Today’s Internet Artifact Is This 20-Year-Old ‘Portland Mercury’ Music Calendar
November 30, 2000. Bill Clinton was a lame-duck president. The Florida Supreme Court was hearing arguments on a recount of votes for George W. Bush and Al Gore, and the next president was still up in the air. Destiny’s Child, Madonna, Mya, and *Nsync were all in the Billboard top 10. The youngest baby boomers were nearing 40, and millennials weren’t old enough to get into bars yet without a top-notch fake ID; it was Generation X’s world. And the music calendar in six-month-old weekly the Portland Mercury was packed.
“I can tell you Jackstraw would have been Tuesdays, the Prairie Dogs Fridays. Velvida Underground had a night, and the Freak Mountain Ramblers played Saturdays,” says singer-songwriter James Low, reciting from memory most of the regular happy hour acts at his favorite hangout of that era, the LaurelThirst Public House, where Low was still doing a monthly happy hour in 2020 before the coronavirus shutdown. Some other venues he played back then weren’t as long-lived: the Green Room in Northwest and Snake & Weasel in Ladd’s Addition.
A friend’s “Have I seen any bands that start with A?” question this spring on Facebook (she was doing one of those alphabetical list challenges) prompted me to double-check it was San Fran indie band the Aislers Set that had opened for Bratmobile at the old Meow Meow on my first trip to Portland, when I shared a bunk with a woman who kept eating chicken in her bed at the Hawthorne Hostel, admired locals’ coats at the Holiday Ale Fest, and caught some jammier bands at the LaurelThirst. It might have been that Velvida Underground night—perhaps I sat near Low, who at the moment has switched his regular happy hour online (along with his student-teacher gig for a Tigard elementary school while he works toward his MAT at Western Oregon University—like many long-term performers in town, he figured education might make for a good steady gig).
Thanks to the Mercury and the internet, I found my answer (yes, that Meow Meow show ticked off A and B in my own alphabetical challenge), but I also found a ton of names that still appear on local bar sandwich boards and music calendars—or did, up until measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 closed everything down. Let’s dive in.
Rootsy guitarist and singer-songwriter Maria Webster played Thursday night at 52nd Avenue Sports Bar, which still sits on NE Sandy Boulevard today but rarely has live music, just karaoke. The show at the Ash Street Saloon (which closed in 2017) included the Cosmos Group, with onetime Willamette Week music writer Dewey Mahood. Openers The Planet The would release albums of their own in 2003 and 2005. And Reeks & the Wraiths—aw, man, I knew that sounded familiar. It included Orion Satushek, who was also in Spooky Dance Band, and who would be killed in a grisly, multi-fatality accident in 2003, when a repeat drunk driver on a suspended license hit a group of cyclists on SE Belmont. (The driver died last July, three-quarters of the way into a 20-year sentence.)
At Berbati’s Pan (the venue would close 10 years later, at the end of 2010, shortly after the death of owner Ted Papaioannou at age 56), Lisa Marsicek was performing with Betty Already and was about to start Miz Kitty’s Parlour vaudeville show. It’s still running, though the April 18 show planned for the Old Church was canceled. Also now closed are the Blue Note (its West Burnside space was most recently Nick Zukin’s Zapapizza), Brasserie Montmartre (closed 2006, open again in 2009, closed in 2011, reopened 2012, closed for good 2015 and now home to Park Avenue Fine Wines), and Candlelight Cafe and Bar (razed in 2012 to make way for TriMet’s Orange Line MAX). Candlelight regular Norman Sylvester was as busy as ever with regular gigs into 2020, until COVID-19 put the kibosh on his regular nights at places like the Spare Room, Clyde’s Prime Rib, and Catfish Lou’s.
I’m guessing the show at the Crystal Ballroom is really OB Addy with his band I&I, and not Obo Addy, his uncle, an Accra native and celebrated Ghanaian drummer and Lewis & Clark professor who founded Homowo, an African arts and culture nonprofit. Or maybe the uncle and nephew, whose disputes would reach the courts a few years later, were temporarily on good terms and playing a show together. But I doubt it. Obo Addy died in 2012.
Tapas restaurant and late-night dance spot Fernando’s Hideaway closed in 2007, but Toshi Onizuka was still playing regularly at places like El Gaucho before the coronavirus shutdown began. Hoppers Blue Bar on outer SE Division drew many noise complaints in the early 2000s. It’s now a cannabis dispensary. Old Town’s long-running Jazz de Opus closed in 2003; the strip club that now occupies its space was, for a while, offering “DancerDash” food delivery during the COVID-19 closure. The final show at the legendary Jimmy Mak’s was on the last night of 2016; owner Jimmy Makarounis died from cancer of the larynx two days later (what is it with Portland’s club owners of Greek ancestry being taken too soon?), while drummer and national treasure Mel Brown’s most recent scheduled show was March 8: an afternoon gig on the coast for Nehalem’s Winterfest.
