Musicfest NW
Septemer 6 – 9, 2007
all over downtown Portland


Once again "fests" are becoming popular. After the fiasco of Hellfest (lack or permits, look it up, sucked), and the delightfully disappointing Bamboozle West I was hoping for a better approach (and better bands).  Thankfully they simply stopped trying on the west coast and left it all to the other end to provide crappy fests (i.e. Saints and Sinners).  I can honestly say that, prior to moving, I only went to festivals to catch up with bands that I haven't seen, and get free CDs and Tshirts.  The appeal of Warped Tour, CMJ week, and SXSW was to catch new bands on the cutting edge, not to rehash old bands that have long since passed their prime and can no longer fit into their youth large shirts and size 28 Sevens.  My faith was restored when I was invited to the Musicfest NW in Portland- out of all the bands playing, I had only heard of 4. Musicfest NW was set up to give bands a chance to perform with eachother on a level playing field. No huge headliners, no egos, no drama.  Four days of networking, sociallizing, and listening to good music. To top things off it began on the first Thursday of the month, which meant art gallery openings and free booze…all to make for a good evening of observation and indulgence.

My night began Thursday at the Backspace Coffee Shop / Art Gallery / Music Venue. After a delicious Vegan dinner and a brief chat with some of the artists I decided to head over to the Roseland to check out Aesop Rock and some of the local talent that would be hitting the stage. One thing I have to say about the coordination of this event – to be able to pull off a four day event, spanning 15 venues, and be able to coordinate security to understand which wristband and pass was for what, and have the bands (generally) run on time is an accomplishment within itself.  For having half the city coming and going in and out of venues, it cerainly appeared to be a pretty seamless operation. We entered the venue, got frisked, and were on the floor in minutes.  Kudos.

So we were off without a hitch. We walked upstairs and caught a bit of the Blue Scholars set, hoping that it would maintain us for an hour until Aesop hit the stage…it didn't. Waving your hands in the air, and waving them like you just don't care can get very old after about ten minutes.  So we decided to head across town and try and catch Spoon at the Crystal Ballroom to cap off the night.  If you recall my praise from a few lines ago, it was quickly dashed when I saw the line that the "Wristband Patrons" were subjected to. Rule is, you can buy a wristband to the 4 day event, but you can only be guarenteed entrance if you purchase a ticket to each individual show. But I had a pass so I didn't care. I was instantly whisked in and allowed access to a backstage area where I got a wonderful view of the band. 

After a good first night, I was ready for night number two. Friday night I did a little more jumping around, sampling bands from Dante's, Berbati's, The Roseland, and the Ash St. Saloon. Being thoroughly unimpressed (i.e. The Hugs and their half hour bass problem, which led to a forty minute talen problem) I headed up to the Cystal Ballroom once again to see the infamous Rilo Kiley.  Jenny Lewis in a sparkly grey outfit, led the crowd through numerous sing-a-longs, supported by her well groomed backup band (and uber hot tambourine player). But having musical A.D.D. compelled me to find a more spastic band that could keep my attention. That took me to the Doug Fir, and Grizzley Bear.  Not having abided by the guides suggestion to get there early, I arrived at midnight, and had to force my way forward to get a good view of the band. Without a doubt this was the band of the fest.  These guys do amazing work.

Unfortunately my weekend was a bit too hectic, which led to me running to venues, only to catch the last few minutes of bands…only to have to run to another one to see the last song of another band.  I basically saw two or three bands performing one or two songs; the rest of the time I was trying to get to a venue, trying to get in, or eating.  But for all my missed opportunities and partially caught performances, I would say that this was the best organized, most sucessful venture of its type that I have attended in quite some time. Portland is known for its hospitality, and Musicfest NW really demonstrated the city's willingness to make this go off without a hitch and provide the music community (and the general public) a safe and fun way to meet, watch live music, and network.

Mark Johnston, a native Californian, has travelled the world with various circuses, sideshows, and arena rock tours. As a musical monkey he has delighted fans the world over. Upon his return, he has since founded the Atomsmashers Publishing Company, written 2 books in the company's Warm Horchata series, created a weekly comic strip based around LA's more "colorful" characters, written reviews, articles, and rantings under various pseudonyms; this has since culminated in Johnston being named Captain Fabulous by the Superhero Association of America.