Spring Arts Guide 2013

A fun-filled guide to the season's 25 most exciting shows with hosts MarchFourth Marching Band.

Edited by Aaron Scott February 15, 2013 Published in the March 2013 issue of Portland Monthly


Most Portlanders have encountered that instant change of mood, let’s call it an M4 moment, where you thought you were doing one thing—commuting over the Hawthorne Bridge, wandering a crowded street fair, standing outside the Schnitz—when suddenly, with the crash of drums, the ring of horns, and the holler of stilt walkers, everything changes and you’re wrapped up in a Sgt. Pepper’s Technicolor Carnival Marching Band hallucination.

Marchfourth Performs At The 2013 Jam Cruise

There was a time in the mid-’00s when the MarchFourth Marching Band was everywhere, pulling up in its signature fire truck, playing every festival and Alberta event, winning Willamette Week’s Best Local Band, ringing the hallowed atrium of City Hall like a cymbal for former Mayor Sam Adams’s swearing-in celebration, and always leaving just before the police arrived (at least that one time it put on an unpermitted parade with Tom Green for a segment on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno). 

But you’d be excused for realizing it’s been a while since you last heard their rallying cry, “Joy Now!” That’s because they’re now on the road 175 days a year, a modern coterie of merry pranksters touring music halls across the country. 

Image: Andy Batt

Celebrating its 10th birthday at the Crystal Ballroom this month, the band has come of age with modern Portland. With its home-welded drum harnesses, upcycled uniforms, globe-spanning music mash-up, and entrepreneurial drive to succeed at a seemingly outrageous project (a band that supports 24 people!), MarchFourth basically plays the anthem for Portland’s weird-leaning DIY makers with big dreams. And like the city itself and many of its arts organizations, over the past decade the ensemble has grown up—into a polished, professional, collaborative project that is just on the edge of full sustainability. 

Image: Andy Batt

“They’re ‘a little ol’ marching band’ just as Portland is a ‘little ol’ city in the Pacific Northwest’: neither is going to be hemmed in by what other people think,” says Adams, now the executive director of City Club. “Portland marches to the beat of its own drum, and MarchFourth makes sure that beat is always changing.”  

The band started when five friends—John Averill on bass, Dan Stauffer on percussion, Nathan Wallway on stilts, and dancers and twins Faith and Nayana Jennings—roped in two dozen other musicians to play a one-off Mardi Gras party on March 4, 2003 (thus the multivalent name). But when the US invaded Iraq two weeks later, they decided to march in the first antiwar protest, playing their six cover songs on repeat. The effect was musical alchemy, transmuting anger into a clapping, dancing crowd of followers. 

“Here was this band that was even more joyous and fantastic than Pink Martini,” recalls Pink Martini bandleader Thomas Lauderdale, who was among the crowd. “From the beginning it was this perfect Portland progressive project that was musical, activist, galvanizing, and inspiring, even in the bleakest situations.”

Image: Andy Batt

Pink Martini hired MarchFourth to open several concerts, which sparked corporate gigs and local events, which in turn bought MarchFourth time to hone its unique, percussion-driven mixed drink of New Orleans brass, Latin big band, funk, Balkan, Afrobeat, Middle Eastern, and whatever else members found inspiring. The ragtag rabble grew into 30-plus musicians, dancers, and stilt walkers. They were admittedly sloppy, but their sloppiness paled next to their spectacle and enthusiasm.  

Given the group’s size, few onlookers envisioned a life beyond beloved local house band status. But band members’ ambitions were ignited by a last-minute madcap trip to Germany during the World Cup in 2006. They went to perform at the Altonale Festival, where they beat out 50 groups from around the world for “Best in Show,” but they picked up Cup-related gigs along the way. “The whole world was in Germany,” says saxophonist Robin Jackson, who has since left the group to cofound Joy Now, a circus, music, and performance program taught by band members. “The magic was out of control. We marched down the red-light district; we invaded the subways and busked on the streets.”

Image: Andy Batt

So the band started to tour. First to one-offs, like New Belgium Brewing’s Tour de Fat festivals and an appearance with Pink Martini and Carol Channing at the Hollywood Bowl. Then in 2007, MarchFourth bought a bus off eBay for $10,000, fixed it up (naming it “Razzle Dazzle” after Channing’s trademark song), and went on a national tour: 22 cities in seven weeks with some 35 people on board. “This band is not going to be sustainable if we hang out in Portland,” says bandleader Averill, who continues to split management duties with the four other founders. “Without a bus, MarchFourth doesn’t work. We cook on the bus; we sleep on the bus. It’s kind of like a mobile home for 24 people.”

