Here’s something we don’t talk about enough: Music is work. When we do think about that aspect of making music, we tend to think of the Superstar Stuff, eight hours practicing Bach every day, or going to Juilliard, or submitting your life to “the call,” or whatever. What we don’t often talk about is how much of a grind it is to actually make music, to make music happen, to make music possible, to make sure musicians can pay rent and buy groceries, to teach the next generation of musicians, to make music relevant and available. And, of course, to make it all sound good.
And the most important thing of all — music means working together. All different kinds of musicians, composers and performers and conductors and teachers. Stage production and audio production, mics and music stands, mixing boards and lighting rigs, roadies and engineers, bus drivers and luthiers, costume designers and bouncers. The vast apparatus of arts administration, from grant writing to venue booking to ticket sales to promotions to who sweeps up after the concert.
And then there’s you, dear reader, the audience. You’re part of the work, too.
Run, Adam, run!
Here’s a little factoid they teach you in music school: “Opera” is the plural of “opus,” which means “work” (you hear an echo of that in the Spanish “obrero”). We call it that because opera isn’t only singing, or only acting, or only words, or only music, or only dance, or only any one thing by itself – it’s the works.
This Thursday and through the weekend – September 7-10, at Shaking The Tree Theatre in Southeast Portland – our favorite rogue opera company, Renegade Opera, stages Adam’s Run, created in 2015 by Idahoan composer Ruby Fulton and librettist Baynard Woods. It was originally an “opera movie” written for Rhymes With Opera (of which Fulton was a founding member) and directed by Rachel Dwiggins, and you can watch an excerpt from the movie (on YouTube) and listen to the whole album (on Bandcamp) right here:
It’s a weirdo opera, totally appropriate for Renegade:
Set in a near-future America in the throes of climate collapse, it features TV personalities Julie Shore (the Existentialist Weather Woman) and Revered Billy Noble (the Environmentalist Evangelist) vying for America’s viewership. Despite ideological differences, Billy and Julie choose to work together, but not without retaliation from Billy’s fervent followers. TV producer Dana Daring tells their story as a series of flashbacks.
You can listen to Jenna Yokoyama’s recent Stage & Studio interview with Adam’s Run director (and Renegade co-founder) Danielle Jagelski right here. Besides Jagelski’s work – and the work of Renegade as a whole (read Max Tapogna’s interview with Jagelski and co-founder Madeline Ross here) – what makes this production particularly special is its cast.
Lisa Neher plays Daring, the framing character. You know all about Neher already from her work as a singer, a singing and composing coach, a champion of new music, and a composer of short operas (sometimes very short). Most recently, her mini-opera Sense of Self was performed at this year’s New Music Gathering. Before that, she was the instigator of 2021’s One Voice Project Micro Opera Project, which you can watch here. And you can read Bennett Campbell Ferguson’s pandemic-era profile of Neher right here.
Madeleine Tran – “Julie Shore (the Existentialist Weather Woman)” — has been performing all over the place since graduating from University of Portland a few years back. You’ve heard her with PSU’s Queer Opera, PSU’s Straight Opera, Third Rail Repertory’s gender-bent production last year of The Music Man, Oregon Children’s Theatre’s production this year of Where The Mountain Meets The Moon, and in previous Renegade productions (notably 2021’s Orfeo in Underland).
And then there’s Quinton Gardner. Sure, sure, he too is a regular “vocalist” and a “vocal coach,” and you can get ahold of him at his Facebook page here. But just hang on a damn minute and take a look at what this man does in his spare time:
This, my friends, is Quinton Gardner. Full Metal Motherfuckin’ Jackson. He’s playing “Reverend Billy Noble (the Environmentalist Evangelist)” in Renegade’s production, and holy chao, does that sound like it’s going to really tie the room together.
Get out while you still can
Three outdoor events struck us, here at the tail end of summer: Jim Pepper Native Arts Festival, Portland Taiko Farm Festival, and Cascadia Composers at Leach Botanical Gardens. It’s probably not your literal last chance to enjoy warm weather in Oregon (global warming is good for something after all) but you might as well pretend it is.
