Hello. Just go with me on this. Or, you know, don't - who cares.
I was raised as a Reformed Protestant Christian in a church with Sunday School, regular services and all the social stuff that came with it. Every year in late November, my parents would take us kids to the church in the evening on a Friday and we’d decorate the church for Christmas - the parents would decorate, anyway, and then they’d socialize over egg nog and scotch once the decorating was done.
All of the parents, of course, would bring us kids, who would then crystallize immediately into an independent, feral pack of roaming animals (it was the early 80’s so parents were still doing their very best to spend as little time with their kids as possible), a group helmed in its later years by my older brother and a girl named Ritza who scared the shit out of me. They were the rebels and the leaders. The church house itself had a lot of weird features - a two-lane bowling alley in the basement, weird little half-size doors to nowhere, mezzanines, hidden rooms, attic crawl spaces that were inexplicably left open for us to explore. And thus, we would set about probing the space and playing all kinds of games in this bizzarro church house until one of us got hurt, got into a fight or our tipsy parents came to tell us to calm down because we were making too much noise.
To this day, these are some of the most mysterious and exciting times of my childhood - that magic of a group who only comes together once in a blue moon embarking on an exploratory mission that is as steeped in tradition as it is new and enigmatic. To me, it was like being in The Chronicles of Narnia crossed with the Winchester Mystery House.
And I’m telling you now that Waking Windows this past weekend was the closest I’ve come to this feeling in quite some time. Maybe not “ever since,” but at least for a few years, maybe more.
I stumbled across my friend (code name: The Aristocrat) at the opening party on Friday night, after I picked up my pin from a superbly friendly young gentleman and then had my ID checked by another warm and inviting fellow at SPACE Gallery. The staff at this thing were so great (maybe not so much with the bar staff, tho - have you ever asked to pay just for your drink and not your friend’s, have the bartender roll her eyes at you so hard you could hear the chorus of “Franklin’s Tower” playing from them and then just charge you for both anyway? What a charmer, I bet she does well with customer service people at like, the cable company and shit.)
From there The Aristocrat and I decided to be Waking Windows buddies, as he too had The Pin and was planning on doing the whole thing. Therein was the first amazing gift bestowed upon me by the Waking Windows gods: connecting with an old friend in a new way.
My work schedule prevented me from doing most of the early WW stuff, but The Aristocrat and I reconvened in the early evening on Saturday. He showed up looking like an impeccably-groomed extra from Dead Poets Society and I showed up in leggings and a band t shirt and my hair in a bun because I stopped caring about things like personal dignity somewhere around 2012. We saw music at every venue except Tandem (how was Tandem, you guys?). I’m not going to wax poetic about every little bit of every show, but dig if you will some pictures:
Cozying up on the fancy divans in the loft at Bearded Lady listening to Kafari and Mosart212 from a mere five feet away. Standing in the dark in a circle around Yonatan Gat’s experimental punk trio on the floor at Genos; getting closer when he tells us we can come closer. Meeting a new friend Allison at Rough Francis/Jeff the Brotherhood (Allison, where are you!? Are you reading this? Get in touch!). Bright Boy’s acerbic mutterings between songs at Blue. Hearing the cold jammy riffs of Micromasse from Congress Square Park float onto my front patio. The undulating-yet-still creep of Death Vessel in the low, open space of SPACE. The Aristocrat leaning over and saying, “they sound like My Morning Jacket playing John Philip Souza marches” during Soft Eyes’ set. Standing around little tables full of empty cups and cans trying to classify bands: “they are clearly garage punk. No man, they are using too many sustained effects to be garage rock, they’re psychedelic 90’s rock. I don’t know, they feel more garage bandy to me…” and on and on and on.
This thing really felt like an adventure - an art installment as much as a music festival. Each venue had been carefully curated with artists that fit the room as well as each other, and THAT if only that, is the one reason why this little tiny festival is streets ahead of other festivals.
But the other reason that this little festie has the know how and the elbow grease to lead us to a new land is that it knows what’s up with the people who love music. This whole lineup of 8 venues plus a pre-party was only $25. Or you can just attend each show individually for less. People who spend their money on music are often broke and personally, I don’t have $350 for a festival ticket, and taking time off of work to spend four days in a mud pit somewhere just sounds shitty to me. I went to Bonnaroo one time and spent the entire weekend melting, hanging out in the misting tents or hiding underneath a giant brimmed hat and begging for the sweet relief of death. It sucked. You know what doesn’t suck? Drinking fancy cocktails that taste like 1930’s jazz records under a disco ball at the Bearded Lady. You heard me.
Also, we WANT to see local performers, and they absolutely should share the stage with national and international performers. Even Radiohead is local to somewhere. I just think the WW team did such an incredible job booking the lineups to be interesting, thematic and peppered with big and small names alike.
I had a chance to meet a badass lady who is part of the WW team, and she told me that their presales this year had shot from 30 weekend buttons last year to 80 weekend buttons this year. That doesn’t count day of or individual show sales. It’s growing. I think that while we all complain of gentrification and our favorite places closing and the city not being what it once was, events like this showcase the positive side of a city that is attracting outside money and new residents - that new population makes it financially feasible to host these kinds of events.
Plus, outsiders aren’t all bad, right? I mean some of us *ahem* contribute *cough* to our community in any way we can, even if it’s just stupid words on a screen. Right? RIGHT?
That feeling of roaming the city with a friend, encountering a new adventure in every room, meeting new people, seeing new music, it all added up to that feeling of excitement and love that I am having a really hard time explaining, now that I’m trying to. I felt like I belonged, that I was beloved by my community, and that something new and intriguing was brewing, just percolating under my feet. Exploring with my community those little musical nooks and crannies felt really good, and I felt like I was welcome and a part of each show I attended. This festival was inclusive, not exclusive - and while I feel it is always important to include more artists of color and non-cis-non-hetero-male artists in a lineup whenever possible and create a positive space for diverse artists to thrive amongst predominantly white heteronormative communities like ours, I think WW did make an effort to showcase diversity. I didn’t feel like this was a four white dudes in t shirts party at all.
I hope it comes back next year. I don't really know the organizers, but I know that Jeff Beam and Peter McLaughlin were both instrumental in setting this thing up, so hit them up and be like hey guys you're cool here's a bag of Haribo gummi bears and a hug from me. And then remove all the green bears from the bag for them, if that's what they want.
Portland, I love you, your body is a wonderland.