The bus led to a booking agent in 2010, which was the final catalyst. Distant gigs were no longer just fun field trips: MarchFourth was now a touring act. It put 250,000 miles on Razzle Dazzle before she died in Arizona, spurring them to raise $50,000 via Kickstarter for a newer model. 

With the transformation came a shift in personnel. Part-timers with day jobs and families pulled back, making room for new, mostly full-time members willing to scrape by on a small day rate in order to be part of something magical, supplemented by side projects such as making merchandise for the band’s pop-up boutique. Against all odds (and presumably rational thought), MarchFourth Marching Band has become the primary occupation of two-dozen people. “One of the biggest assets is the fact that there’s no one central figure,” says Nayana Jennings, the founder in charge of general management. “People can come and go because it’s greater than the sum of its parts.”

Over the years, MarchFourth has streamlined, added electric guitar, moved into more rock-influenced original material, and released four records, shedding its early exuberant sloppiness for a tight, hard-driving show with polished dance routines that’s earning it invitations to ever more prestigious festivals, from the Telluride Jazz Fest to Jam Cruise. The goal now is for the band to be truly sustainable, providing a fully livable wage and health insurance. Managers believe it’s possible if they keep building audiences the old-fashioned way (while crossing their fingers for a late-night-show invitation or viral video), because they’ve learned that, just as they transformed that antiwar protest 10 years ago, they have the same effect everywhere they go.

 “We strike a chord in the consciousness of America wherever we travel,” says dance team coordinator Aaron Lyon. “People believe in what we’re doing: ‘There’s that traveling band of misfits who are doing it together, altering the way people live.’” —Aaron Scott     

Iris DeMentMar 22 at 8

A musical fixture in the folk scene during the ’90s, this Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter collaborated with everyone from Emmylou Harris to Merle Haggard, her distinctive vibrato able to confess as well as testify. After a 16-year absence of original material, she’s back with a critically lauded new album. —Gino Cerruti   

 LowApr 5 at 8

Releasing its 10th studio album, The Invisible Way, produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, on its 20th anniversary, Low proves its career is like its music, slow burning but incredibly resilient. The trio, fronted by husband and wife Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, is known for stripped-down shows so transcendent that they’ve kept audiences sitting cross-legged and spellbound on the floor. —AS  

Jeff Bridges and the AbidersApr 7 at 8

Bridges may have won an Academy Award for his role as an aging country singer in Crazy Heart, but he wasn’t content just to act. He released his second album of country tunes (with production by the renowned T-Bone Burnett) in 2011 and has been touring whenever he’s not on a movie set. The Dude definitely abides. GC 

Blind Pilot with the Oregon SymphonyApr 27 at 7:30

Like Pink Martini, the resident masters of crossing from music club to symphony stage, the indie-folk group Blind Pilot casts a musical spell so joyous that it wraps up listeners of all ages, making it impossible to leave a concert anything but beaming. —AS  

For ticket prices and showtimes, click on the event's title to visit the event's listing.

Portland Opera’s 2009 collaboration with the Portland Baroque Orchestra, La Calisto


Portland Opera’s annual Newmark productions are always among its most anticipated, not just for the intimate nature of the theater, but for the ability of the company to take risks. With the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia as its coproducer, the opera is tackling an original production of Handel’s Rinaldo, a fantastical tale of a knight in the First Crusade who must battle sorcerers, spirits, and dragons to save the woman he loves—a fitting plot for the opera that first introduced magic effects and magnificent stage machines to London audiences in 1711. Fortunately, our knight will have at his side the fine musicians of Portland Baroque Orchestra as his accompaniment, the second such collaboration for the two organizations. (PBO will also perform its own Handel concerts March 22–24). —AS  

Storm Large will perform with the Oregon Symphony.