On the ninth – this Saturday, if you’re reading this on or around Labor Day – it’s the eleventh annual Jim PepperFest at Parkrose High School in Northeast Portland. This is the first time they’ve really done one of these since 2019 (but Oregon Stoner Rock band Queen Chief played last year’s “mostly virtual” festival, and you can watch that here). This year’s lineup includes an assortment of Indigenous artists including singers Renee Roman Nose and Star Nayea, hip-hop brothers Scott and Levi Kalama (aka Blue Flamez), singer-songwriter and Oregon Music Hall of Famer Gary Ogan, and plenty more. All-ages, free and open to the public, on the lawn at Parkrose on Northeast Shaver Street, 11 am to 7 pm.
Oh wait, hang on: Are you just hearing about Jim Pepper for the first time right now? Lucky you! Pepper was a saxophonist and composer, a truly Native Oregonian whose childhood home was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places. Check out Mr. Eagle Tone in his prime, on Oregon TV in 1981:
Also on the ninth, Portland Taiko returns to Triskelee Family Farm in West Linn, and that’s especially appropriate for a type of music that involves playing giant Japanese drums very loudly. These behemoths were originally used in warfare and to delineate village boundaries – they’re meant for outdoor use. You can listen to them inside, of course, but this is their natural habitat. The concert starts at 4, with farm tours and snacks and whatnot at 3. Bring your own blankets and lawn chairs.
And keep your blankets and lawn chairs in the car for the next day’s concert, Sunday the 10th, when Cascadia Composers return to Leach Botanical Gardens in Southeast Portland for Crossing Paths 2023, the first concert of their 2023 season and their third at Leach (watch the first one in its entirety right here, and watch the second one here). It’s also their first concert since co-founder David Bernstein passed (read Brett Campbell’s tribute here), and will feature his music and his inimitable spirit – ”so let it be done.”
This one’s also an early start – 5 p.m. – and features music by Bernstein and longtime Cascadians Ted Clifford and Jan Mittelstaedt alongside off-grid hermit Daniel Gall, Deep Listening disciple Kevin Bryant Lay, and Betty R. Wishart. And there are some badass performers: Oregon Symphony’s extraordinary principal tubist, JátTik Clark, who also anchors the Rose City Brass Quintet; soprano Gabrielle Juliette Widman, also known as GiddyMuse; flutist Amelia Lukas; clarinetists Lisa Lipton and Ricky Smith; and guitarists Lay and Carson Lattimore.
Fear is the mindkiller
Also this weekend, September 8-10: Lose Yr Mind Festival IX, which is not a Dune reference but simply the Roman version of the Arabic numeral 9, meaning this is the ninth time they’ve done this little microfest of (mostly) local bands. Last year we had fun drawing you a little stumbling map of Industrial Southeast Portland, but this year we trust you can do that work on your own using the fest’s schedule. We’ll be content to point out a handful of names on this year’s lineup, via their most recent Bandcamp releases.
And then proceed to another of Oregon’s Living Legends, Dead Moon’s Toody Cole:
And end with the Lose Yr Mind afterparty at Rontoms, starring a pair of bizarro Portland acts, the “sci-fi roadhouse music & noise collage” of Silver Triplets of the Rio Hondo and the “two guitars, pedal steel, tenor saxophone, bass, and big drum” of Abronia:
Meanwhile, over in the “classical” world, Third Angle New Music and Fear No Music both start their seasons this month. That’s a bit of a misstatement in 3A’s case: They’ve been doing their informal Listening Labs and Decibel Series all summer long, and those continue this month with violinist-author Ling Ling Huang on the 9th and sound genius Branic Howard on the 17th. The season proper starts next month with Oregon’s Greatest Living Singer, Hannah Penn – but we’ll get back to the petticoats in October.
FNM’s season starts with two fearless gatherings on the 17th and 18th. First up is the inaugural iteration of their new De-Mystifying New Music Series at Reed College’s Eliot Chapel. That’s at 11 on a Sunday morning, so it’ll probably feel even more like church than FNM concerts normally do. Pastries and coffee are promised. Fellowship hour for classical nerds is what it sounds like to the present author. The next night, on FNM’s traditional Monday evening at The Old Church, it’s WIRED: An Electroacoustic Evening, featuring music by Flannery Cunningham, Annie Gosfield, Kamala Sankaram, Hannah Ishizaki, Eve Beglarian, and Kaija Saariaho.
