Joe Cantrell

 

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.

“*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.”

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The Cherokee lens, up close

Photographer Joe Cantrell's micro-images blend art and science to pierce time and geology and discover secrets of the shape of things

EDITOR’S NOTE: Many of ArtsWatch’s contributing writers and photographers are themselves artists. Joe Cantrell, an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation who spent 16 years as a photojournalist in Asia, has photographed subjects and celebrations for ArtsWatch ranging from the Waterfront Blues Festival to backstage stories about the opera to classical-music performances ranging from concert halls to musicians’ front porches, as well as chalk art festivals and the immigrant-culture celebrations of Beaverton Market. For several years he’s been working on two special projects of his own, photographing the interior structures of pictographs and exploring the microstructures of geological time in rocks and fossils. For both projects he calls on his Cherokee tradition of viewing the universe.


STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOE CANTRELL


Cherokee tradition embraces outside technology and methods when we think they will be useful. One of the best examples of that was Sequoyah’s remarkable feat of single-handedly developing his syllabary. Sequoyah was one of only a handful of geniuses in human history who have single-handedly invented a written language for their people. It was so effective and easy to learn that illiterate Cherokees could become literate in one week! Compare that to the amount of time and energy we spend to learn English, folks, and the sad state of the language in spite of it.

Growing up in Tahlequah, Cherokee County, Oklahoma, the name Sequoyah surrounded us from the Sequoyah Theater to the “Indian Training School,” as it was known then, to the grade school. He became a part of who we were and would be. Even in my mid 70s, he still is. So as my photography has evolved since they sent me to the Tahlequah High School darkroom, September of 1960, it was natural that Sequoyah’s influence would follow.

I am perplexed by the fact that to meet a popular concept of “real Indians,” the Cherokees back in the Smoky Mountains apparently must emulate Plains Indians, the ones who John Wayne and other show-biz white guys could kill with one pistol shot from a running horse. Last time I was at the Cherokee Holiday Parade down Main Street, Tahlequah, our Principal Chief and Tribal Council wore big eagle feather headdresses. I don’t recall ever seeing a Cherokee man wear a turban, our real traditional head covering, as Sequoyah did.

This image, photographed from a fossil at the Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks & Minerals, in Hillsboro, is from a piece of “the oldest precursors of life, 3.4 billion year old stromatolites,” Cantrell says. “These were prokaryotic, meaning single cells with no nucleus, and were the state of life for about 1.7 billion years in the Precambrian era. They gained nuclei, and with that the ability to adapt and mutate, about 1.7 billion years ago.”

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Blues minus the Waterfront

What's the Fourth of July Weekend without the Blues Festival by the river? On new platforms and minus the big crowds, the beat goes on.


PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOE CANTRELL
STORY BY BOB HICKS


IN THIS MOST UPSIDE-DOWN OF YEARS, even the Fourth of July has had to change its tune. For more than three decades in Portland, the Fourth Weekend has meant heading on down to the Waterfront Blues Festival, that grand jam along the Willamette downtown in Tom McCall Waterfront Park, when several stages jostled and blared with nonstop music from around the nation and sometimes the world, and vendors sold everything from elephant ears and cold beer to floppy-brim hats, and thousands of music fans danced and marched and sang and stomped and cheered and crowded together like hundreds of oysters on dozens of po’ boy sandwiches, and at dusk on the Fourth the sky exploded with the brilliant colors of a thousand fireworks.

That’s not happening in this Year of the Corona. The Blues Fest was among the first big gatherings to peer into the future and call off the show, at least in its usual form. Yes, the lockdown’s loosening, cautiously, although maybe not nearly cautiously enough. Covid-19 cases are spiking in Oregon and nationally, people in stores and elsewhere are routinely defying orders to wear masks, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the closest thing to a national leader on pandemic response, is warning of a flareup to 100,000 new infections a day if Americans don’t follow protocols. You can get a haircut now – carefully – or distance-dine at a restaurant. But even as baseball and basketball are gearing up for shortened seasons, you can’t go out to a ballgame: the stands will be empty of fans. And you can’t go back-to-back and belly-to-belly in the sort of big crowd the Blues Fest ordinarily draws. We’re still a long way from that.

So, just say no to the waterfront. But don’t say no to the Waterfront Blues Festival – at least, not entirely. Pushed out of its comfort zone, the festival’s come up with some alternatives so the beat can go on. You can’t touch it. But you can hear it and you can feel it. Here’s what’s happening:

  • Blues Fest Band Wagon. Friday/Saturday, July 3 & 4. A series of socially distanced mini-concerts in driveways, front porches, and cul-de-sacs across the Portland metro area. Think of them as your friendly neighborhood jams.
  • Blues Fest Broadcast. 9-11 p.m. Saturday, July 4. Portland television station KOIN (6) will broadcast a two-hour special celebrating memorable performances from past festivals, and cap it off with a replay of festival fireworks over the river. Also stream online at www.koin.com.
  • Blues Fest on Air. Noon-7 p.m. Saturday/Sunday, July 4 & 5. Community radio KBOO-FM 90.7 will broadcast seven hours each day of favorite sets and behind-the-scenes tales from past festivals. Also stream online at https://kboo.fm/listen-now.

Still longing for the roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd? Take a photographic journey with Joe Cantrell to the Ancient Days of 2018 and 2019, when the Blues Festival crowds roamed wild and free along the waterfront, bumping and jostling and hugging and laughing in a happy mass of humanity, and the music wrapped around them like a blanket with a beat, and the good times rolled. As they used to say in Brooklyn, wait ’til next year. Maybe they’ll roll again.


THE MUSICMAKERS


Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, 2019

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