I think that I could safely credit (read: blame) the intro to So I Married An Axe Murderer for both my early adoption of fancy coffee preparations and my aversion to the boho/hipster atmosphere coffee shops engender. Hey, I can be complex.
That said, the other night, I got invited to an open mic at a hostel here in Portland. I knew it was happening, but never even considered going…but when asked, I went. My inner grumpy, old man didn’t even stir from his rocking chair nap. I guess it’s all about who asks. So, thanks to the BP – hey, that’s an unpublished blog post I’m working on…sorry.
I was undecided about what to expect as we were dropped out of our Uber in front of the hostel. My inner cynic was bracing for a shit-show as we wandered through the lobby and there were only the tracest of signs that something might be going on. I discovered a route to the side yard through a patio-deck dining area. As we rounded the corner and came into view of the yard, I was pleasantly surprised to see a structure that couldn’t be considered a make shift stage in any way. It was probably a darned functional pergola/deck when not being repurposed for open mic night. The entire back side of the structure was a wood relief of Mt Hood and the timberline before it. Beats the hell out of a plain old fence view. Light strings wound and dangled about the stage.
There were a few wood picnic tables in the yard, augmented by an old park bench here and there or the occasional rocking chair. It was unique and idyllic. In the middle of town. It must be something really special for the guests at this hostel to experience during their stay.
The clue that dragged me out to the yard from the hostel’s reception area was an unexpectedly pleasant voice. High and pure. Sweet and sincere. Male? A surprisingly girthy male. I did not see that coming. This evening was beginning to become a reminder of the shanghai beauty that the world can provide. It’s one thing to set a course for nature and then be surprised by how beautiful natural beauty is, but to happen upon it with no expectations of encountering it…that unguarded moment is quite enjoyable.
He (Chase) did three songs. His set really set the tone for what would turn out to be a rewarding experience for stepping outside of my normal comfort zone.
Oh, and the potential for disaster was clear and present: there was no beer.
Despite the absence of beer, my muddled memory delivers its normally murky performance…meaning I can’t recall the exact order of the performers that followed. Suffice it to say that the next two hours provided me an experience I forget about in my daily life: the impact art has on life. I am occasionally reminded by music and the effect it has on my mental well-being. Sometimes the opportunity to listen to music is what motivates me to the gym after a long slump of physical activity. It’s killing two birds with one stone, nourishing and replenishing my soul while also taking a stab at my physical well-being.
Live art – even statues, and I have been fortunate to live in Seattle and Portland over the last two decades and both have amazing streetside art – is always nice to encounter…even street buskers. Well, good ones. But living among art like that becomes almost a background noise to my daily existence. This setting was a great reminder to stop and absorb it.
So, in no particular order…some word vomit about the artists that followed Chase and made for an incredibly surprisingly beautiful evening.
Despite a name straight out of Star Wars, this guy was no cantina performer. He was also the host and facilitated equipment changes between acts. His act included a violin. He had dreadlocks. I settled in for an interesting performance and was not disappointed. He layered in his background music right in front of us, plucking out a rhythm on the strings of the violin and then re-recording a percussion line on top of it just by rat-tat-tatting one out on his violin. All in just seconds. Then he put it all together with some actual bow work on his violin and it. was. amazing.
In between his songs, it occurred to the BP that this was the street performer he’d watched in Pioneer Square the other day. He’d liked this guy so much that he bought his CD off him. He yells out his question to confirm, sure enough, this is him. I’m just going to say, that seems to me like it would be a pretty validating moment for a street busker; being recognized in a different setting.
Ok, her name is apparently Sarah…but recreating oneself is everyone’s prerogative. Lael, it is. She’d been sitting next to us on another park bench with a woman who was – surprisingly – not her girlfriend. Way to challenge my assumptive nature, Portland. Can you believe “assumptive” got past spell-check? I hope I used it correctly.
Lael’s voice and presence matched her physical self…a little unpolished and maybe insecure a bit? There was a sleeveless rayon jumpsuit involved, too. She came right out with the fact – which I found incredibly interesting and brave in light of my initial assessment of her – that she was touring the US to find her voice and hone her craft. She came with ukelele. I was in. I’d just been mentioning to the BP the prior day that I wanted to learn to play the uke. Her case did not escape my notice as we sat down.
So, the presence was a bundle of insecure…folded in on herself in her seat, shoulders hunched. I was worried she was too fragile to play in front of people. She was. Is. At one point, as she struggled to get her brain, heart and fingers to work together, she cried a bit. Right. On. Stage.
