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MusicWatch Monthly: Festivals galore

Keep keeping your fingers crossed for an Augustful of festivals, from jazz to loopers to hip-hop.

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Setting the festival scene with a color-popping special lens. Photo by Joe Cantrell.
The 2022 Waterfront Blues Festival, caught with a color-popping special lens. Photo by Joe Cantrell.

Holy crap there is a lot happening this month. There are festivals galore happening this month, from Pickathon to multiple Jazz festivals to Hip-hop Week. There is always great music happening throughout the metro area every day, but in the summer the crowds seem bigger and more enthusiastic. And the heat wave hasn’t seemed to deter audiences for the whole summer, with some impressive turnout at the outdoor Waterfront Blues festival and the Cathedral Park Jazz Festival. 

We’ve had a blast covering this year’s lively Chamber Music Northwest summer festival–which we’re not even done with yet. As we await the fall, when classical ensembles big and small begin their seasons, we want to focus a bit more on the other part of Portland’s lively music scene in this interim period. And that means, yes, more festivals.

This Weekend

Pickathon starts this weekend, and has been one of the most hyped festivals of the year–for good reason. The lineup spans everything from weirdo hip-hop and irreverent comedy podcasts to indie folk singers and more deejays than you can imagine. It is a different kind of festival than CMNW: a post-Woodstock countercultural bacchanal of the best current indie music, from Sons of Kemet to Built to Spill. Given the breadth of the grounds and the wooded settings, however, I imagine the “vibe” will be similar to other notable Oregon gatherings, from the remnants of the hippies at the Oregon Country Fair to Reed College’s thesis-burning celebration Renn Fayre (both of which, funny enough, began as true Renaissance Festivals). 

Also this weekend on the 6th is an afternoon celebration of La Guelaguetza in the beautifully wooded Shute Park in Hillsboro, near the library and aquatic center. La Guelaguetza is the Oaxacan annual festival of food, music and dance, and the whole event is organized by members of the local Mixtec community. Hillsboro also has some of the best Mexican food in the Metro area, in my locally-biased opinion–so stop by one of their many great taquerias while you’re out there. 

Another festival this weekend is the Washington Park summer festival at the regrettably under-used Rose Garden Amphitheater. There are three shows this Friday-Saturday-Sunday, all at 6 pm. First up, on Friday, is Fiesta Flamenca (read about that in this month’s DanceWatch). The next show is part of the Albina Music Trust’s Summer of Sound series, with a performance by Portland fusion group Greaterkind–a reprise of sorts of their Cathedral Park Jazz Festival performance earlier last month.

The final Washington Park show is on Sunday: Opera In the Park performing Verdi’s Aida with Met soprano Angela Brown. All three of these shows are free, so there’s really no reason not to go–unless you already made plans to go to one of the many other festivals happening this weekend.

Meanwhile, Opera a la Cart–another of the coolest opera-related things happening this summer–has several more performances left in August in downtown Portland, around the city, and in Vancouver and Oregon City.

Moving midmonthwards

The Vanport Jazz Festival is this weekend at the Colwood Golf Course near the airport. All the VIP tickets are sold out, but there’s still plenty of GA seating available on the lawn. Like the Albina Summer of Sound, the Vanport Jazz Festival has its roots in some upsetting local history, and acts as a tribute to the residents of the flooded city who would help foment Portland’s burgeoning jazz scene in the ‘50s. At the end of the month we get the Vancouver Wine and Jazz Festival, for a different sort of jazz festival setting.

The weekend of the 19th-21st is the Montavilla Jazz Festival, another big one in Portland’s jazz scene. Montavilla always brings some of the big names in Oregon jazz, and this year is no exception: trumpeter Noah Simpson, drummer Barra Brown, the wild and awesome James Powers Relativity Ensemble, pianists Kerry Politzer and George Colligan, saxophonists Idit Shner and Rich Halley, and a couple of large-scale works: PJCE featuring Darrell Grant and Douglas Detrick, performing Rebecca Sanborn and Marilyn Keller’s The Heroine’s Journey; and Tunnel Six’s Columbia River Suite. This is another multi-venue festival, but all the venues are relatively close by and there’s ample time between gigs, so with some prior planning you can catch all the artists. 