Premonitions | May 4 & 5

Fronted by singer Storm Large and a full cast, the Oregon Symphony will tempt us with the satirical ballet chanté (“sung ballet”) of German composer Kurt Weill, The Seven Deadly Sins, which follows a girl as she travels through the US, encountering a deadly sin in each city. Macabre compositions by Schubert, Ravel, and others round out the evening. —Genevieve Hudson

Third Angle Ensemble | Mar 21 at 7:30

Now in its second year, Third Angle’s Russell New Ideas in Music competition awards three composers—one regional, one national, and one international—and invites audiences to the first performances of the winning compositions. —AS

 Cappella RomanaJune 16 at 4

Few local groups cover more ground—musically or in the breadth of their touring—than this a cappella ensemble. This performance is no exception. Titled “From Constantinople to California,” the program takes a 1,000-year journey from Ancient Byzantine chants to contemporary Greek-American choral music, a similar journey to the group’s own that resulted in its 2011 recording Cappella Romana Live in Greece. —Sam Coggeshall  

Chamber Music NW Summer FestivalJune 24–July 28

At age 43, this festival remains one of the city’s most anticipated and enjoyable events, with performances running over five weeks in the lush climes of Catlin Gabel School and Reed College. This year’s highlights include the Darrell Grant Ensemble, the Miro Quartet, mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, and violinist Philip Setzer. —SC  For concert times and locations, call 503-294-6400 or visit cmnw.org.

For ticket prices and showtimes, click on the event's title to visit the event's listing.

Clybourne Park 

The West Coast premiere of Clybourne Park at American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco

This “spiky and damningly insightful new comedy,” according to the New York Times, begins in a house in a white Chicago neighborhood in 1959 that the owners are selling to an African American family (in fact, the very house the Younger family planned to move into in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun), stirring the outrage of their hilariously horrifying neighbors. Then the story jumps 50 years ahead to the same house, only this time it’s a black family selling to white buyers as the neighborhood flips white again. Written by Bruce Norris and here directed by Portland Center Stage Artistic Director Chris Coleman, the play grapples with the fraught topical issues of identity, race, and gentrification with such wit and entertainment that it won a holy trinity of dramatic awards: a Tony, an Olivier, and a Pulitzer. —GH 

Ten ChimneysApr 23–May 26

Carol Channing once said of the legendary Wisconsin estate of Broadway power-couple Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne: “What the Vatican is to Catholics, Ten Chimneys is to actors.” Jeffrey Hatcher’s comedy follows a rehearsal of The Seagull on the estate, during which life begins to mirror Chekhovian dysfunction. This play about power players will fittingly be our first chance to see Artists Rep’s new artistic director, Dámaso Rodriguez, at work. —AS   

The People’s Republic of PortlandApr 30–June 9

Just when we thought no jokes were left to make at the expense of our fetishized city, along comes comic-pathos powerhouse Lauren Weedman. A veteran of The Daily Show, Hung, and a slew of one-woman performances, Weedman has the chops (and the narcissism) to make it about her, instead of the same old jokes about PDX, and maybe even help us see our city in a new light. —AS   

The Left Hand of DarknessMay 2–June 2

It’s hard to imagine a more utopian project: Portland Playhouse, the city’s most heavy-hitting young theater, teams up with the multi-media performance mavens Hand2Mouth Theatre to tackle the most significant work of the most significant local writer, Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness—otherwise known as the book that elevated fantasy to high literature. —AS   

A Bright New Boise  | May 31–June 23

This breakthrough tragicomedy by firecracker-hot Idaho playwright Samuel D. Hunter tells the story of a small-town big-box employee waiting for the rapture. In a coup, Third Rail’s production will be directed by John Vreeke, who directed it at DC’s renowned Woolly Mammoth. —SC  

For ticket prices and showtimes, click on the event's title to visit the event's listing.

Oregon Ballet Theatre‘s 2008 production of Trey McIntyre’s Just

American Music Festival 

More often than not, music plays a central but unsung role in dance. But not in Oregon Ballet Theatre’s penultimate show of the season, which will place American, and even Northwest, music front and center in works by three of contemporary ballet’s most exciting choreographers. Ever on trend, Boise-based Trey McIntyre feeds the hunger for all things indie by choreographing his new OBT commission to the dreamy music of NW folk band Fleet Foxes. “Trey has a very long history with OBT and has been at the forefront of contemporary ballet in the US,” says OBT’s interim artistic director, Anne Mueller. “His work is, at the same time, accessible and of the highest artistic value—a rare combination.” A second world premiere involves a collaboration between composer (and Portland native) Ryan Francis and Swedish choreographer Pontus Lidberg. Rounding out the lineup is At the Border, choreographed by Matthew Neenan, the inaugural winner of the New Essential Works Fellowship from the nationally prestigious Jerome Robbins Foundation, and scored by Pulitzer Prize–winning composer John Adams. —Rachel Rasmussen  

