty perform in the SoundsTruck at Cathedral Park this Sunday, June 18. Info here.