CULTURE

The Cabin (and the Music) in the Woods

"Aberdeen," Matt Sheehy’s musical memoir of grief and rebirth, is livestreaming this weekend

By the time I was done watching the new, live-streaming performance of Aberdeen, a surreal and soulful album from the Portland indie-rock band Lost Lander, I felt like an expert on its star, Matt Sheehy. I wasn’t, of course—Aberdeen is just one 75-minute fragment of Sheehy’s psyche—but the performance was so intimate that I felt like I was.

Part concert, part confessional and part woozy fantasy, this rendition of Aberdeen may seem like old news to people familiar with Sheehy’s nakedly emotional, gently yearning songs. Those who aren’t acquainted with his work are about to discover a brilliant and bizarre plunge into the mind of a singular artist.

Matt Sheehy, in a screen shot from the promo video for “Aberdeen.”

Aberdeen begins with Sheehy standing alone in a forest (the performances are being streamed from Corbett, Oregon). With disarming frankness, he begins telling us about some of the most anguished moments of his life, including the death of his mother. In one of the show’s many flashbacks, his girlfriend Sarah (bandmate Sarah Fennell) asks him, “Did your mom dying make you want to have kids?”

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Michael A. Gibbons, 1943-2020

The longtime Oregon artist, who helped spark the creation of Toledo's arts colony, has a show at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg

Longtime Oregon artist Michael A. Gibbons died July 2 at his home in Toledo, from complications following a stroke in 2016. He was 76. Born in Portland, he moved to the Oregon Coast when he was 25 and was instrumental in the establishment of Toledo as something of an artists’ colony, with several studios and galleries and the annual Labor Day Art Walk.

According to his online obituary, Gibbons was inspired as an art student by the landscape paintings of the 19th century French artist Corot. “I had to paint things that struck people like that,” the obituary quotes him as saying in a 2014 newspaper interview. “I saw dawn, that silvery morning light and soft colors. They weren’t garish. It was like looking at a prayer.”

Michael A. Gibbons and his wife, Judith “Judy” Mortenson, in an undated photo via Bateman Funeral Home.

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Dangerous Days: Being Black in America

Wondering why "Black Lives Matter" matters? The answer's baked into the nation's racial attitudes and its acceptance of police violence

These are the most dangerous days to be Black in America. 

On May 25, via social media, the world watched George Floyd be brutally murdered by police officer Derek Chauvin. Since then, America has erupted in racial and social unrest – protests, riots, statues toppled, flags changed, cops out of control. Historically, there’s nothing America hates more than being called out for its racism, and it will do anything to not have to change its ways. The response to calls for social justice have been one hundred percent on-brand. Violence, thick and pungent and unpredictable, is in the air. These are the days when, in the past, churches were bombed and children were killed, civil rights leaders were assassinated, men were lynched, civil wars were fought. At the best of times, Black people live with the knowledge that at any moment, for any reason, everything they have fought for, built, achieved, can suddenly be snatched away because of the color of their skin. We learn to live with that awareness at an early age.* But in times like these, that awareness needs to be turned up to defcon five, because white America is on the defensive.

Tributes to George Floyd outside Cup Foods in Minneapolis, where Floyd died after a police officer held a knee to his neck for nearly 8 minutes. Floyd’s death sparked a national protest movement that is still going strong. Photo: Vasanthtcs / Wikimedia Commons

Today it’s the Fourth of July. I was asked to write this a month ago. But it’s been hard. I wake up every day angry. A long time ago I had to take an anger management class. In that class they taught us that anger is never the first emotion. There’s always something underlying that drives it: fear, frustration, guilt, pain. This has never been more apparent than in the past month. I wake up some days and my hands are shaking and it feels like I’ve had three cups of coffee before I’ve touched a drop. Turning on the news or social media is like stepping into the ring with a heavyweight. Every day, every hour, every minute, there’s a new video, a new outrage, a new spasm of violence. Responding, reacting, donating, writing. It feels like you’re at the beach trying to mop up the ocean. 