Northwest Dance ProjectMar 28–30

This year’s Spring Performances bring new collaborations with some of the company’s besties. Expect new works by artistic director Sarah Slipper and French knight and world-traveling choreographer Patrick Delcroix, the man the Los Angeles Times called “the fastest dancer on the planet,” as well as an old favorite by Wen Wei Wang. —RR  

Paul Taylor Dance CompanyApr 4–6

For its 15th anniversary season, White Bird brings back the first company it ever presented. Ironically, the piece the Paul Taylor Dance Company will perform, The Uncommitted, set to music by minimalist Estonian composer Arvo Pärt (a favorite of Björk), is all about the inability to form lasting relationships within a modern society. Happy to know Portland is the exception. —RR   

CircaApr 10–13

Combine the joyful freedom of a circus clown’s falls, the nail-biting suspense of an acrobat’s stunts, and the aesthetics and emotions of a modern dance company, and you’ll get Circa, a small but wondrous troupe from Brisbane that’s taking world audiences by storm. The Guardian calls this program of the company’s greatest hits “knee-tremblingly sexy, beautiful and moving.” —RR  

PICA SymposiumJune 6–9

Building on the success of last year’s Symposium, the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art has invited two artists to town for a long weekend of performance and social events: Alaskan Yu’pik dancer Emily Johnson, who contributed “The Thank-you Bar” to PICA’s Time-Based Art fest in 2010, and visual artist Anna Craycroft, who is collaborating with local participants throughout the summer to create a new shared language spanning Chinook Wawa, fractal geometry, and more, called “C’mon Language.” —AS  For a schedule of events and venues, visit pica.org.

For ticket prices and showtimes, click on the event's title to visit the event's listing.

Cyclepedia: A Century of Iconic Bicycle Design

Drawing from the one-of-a-kind collection of Viennese designer Michael Embacher, this exhibition promises something pure and simple: bike porn. From landmark racing models and vintage cruisers to folding bikes, a parachute bike, and even an ice bike (with a skate for its front wheel), the collection showcases not only the engineering behind the simple, sweat-powered vehicle of locomotion, but the sheer artistry that has elevated it from a tool to an obsession. Having been displayed just a few times in Europe, the collection makes its first and only stateside stop at the Portland Art Musuem—another yellow jersey for our town’s growing cycling cred. —AS  

Critical Art EnsembleMar 14–June 2

The internationally renowned, politically provocative arts collective Critical Art Ensemble is tapping economist Edward Wolff and mathematician David Sommer to create an installation illustrating the country’s relative wealth distribution, ranging from a two-foot hole in the ground representing debtors to a banner 450 feet in the air representing the top 20 percent. —Madelynn Vislocky  

An installation by Saya Woolfalk

Space Is the PlaceMar 23–Apr 28

With one foot in 1970s funk and the other in an outlandish future, Afrofuturism has reinterpreted the standard constructs of science fiction to explore connections between gender, race, and technology. In the final exhibition by curator-in-residence Josephine Zarkovich, work by David Huffman, Saya Woolfalk, Wendy Red Star, and Guillermo Gómez-Peña (who recently won a United States Artists Fellow Award) will show that the movement doesn’t stop at George Clinton. —GC  

Photo MonthApril

Now entering its third year, Photolucida’s Photo Month plasters Portland’s finest galleries, museums, and unlikely spaces with the still image in all of its complex, two-dimensional glory. Highlights include Hungarian photographer Tamas Dezso at Blue Sky Gallery, keynote speaker Alec Soth, and a portfolio walk through the works of 160 photographers from around the globe.—AS For festival info, visit portlandphotomonth.org.

Michelle RossJune 6–29

Among the artists featured in the art museum’s NW Contemporary Art Awards exhibition in 2011, Portland painter Ross continues her exploratory mix of materials, paint, print culture, and abstraction. For this show, she turns to magazine pages, riffing on the chemical reaction of pigment and ink. —SC 

For ticket prices and showtimes, click on the event's title to visit the event's listing.

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