The Essentials

13 Things to See and Do in Portland: February 2020

Guitar-strumming drag queens, explosive volcano art, and festivals galore.

By Conner Reed January 21, 2020 Published in the February 2020 issue of Portland Monthly

Trixie Mattel

The guitar-strumming, hair-teasing, face-beating Drag Race: All Stars champion swings by on her Grown Up tour, promising “music, comedy, and unnecessary costume changes.” Perfect for anyone mourning the end of Dolly Parton’s AmericaFeb 6,


Profile teams up with Artists Rep to produce Paula Vogel’s Tony-winning play. One of the most-produced works in the country last season, Indecent tells the story of the controversial 1923 Broadway production of God of Vengeance. Feb 19–Mar 8,

Origin: Humble Beginnings

To celebrate its fifth anniversary, PDX Contemporary Ballet pulls a series of pieces from the vault—some of which haven’t been performed since their fledgling days in a church basement. Feb 21–23,

Fertile Ground Festival

Back for its 11th year, the Fertile Ground Festival is a famously mixed bag, but there are never not gems in the pile. The 2020 program includes the return of the mini-musical festival, plus a piece called Beethoven and Chopin (Monster Hunters) Meet the Bride of Frankenstein (A Romance). Take that as you will. Jan 30–Feb 9,


Variety called Dominique Morriseau’s play about American education disparities an “emotionally harrowing” drama that “raises barbed questions about class, race, [and] parental duty” when it premiered in New York in 2017. Now Portland Playhouse teams up with Confrontation Theatre (dedicated to presenting “excellent, affordable theatre by and about the African diaspora”) for its Portland premiere. Feb 19–Mar 15,

Garth Greenwell

The poet, essayist, and all-around queer lit heavy-hitter (his Guardian piece on Giovanni’s Room is a special kind of doozy) will head to Powell’s to chat about his new, Bulgaria-set novel, Cleanness, with Portland writer Omar El Akkad. Greenwell’s razor-sharp critical eye and tense, dangerous explorations of desire should match well with El Akkad’s urgent, worldly perspective. Feb 10,

PDX Jazz Festival

The festival’s 17th iteration promises an embarrassment of riches, from local drumming legend Mel Brown to Nigeria-born, LA-based, angel-voiced crooner Douyé. Our pick? Thundercat, the gonzo multi-instrumentalist whose catalog spans from Kendrick Lamar guest spots to songs about Dragon Ball Z. He plays at the Portland Art Museum on February 29. Feb 19–March 1,

Sara Bennett: Life After Life in Prison

Sara Bennett was a public defender specializing in cases of abused women when she started taking photographs—now she’s a decorated documenter of life behind bars. This collection, at the Blue Sky Gallery through the end of the month, follows four women as they reintegrate themselves into civilian life after decades in a New York maximum-security prison. Feb 6–Mar 1,


Forty years ago this May, Mount St. Helens blew its top, killing 57 people and casting an ashy film over the entire Northwest. Using photos, paintings, and drawings dating back to 1845, the Portland Art Museum has assembled an exhibit to tell the story of St. Helens in images. Feb 8–May 17,

NW Black Comedy Festival

The festival celebrates its fourth year at Old Portland stronghold Harvey’s Comedy Club, spanning four days and seven headliners. Comics from various showcases and storytelling events around town will take the stage, and one night will feature an all-female show called “Ladies Run This Mutha,” which we can only assume is a Sondheim/Beyoncé mashup. Feb 20–23,

Ezra Furman

The Bowie-adjacent glam rocker rolls through Portland fairly often, but that’s no excuse to skip out this time. Hot off an excellent, fuzzy album called Twelve Nudes and a prominent spot on Netflix’s Sex Education soundtrack, Furman hits the Aladdin in the middle of the month. His live shows split the difference between basement punk and a regional production of Hedwig, if that gets you going. Feb 18,


Slick Devious had a minor local hit last fall with the TriMet ode “Bus MAX Walk (My BMW).” His album Casual Anger is sort of a blast, with tracks like “Gresham” and “Taco Bell Drive Thru” bouncing around a 90-minute wonderland of drum machines and vape jokes.


Former Portlander Susan Orlean was played in a movie by Meryl Streep. The rest of us might rest on that laurel, but Orlean (in town with Literary Arts Feb 20) keeps churning out fascinating work. Her latest, The Library Book, is a love letter to the community institutions.

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