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Portland's Music Scene
Maybe it has something to do with all of Portland's notorious rain. Maybe the wealth of nearby natural scenery is the source of inspiration. Or perhaps the combination of raw, organic vegan food and locally brewed, superhopped IPAs gives Portlanders that extra edge. Whatever the reason, Portland rocks.
The city features a wealth of homegrown talent, thanks in part to the array of fresh-faced twentysomethings moving into town every day with guitars slung over their shoulders and creative ideas circling in their minds. Well, they don't all have guitars; there are also saxophones, cellos, djembe drums, Moog synthesizers, and laptops.
It's not simply the number of outstanding musicians that makes Portland unique, but their eclecticism. It's a city where stray-far-from-the crowd individualism and a highly cooperative sense of community are prized in equal measure, and the local scene reflects that: talented, idiosyncratic musicians making all genres of music together.
Blitzen Trapper: Frontman Eric Early's songwriting relies as much on his literate musings as his way with a melody. The Decemberists: Dubbed "hyperliterate prog rock" by Stephen Colbert. Elliot Smith: Performed at the Oscars when Portland native Gus Van Sant featured him in the soundtrack for Good Will Hunting. M. Ward: Recently garnered attention working with Zooey Deschanel in She & Him. The Shins: Rocking out in the Pacific Northwest since bringing their jangly brand of alt-rock to Portland in 2002.
Whether you're interested in listening to a singer-songwriter tell it like it is as you sip Stumptown Coffee, getting down and dirty in a rocking dive bar, or simply dancing the night away to electronic trance beats, Portland's got you covered. Here are our top places to listen to live tunes.
Crystal Ballroom. Restored by the McMenamin brothers, this ballroom transformed into one of Portland's most interesting music venues. Home to shows by nationally touring acts as well as locals, the spring-loaded ballroom floor makes dancing extra fun. 1332 W. Burnside St., Downtown, OR, 97209. 503/225-0047.
Doug Fir. This intimate music venue with a Northwest log-cabin theme and crystal-clear acoustics also doubles as a bar and restaurant. Acts performing at the Doug Fir tend to be of acoustic guitar, folk, and Americana variety. 830 E. Burnside St., East of Willamette River, OR, 97214. 503/231-9663.
Hawthorne Theatre. Bang your head! While Portland is becoming recognized for indie-folk, this city was one of the original hotbeds of grunge music. The Hawthorne Theatre keeps that tradition alive as one of the best local rock venues. Their amps go to 11. 3862 SE Hawthorne Blvd., East of Willamette River, OR, 97214. 503/233-7100.
The Bite of Oregon. in early August features the best of local food and wine, with eclectic live entertainment. Waterfront Park, Downtown, OR, 97204. 503/248-0600. www.biteoforegon.com.
Last Thursday. is a tremendous block party that occurs on—you guessed it—the last Thursday of every month throughout the spring and summer. Street vendors, performance artists, and musicians let their freak flags fly. NE Alberta St., East of Willamette River, OR, 97211. www.lastthursdaypdx.ning.com.
Since 1982 the Mt. Hood Jazz Festival., held for three days in August, has drawn big names as well as new talent. Past years have seen appearances by Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, and George Benson. The festival is held on the campus of Mount Hood Community College in suburban Gresham. 26000 SE Stark St., Gresham, OR, 97030. 503/661-2700. www.mthoodjazz.com.
MusicfestNW., Portland's largest music festival, brings four days of music featuring dozens of artists. Attendees can buy tickets to each show individually, or purchase a wristband for unlimited access to all venues. various locations, OR. www.musicfestnw.com.
The second-largest blues festival in the country (and the biggest on the Left Coast), the four-day Waterfront Blues Festival., has been drawing big names in blues and big crowds over the July 4 weekend since 1987. Portland's musicians rock. Waterfront Park, OR. 503/973-3378. www.waterfrontbluesfest.com.
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