No Oregonian composers on any of these classical programs, of course, aside from Branic. Keep dreaming, kids.
Doug Fir Lounge has finally released News: their move around the corner to 301 S.E. Morrison is still on, and they hope to have live shows rolling at the new location early next year. The legendary Burnside location is nearly over, and the final round of concerts has begun. And who could be a better final act than Ural Thomas? At the end of the month, September 30, Doug Fir will hold its last Burnside concert, featuring the revered soul singer with his band The Pain.
Like Jim Pepper, Thomas is one of Oregon’s musical gems: He was “Rose City’s Soul Brother Number One” in the ‘50s and ‘60s, traveled the country making music and cutting records, and ended up doing an astonishing forty-night run at The Apollo. Then, frustrated with the music biz, he came home, settled down in North Portland, and kept making music, eventually palling around with Laura Veirs drummer Scott McGee and cutting new records (which, yes, you can buy on vinyl). It’s a great story, classic Portland, the stuff dreams are made of. And you get to catch this party at one of the greatest venues in town. Burn, baby, burn.
A few other notable local acts haunt the home stretch at Doug Fir. On the 15th, it’s the “sad indie pop punk” of hilariously-named Nonbinary Girlfriend, performing with the infamous harp-looper Cyane (formerly infamous as Dolphin Midwives). On the 27th, it’s the “melodramatic synth pop” of Bijoux Cone, celebrating the release of their upcoming album Love Is Trash.
Once Doug Fir closes, Mississippi Studios will become The Best Venue In Town (yes, the new Doug Fir will have to reclaim its crown next year). The sound is great, the vibe is wonderful, there’s always a wide variety of good music happening there, and the smoking patio is to die for.
A few shows stand out this month. On the 9th, it’s a different harp-centric Oregon band: Sheers, featuring harpist-vocalist-composer Lily Breshears and a backup band comprised of madman multi-instrumentalist Aaron Stern, violinist and film composer Mel Guérison, and gonzo jazz drummer Daniel Rossi.
On the 18th, it’s a touring band (I know, I know) that you shouldn’t miss: Dengue Fever, the Los Angeles retro-psych band with the diseased name and the Cambodian lead singer. We first heard of this crew via another California band, Secret Chiefs 3, whose cryptic leader produced their first album and released it on his label in 2003. We’ve seen them live a few times over the years, sometimes with the Chiefs, and it’s always a good time. This time around they’re touring their upcoming album Ting Mong, named for a mannequin creature from Khmer folklore.
On the 28th, it’s another touring band: the super-duper out-and-proud seminal gay punk band Pansy Division. These living legends of the ‘90s San Francisco pop rock scene are worth seeing live no matter what, but there’s an even better reason to check them out this month: Portland’s own favorite queer power trio Gaytheist is opening, and you should never miss a chance to hear Gaytheist play live. Come for the puns, stay for the riffs.
If Doug Fir and Mississippi have an exact polar opposite, it’s The World Famous Kenton Club in North Portland. The less we say about it the better – you just have to go experience this Old Portland Holdout for yourself. They have music all the damn time (and when they don’t, there’s a jukebox crammed up next to the pool tables), and on the 15th they’re hosting three perfectly crusty local bands: Davey Bones (aka Patrick Bayliss, with a new backing band and a new album), Quando Quando Quando, and The Mistons (the ones who have an etched record coming out on Nadine Records this year). Do you feel lucky, punk?
Well? Do ya?
We end the month with two Oregon mononymic composers that probably don’t get referred to as “mononymic composers” very often: Yawa and Schaus, who will perform (with botanist and wildfire advisor Ghost Piss) at Holocene in Southeast Portland on the 27th. Electro-pop goofball romanticist Schaus and their glorious moustache headline the show, an album-release party for upcoming third album Lovers Loop, which you can preview on Bandcamp right here:
But we heard about this show because of Amenta “Yawa” Abioto, whom we’ve been following with interest ever since her 3A Soundwalk in 2021. You’ve probably heard her around, doing her solo vocals-electronics-kalimba-looping thing, making a video with Oregon Symphony musicians, performing at Montavilla Jazz Festival with local jazz superstar Darrell Grant, and so on. She’s also doing one of those 3A Decibel Series next month, as one of the only local composers on a 3A season chock full of Californians.
Your dreams are coming true, kiddos!