My nephew Jonah has never been to a concert. So for the grand finale of his first extended visit to Portland, I take him to a small, all-ages music festival on the street in front of Bunk Bar. About 30 minutes in, I catch him nodding and chanting “Black Lives Matter!” along with local rapper Mic Capes. As Jonah raises a gleeful middle finger to the sky—at Capes’s request—I can almost see his world expanding, and I’m pretty sure I’m the best uncle ever.
Jonah turned 14 this year. I was his age when a friend introduced me to underground music, and it changed my life. I ordered records by mail and convinced adults to drive me to shows at the WOW Hall, a community-run venue in Eugene, where teenagers worked the door and hung out in the front office.
Live shows, in particular, were a portal to a better world, where the rules of daily life were suspended and passion was the only currency that mattered.
Jonah and I like the same cartoons, play video games together, and have pretty much the same sense of humor. By both of our measures, this visit has been a success. We saw Raiders of the Lost Ark at the Hollywood Theatre, swam at Sauvie Island, and I introduced him to eggs Benedict at the Stepping Stone Cafe.
But he’s mostly ambivalent about music, and as festival headliner Magic Sword—a band that dresses up like wizards from the future and plays video game–esque music—blasts its epic synths in our direction, I see boredom creeping onto his face.
“I think I’m the only kid here,” Jonah says before taking a jaded swig from a bottle of Coke. Some cigarette smoke drifts up our nostrils. I ask Jonah if he’s ready to go home. He nods.
In the car, I play Jonah some more songs, and he ignores them while scrolling through his phone. He’s about to start high school, I think. How does somebody get through high school without music?
“Uncle Casey,” he asks, “do you think next time I visit we could go to a stand-up comedy show?” I’m not sure if I’ve tried too hard or not hard enough. “Absolutely,” I tell him. But I don’t turn the music off.