Sunday, March 25, 2007

I Still Love Portland, But They Could Never Pull Off SXSW

Portland is an impressive music town - we have some great live music venues - everybody knows somebody in a band, we get lots of good touring acts - both big and small - but after spending the weekend in Austin they absolutely have us beat.

Now I get that during SXSW of course it's going to look like a lot more - 1200+ bands in one city for a weekend wold do that anywhere, but a group of us had a long discussion on why SXSW works so well there - and why NXNW flopped so badly and turned into the very sad NW Musicfest. And some of those reasons are reasons that we love about Portland - so it's not necessarily a bad thing - just different.

First off - they shut down several major streets through downtown for several days - I guess it would be close to the equivalent of shutting down Hawthorne, Belmont and the side streets in between from about 30th to 39th. For 4 days straight. I just can't see that happening here.

Secondly - on those streets - nearly every business is a bar or restaurant - now there were a few retail shops scattered in between - but not many. Hawthorne/Belmont is the closest, but Portland just doesn't have an area that has that high of a concentration of that type of business. And that's ok - I love that we have all of neighborhoods that have their own scattered bars, eateries, shops, etc. - that we don't have the one strip where EVERYONE goes on a Friday night. But for something like SXSW - it makes it very convenient. More than 50 different venues in about 10 blocks of space made it easy to hop from one show to the next and see a huge variety and number of bands. Now compare that to having to get across town from the Tonic to Dantes or Ash Street and then down to the Crystal...

And finally - in those bars and restaurants - they were super flexible with their space.
- A cajun restaurant that I don't think normally has any kind of music - had tables pushed aside and a temporary stage set up - where we got to hear Jello Biafra lead the crowd in chants of "F*ck George Bush!" and talk in his funny little voice about why we need a real liberal - not just Hilary 'I support censorship' Clinton - before launching into some great rock at the Alternative Tentacles showcase.
- a tiny parking lot off an alley behind a bar was turned into a second outdoor stage for that bar where we with a Hawaiian lead singer/guitar that Mike knew.... who were simply amazing.
- The patio of another restaurant/bar was converted into a second outdoor stage so that the Woggles could play inside while the Cynics played outside at the 'Get Hip' stage. Many places did this - any patio space, parking lots, alleyways, divided rooms - they all became second stages. No matter where you were, you heard music coming from somewhere - but it never overwhelmed the band that you were actually watching.

So thanks Austin - and especially all the bartenders, doormen, waitstaff, cabbies, foodcart vendors - who'd been working their asses off for a week - and still moved fast, lines for drinks or food were never very long - were friendly and seemed to be really having fun with it all. Portland is still very proud of it's music scene - but you guys are impressive!