Portland’5 continues the Music on Main series this month with a diverse line-up. The 10th brings ‘80s tribute band My Siamese Twin (a reference to the Echo and the Bunnymen song “Lips like Sugar”). The week after, on the 17th, is Outer Orbit–the all-star funk/soul/jazz band we’ve mentioned here plenty of times with all their performances at the local festivals. The final show is Afrobeat collective Jujuba, who you can also catch on the 12th at the Oregon Zoo for their awesome Zoo Nights series. All Music on Main shows are Wednesdays from 5 to 7 pm on Main Street next to the Schnitz.

The end of the Month

PDX Live closes out the month with a damn impressive lineup of Modest Mouse, Goose, Shakey Graves and Father John Misty. Also ending the month is the NW LoopFest, a three-day celebration of one of the best pieces of music tech, the looper. These humble boxes can turn a single guitarist or singer into a one-person band accompanied by impressive layers folding over each other. Looping is some of the most fun I’ve had as a musician, and this sense of joy in chasing unique and unexpected sounds is palpable in a live performance. The nice thing about this festival is that there are three locations–online, in Corvallis and in Portland–so you can catch a show no matter where you are.

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Bag & Baggage Danny and the Deep Blue Sea The Vault Theatre Hillsboro Oregon

Another great festival happening at the end of the month is PDX Pop Now!, which is more in the vein of SXSW, with shows happening all over the place during the last week in August. There’s also a strong DIY ethos running through the proceedings, tracing its roots back to the late nineties when Portland was barely on anyone’s radar except as Little Seattle (or Little Beirut). While the specific places and times aren’t out yet, the line-up is out and it’s a great one. I would definitely catch noise rock outfit Sea Moss, queer art punk band J. Graves, and rapper Mic Capes at the very least. The fest also needs volunteers–so sign up here if you want to meet some new people, get some experience working at a festival, and give yourself something fun to do in the evenings. 

The same week as PopNow! is Portland Hip-Hop Week, the younger of the two festivals. Check out the kickoff show the night of August 20 going into the early morning at The Get Down. Hosting the show is legendary local DJ O.G.ONE, the founder of Hip-Hop Week (among the hundreds of other things he’s done). That Friday brings the annual celebration of the life of Hip-hop Week founder Starchile, who lost his battle to lymphoma at the age of 42 back in 2018. One standout name on the bill: Portland rapper Vursatyl, famous for the 2007 Lifesavas classic Gutterfly: The Original Soundtrack.

If you are into workshops, try out the DJ’ing workshop with Grand Wizzard Theodore, who has to be up there with DJ Kool Herc as originators of hip-hop as an art form by inventing record scratching. Like many important figures in musical history, his Wikipedia page is distressingly short–someone should get on that. This is like having a violin masterclass with Paganini, an opportunity you shouldn’t pass up.

Droning out

Let’s end with a strange one. While writing this month’s column, I just happened to be listening to Sunn O))) (pronounced “sun”), a drone-metal band with some weird and interesting ties to Oregon. The amps the band named themselves after were built in Tualatin and later in Lake Oswego once Fender acquired them, and guitarist Steven O’Malley’s weirdo record label the Ajna Offensive (which I really hope is not nazi-adjacent like a disturbing amount of black metal and neo-folk labels) is based in Jacksonville outside Medford.

This month is also when the great Alice Coltrane would’ve turned 85, so let’s end with Sunn O)))’s beautiful, droning and quasi-spectral tribute to the pianist and composer. 

Charles Rose is a composer, writer and sound engineer born and raised in Portland, Oregon. He graduated from Portland State University with a degree in Sonic Arts and Music Production in 2019. His piano trio Contradanza was the 2018 winner of the Chamber Music Northwest’s Young Composers Competition. He releases music on BandCamp under various aliases. In addition to composing, he is a sound engineer for chamber music group FearNoMusic and is an editor of the Portland State music journal Subito. You can find his writing at Continuousvariations.com.

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