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MusicWatch Monthly: The season has changed

Pride Month, Juneteenth, and more.

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I don’t dare actually say the season has changed, lest I curse it. But still: friendly faces are canvassing outside, asking for signatures on some ballot initiative; the sun peeks out more and more often and we don’t have to bring a waterproof coat with us everywhere anymore; as the NBA playoffs come to an end, there are rumblings about what will happen to the Blazers next year, including the possibility of a WNBA team in Portland. And while the on-again-off-again rain is a bit annoying for ruining our early summer plans, we should be happy that the rain is keeping away the absurd heat we faced last summer (so far). 

June is Pride Month, which means a lot of gay things will be happening over the next few weeks–and of course I mean gay both in the old-fashioned “merry” sense and the more contemporary one. Music will abound at all sorts of Pride events, blasting gay anthems, queer bops and the like. Here are a couple of the big things worth checking out.

There’s three events on the 18th: Gaylabration at the Crystal, the Pink Elephant Cabaret at the Mission Theater, and Portland Gay Men’s Chorus at the Schnitz with a show called Let’s Get Proud. Next weekend on the 25th is the Let’s Pride Together block party, hosted by the Maybelle Center, which will include a flash mob (taking us back to 2012 I guess) and an “augmented reality mural” featuring performances by the Maybelle Community Singers, Portland Lesbian Choir and PGMC again. Let’s Pride Together starts at noon, in Old Town, right around the corner from the Roseland. 

The biggest Pride-related musical event is PDX Underground’s Dollapalooza, at the North Warehouse from the 17-19th. You might be too straight to know any of the artists on the bill–but, with tons of local talent boasting names like Lisa Frankenstein, Glucose Bowery, Emoji Heap and Sappho, you know it’s gonna be gay as hell. (If you want a taste, DJ Sappho is also playing at Holocene on the 11th.) There’s a range of ticket prices available, so you can dance your heart out on a budget, or go big. 

Each night of Dollapalooza also brings some big names in drag. On Friday the big name is Angeria Paris Vanmichaels, who you may remember from season 14 of RuPaul’s Drag Race; season 14 winner Willow Pill is the big guest on Sunday. Saturday features local drag queen Flawless Shade from Painted with Raven (and also, you know, being from here), along with Majesty, who competed on season 2 of Dragula.

Juneteenth

June is also the month of Juneteenth, aka Emancipation Day. There’s a lot going on that weekend, including a Black Book Festival, but we’re here for the music. The biggest Junetheenth event of the weekend is PDX Jazz’ celebration on the 18th. Big names on the roster include Mic Capes, Rasheed Jamal, and Jay Electronica–a rapper who never “blew up” despite having some insane skills on the mic.

On the 18th, the Alberta Rose Theater puts on a show with Eldon “T” Jones and LaRhonda Steele. Jones has been playing sax in Portland’s jazz scene for over two decades, as part of N’Touch–he’s a session player and a church-gigging man, among probably a dozen other things. Steele is equally accomplished in Portland’s blues and gospel scenes, recently being inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame. They say the whole African-American songbook is open for this show, so there’s bound to be the whole breadth of music on display. 

And speaking of jazz, you shouldn’t pass up the chance to see bassist Christian McBride play at the Jack London on the 13th. I associate McBride with the current generation of young jazz artists who don’t seem to give a shit about playing rhythm changes in all twelve keys at 280 bpm or whatever, but instead are willing to take inspiration from rock, hip-hop, funk and whatever else has happened in music since 1959. And for that, he’s a cat the kids can groove to. Given how small the place is it will probably be packed, so get there early and bring some friends (or a book!)

On the nineteenth proper, Darrell Grant and his new trio DG3 play at the 1905, amidst an already fantastic lineup of local jazz heavy-hitters. This show helps promote Grant’s latest release, The New Black: Darrell Grant Live at Birdland (recorded in 2019), and the ticket sales will go to the Black United Fund of Oregon. Read Brett Campbell’s recent write-up to see what else Grant has been up to lately. 