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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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Accounts to follow: Documenting protest and celebrating community

Instagram accounts of Oregon photographers who are documenting current protests and celebrating Black experience

This is the third  in a series of stories about outstanding Oregon-based artists to follow on Instagram. The series focuses on accounts that are regularly updated with high-quality images that allow followers to engage with the content regardless of location. Curated by the artists themselves, Instagram accounts offer the opportunity to view completed and in-progress artwork and to get a glimpse into the artists’ ideas, process, and studio practices.

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“We affirm our humanity, our contributions to this society, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.” This is just one of the many rallying points of Black Lives Matter, “a Black-centered political will and movement building project” that Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi founded in 2013. Current protests in support of Black Lives Matter have been going strong for a month, their momentum and visibility strengthening and expanding existing anti-racist critiques of many facets of society. In visual art, this often takes the form of challenging the power structures of art museums and galleries, arts publications, and the art departments of educational institutions.

Police violence ignited the current wave of protests, but more broadly, Black Lives Matter aims to dismantle all forms of white supremacy and anti-Blackness.  It is about transforming society, including “creating space for Black imagination and innovation, and centering Black joy.” The Instagram accounts of Portland photographers Saman Haaji, Joseph Blake, and Mariah Harris are three spaces where the ideals of Black Lives Matter, the specificity of local protests, and the rich breadth of Black creativity converge.

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A virtual take on a total art form

Kids in Newport’s Online Summer Drama Club will learn everything from props to acting to accountability – culminating in a play – via computer

Two years ago, Jennifer Hamilton began providing after-school theater classes to kids at the Newport Performing Arts Center. She even persuaded the bus company to create a new stop for the pint-sized performers. She also started School’s Out, Theatre’s In for days when schools are not in session, and this year had planned a two-week summer camp. That, of course, had to be canceled because of COVID-19.


THE ART OF LEARNING: An Occasional Series


Jennifer Hamilton says teaching theater to children “creates cooperation, support, just like a team sport.”

Instead, Hamilton is hosting the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts’ Online Summer Drama Club. Beginning July 6, students entering third through eighth grade will meet twice weekly for eight weeks in virtual classes, culminating Aug. 28 with a day of performances. Registration is still open, with a fee of $80.

Hamilton has a BA in theater from Sterling College in Kansas and a master’s in theater from the University of Kansas. She serves on the board for the American Association of Community Theatre and has been instrumental in developing and running the group’s national Youth Theatre conferences. We talked with her about what both she and kids get out of theater and how a virtual theater class is going to work.

What inspired you to go into children’s theater?

Hamilton:  I’d gone to college and studied theater and speech. Eight or nine years later, I decided to go back to grad school. Halfway through, a job opened up for the education director at the Topeka Civic Theatre & Academy, which has a children’s theater department. I thought, these jobs are far and few between; I need to take this. I fell in love. It’s such a reward to see kids put on a show, having a blast at camp. When I started, the camp had 30 kids. When I left 12 years later, we had over 300 students enrolling.

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How Portland’s big dance organizations responded to Black Lives Matter

Portland's very white dance companies attracted blowback from the dance community and agreed to change

For the past several weeks, conversations and arguments around race and the arts have arisen nationally and locally. In the Portland dance community, they’ve been driven by the dancers themselves, many of whom  have concluded that the city’s big companies—Oregon Ballet Theatre, BodyVox and NW Dance Project, along with its major dance presenter, White Bird—could do a lot more than they’ve done in addressing systemic racism in both the art form and their own organizations. And they’ve taken to Instagram and Facebook to express their opinions. 

“It takes someone in a position of power to advocate for someone who is disenfranchised,” said DarVejon Jones, a Black choreographer, teacher, and dancer in Portland. Jones explained what he and many Black Americans have experienced: that you can’t speak up because you fear the systems of power in place around you. “That’s what white supremacy says, it makes you feel like you have no agency to talk about your own life. When you do, you feel like a squeaky wheel,” he said recently in an interview with me. 

Nonetheless, he and many other local dancers have been speaking up. And having been prodded, the dance companies have responded, often defensively and often without the clarity that might satisfy their dancers, the dance community and even their boards of directors.

ArtsWatch asked the leadership of the Big Four some questions about how they are reacting to Black Lives Matter and its implications. Each company is different: different history, different financial arrangements, different artistic focus. But for the first time in some cases, they are hearing criticism from the dance community itself and they are all looking intensely at the same problem. Here’s what we found.

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