Where the hell is grumpy, old Xtopher while this is happening? I was rapt. Literally on the edge of my seat, waiting for her to pull herself up and show us what she had. She’d taken a few swings at starting her song. Struggling to get it going, but I recognized what was coming. Don’t Stop Believing by Journey. Ukelele + Journey had to = either absolute disaster or amazing. She pulled it together. I might have clapped when she got over her hurdle. Someone hooted. If this woman gets to the point where she knows her music, versus reading it from a phone, and gets her hands to play well with her ukelele, the confidence comes and then she’s got something. Her voice was gorgeous. Vulnerable and slightly sultry. The cadence of her phrasing recreates the material into something inimitably unique to her. It was really great to watch, even if she was practicing on us. Maybe more-so since she delivered such a raw and personal set.
This guy looked like a bro who had spent a great deal of time…urban camping, if you get my drift. But, see? You open yourself up to a new experience and end up blown away by a guy who looks homeless – there’s that drift I was mentioning earlier – and delivers a performance I would pay to see. He had so much energy. Frantic paced guitar playing. A vocal style that was like rhythmic storytelling. And he could backward-whistle. It was like there was a bird on his shoulder. I wouldn’t have been surprised if birds started appearing around him with garments from his closet to help him get dressed. And, sure, it was 90 degrees at 10 pm, but maybe he could have used a little help from his woodland friends in that department. Or I’m just a snarky bitch. He came over and sat by us after his second set. He was a nice guy. Like the BP and Lael-not-Lael’s friend, he’d just moved here a few months back. We had a great conversation – well, I was on the sidelines of a great conversation. I didn’t feel like participating. I was approaching hangry. This is the type of person I meet in PDX and like knowing is around my town. Nice, passionate, smart, independent…people who add to the fantastic mix of townsfolk in my hometown versus transplants who come for an income and essentially contribute nothing positive but the occasional tax dollar.
Not to bury any ledes, but this guy broke the mold for the evening by reading a selection of poetry. He started with an intro that included that he’d just written the piece and that it was four acts. The crowd leaned away from that statement. It turned out that four acts in poetry is a lot shorter than four acts in theater.
He read quickly. I couldn’t say if it was nerves or intent. Regardless, there was a lot of emotion in his words. They tumbled occasionally. Frequently, he mumbled. Not helpfully, every semi in Portland decided this was the perfect time to hit the road. but what came through those distractions was a unique, intimately exposing prose that left the audience sitting forward – a long way from that group of people that actually leaned away from the words “four acts” a few minutes before. Leaning into words that each person could have interpreted differently through their own filters, but words that left each of us knowing what the poet wanted us to know. Life.
That random audience member.
Every crowd has one. Sometimes I am one. That guy who believes he adds to the overall experience for the rest of the crowd. Well, if all of those guys were like this guy…I’d go to a lot more concerts. Djinn asked if there was anyone who hadn’t signed up and still wanted to contribute and this guy grabs Lael’s ukelele and heads to the stage.
Oh, GOD…he was good.
He gets up there and gives us a “Let’s see…” like he’s as surprised to find himself on stage as we are that he just jacked a uke from the crowd and jumped on stage. Then he just started playing. And singing. Did I mention he was good? He gave Jeremy a run for his money in the wardrobe department and the sleeveless tee was nicely enhanced by the unkempt shoulder-length ring of hair on his head. If it’s possible to smile with your jaw on the floor, that’s what I was doing. And he did two numbers. Same routine for the second one…”Let’s see”
Then he returned Lael’s guitar and left. He was like open mic Clark Kent.
That’s all. Really. I re-learned something about stepping outside my norm and trying something new. for those interested and oddly optimistic parties, no…this does not mean I’m up for trying mushrooms or olives yet again. Not even sorry.
After the show, BP and I walked up Hawthorne in search of food. And drink, who am I trying to kid? We closed the Baghdad Theater – McMenamin’s pubs are quickly becoming a default setting for our dates. That’s fine. Beats McDonald’s.
I told him my story.
Yes, it took longer than the two hours between our arrival a McMenamin’s and the time it closed. So we walked home to my place. About 75 blocks. Someone pick my mother up, I think she just collapsed, she thinks I’m crazy when I walk 10 blocks. I steered our path to coincide with a stop by the Portlandia statue. It seemed to fit in with the open mic theme of the night, and since my life story is hardly art, I thought this would be a good add. I turned him around in front of the Portland building and held him from behind while he finished his sentence. When he was done, I bent back at the waist so he was looking straight up. Mind you, it’s about 1:00 in the morning. He was appropriately awestruck by a 6 ton, 35 foot high bronze statue reaching down toward him through the dark of night from three stories above ground level.
I’m a good boyfriend like that.
And, yes…I haven’t forgotten that I have an unpublished blog about the BP – the Broken Poet. I’ll try to publish it before he kicks the emotional shit out of me. Because he’s a particularly lovely young man, and one day, he’ll just be the Poet.