The following Monday at The Old Church, Portland’s resident “classical music plus politics” ensemble FearNoMusic puts on a show of Black American composers, a compressed version of their virtual 2020-21 season “Tomorrow Is My Turn.” FNM often partners with local orgs who work on whatever issue they address musically, and for this show it is Don’t Shoot PDX.

And all the rest

We also got some good shows that don’t have much to do with our Juneteenth and Pride theme, but are still worth getting out for. Like this Saturday, the 11th, when the Delgani String Quartet plays at the Old Church. In addition to some classic Brazilian works by Villa-Lobos and “Tom” (aka Antônio Carlos) Jobim, we get a guest appearance by Grammy-nominated composer Clarice Assad for the premiere of her first string quartet, Glitch. She’ll also be recording an album with Delgani, so be on the lookout for that.

PDX Live is putting on a summer of shows at Pioneer Courthouse square, with an impressive and diverse lineup. We’ll go more in-depth in the following months, since there isn’t enough space here for me to geek out about The Roots and George-freakin’-Clinton. Appropriately for Pride Month, the series starts with a show by the Indigo Girls and Neko Case on the 17th. The following days bring already-sold-out shows for Andrew Bird with Iron and Wine and Tenacious D. Tickets for all these shows are quite expensive–but, given how sound works, you may be able to hang around the general area and get a taste of it.  

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Portland Center Stage Rent Portland Oregon

The end of the month brings the beginning of the Chamber Music Northwest Summer Festival. Given the sheer number of venues and performers involved, maybe it’s better to think of it as about three or four overlapping festivals. The whole thing kicks off on the 25th with a gala at the Portland Art Museum to celebrate David Shifrin’s forty years as Artistic Director at CMNW. The program features Shifrin playing Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto (an obligatory choice) plus the “Adagio” from his Serenade in E flat, along with Ravel’s Intro and Allegro.

There are only three concerts on the roster for June, since the (multi-)fest starts right at the end of the month. The one that excites me the most–as the resident new-music-enjoyer and old-music-hater–is the New@Night on Wednesday the 29th (these replace the old New@Noon shows you may remember from summer Fridays past). For this first one, titled Rhapsodies & Demons, an ensemble featuring CMNW regulars Fred Sherry and Jennifer Frautschi will play at the Alberta Rose Theater, with music by Jessie Montgomery, Steven Hartke and this guy you may have heard of–Kenji Bunch.

Hidden in the CMNW brochure, also, is the debut of the Young Artist Institute, a new educational program for 14-18 year-old string players from around the world, including a couple from our very own Portland Youth Philharmonic. Their first showcase is on the 24th at the University of Portland, with a bunch of other events in the coming weeks as well. 

Finally, 45th Parallel’s stellar 2021-22 season wraps up in June with two stellar shows. (UPDATE: 45th Parallel’s June 16 show will go on as scheduled, but the June 30 concert has been canceled because of a Covid case by one of the players.)

At the first–Summer Serenade, on the 16th at Lincoln Hall–the 45|| Chamber Orchestra plays Brahms’ Second Serenade alongside new works by Nina Shekar and Marco-Adrián Ramos (commissioned by Gabriela Lena Frank’s Creative Academy of Music). All proceeds for this show will go to the Uvalde Strong Survivors Fund, to help the families who lost their children in the latest mass shooting. Here’s to hoping we can find some justice and peace in this, and I will leave it at that before I make myself more furious.

The season ends on the 30th, with the Gemini Project (OSO’s Jonathan Greeney and Sergio Carreno) joining up with Yoko Greeney and Susan Smith for two two-piano-two-percussion works: the famous one by Béla Bartók and the should-be-more-famous one by Paul Lansky. You may remember the latter, from Makrokosmos III, way back in 2017.

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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