The November 30 Kells performer, Winterfolk founder Tom May, is still around, and so is the Irish pub, though its St. Patrick’s blowout had to be canceled this year. The LaurelThirst lineup that night included blues musician Robert Cannon, who appears to now co-own a brewery in his native Mitchell in Central Oregon, and Velvida Underground featuring Trashcan Joe—still a regular performer on the McMenamins circuit before the chain essentially shuttered during the pandemic. Lewis & Clark College and its Evans Music Center endure. NE Alberta Street’s Medicine Hat is now Trade-Up Music, but on this night in 2000 it hosted an Olympia-rich lineup of Enemymine, Bastinado, and Mood Swings. The members of Finnish death metal band Noumena stretched their time in Portland, hitting the Mount Tabor Theater (now Quarterworld, the arcade that’s renting out some of its machines during the COVID-19 closure) on Thursday and the Ash Street on Sunday.
The Rabbit Hole & Mad Hatter Lounge is now the two-level Elvis Room. McMenamins’ Rock Creek Tavern performers Eric Schweiterman and John Becher are still making music around town, Becher playing with the Resolectrics on the pre-coronavirus McMenamins circuit. San Diego Christian nu metal group P.O.D. took the Roseland’s stage November 30. As of May, the long-running band’s summer 2020 European tour had not been canceled.
Legendary Chinatown punk club Satyricon was visited that night by Sylous, a Portlander who would later also perform under the name My Darling Boy. Ladd’s Addition coffeehouse Snake & Weasel is long gone. The St. Johns Pub is still there, but McMenamins would later switch its domed theater (built as an exhibit hall for the 1905 Lewis & Clark Exposition and later barged downriver to St. Johns) from primarily a music venue to yet another cinema. Part of the Mount Tabor Theatre, the Tabor Acoustic Room shuttered when Jason Sabala took over the venue and pumped up the rock factor. The Touchstone Café was in a little red building on NE Glisan in Montavilla. The Twilight (the one on Powell, not Lombard), the White Eagle, Wilf’s at Union Station (performer John Gilmore is also a piano tuner/technician), and Eugene’s Woodmen of the World Hall were all still hosting music this year before the shutdown.
It was surely a loud night at the Ash Street thanks to Lopez, a punk-rock band originally from Wenatchee that would go on to share members with Gaytheist and bills with Red Fang. Busy Jerry Joseph, who played a CD release show at Berbati’s Pan for 2000’s Everything Is Beautiful and whose huge New Year’s Eve shows are still a Portland tradition, had to cancel spring shows this year due to the coronavirus closures, as well as a European tour with Drive-By Truckers this summer.
Borders Books & Music, which once anchored downtown’s Mohawk Building, went out of business in 2011. Born in 1925, Brasserie Montmartre staple Eddie Wied had gone to Lewis & Clark College and then Juilliard before eventually returning to Portland and becoming a fixture at the Jazz Quarry downtown and the Hobbit in Southeast, playing with the likes of Mel Brown and Leroy Vinnegar. Known as “The Professor,” Wied died in 2007. Portland band Smooch Knob (a record company website claims the name is a reference to a knob on a car steering wheel to ease one-handed operation and not what my inner teenage boy thought it was) played at Frank Faillace’s Cobalt Lounge, in the Old Town stumble zone at NW Third Avenue and Couch. It would become the Dixie Tavern in 2005, one of the few 21st-century new businesses outside of the South to use Dixie in its name. (SE Belmont Street’s unrelated Dixie Mattress, which is also the title of a Jerry Joseph song, closed in 2010.)
Already something of a riot grrrl reunion act in 2000, Bratmobile played the Meow Meow Friday, at the all-ages club’s original SE Pine Street location (now event space Union/Pine). Today, front woman Allison Wolfe is 50 and has a podcast. Also on the bill were the Aislers Set (who had their own reunion tour in 2014) and The Tennessee Twin (Wolfe’s twin sister, Cindy, in fact, and not the current British country duo of the same name).
The Sassy magazine subscription I’d had 10 years before guaranteed I was in the Meow Meow crowd that night to raise a glass to Bratmobile guitarist Erin Smith, onetime Sassy intern and the teen magazine’s “Washington bureau chief.” So I missed my chance to see the not-yet-megafamous White Stripes (their breakout White Blood Cells album would come out the following year and see a major-label rerelease in 2002, and Jack Black would record his “Portland, Oregon” duet with her majesty Loretta Lynn in 2004) and the already-infamous Fireballs of Freedom the same night at Satyricon.
“We had our normal, Portland kind of EJ’s fallout, drunken partier dude fest,” Fireballs singer and guitarist Kelly Gately said this April by phone from Minneapolis, where he and his wife moved in 2016 and where he’d been furloughed from his bartending job. “The Fireballs had a great set. A ton of our friends were there; it was kind of a rowdy, drunken blowout. I remember Jack White coming up to me as we were loading our gear off the stage, and he was like, ‘Thanks so much for playing these shows,’ and he was just a really humble, super-sweet dude, and he said, ‘Man, it really sucks having to follow you guys.’ I was sort of flattered, but then in a way, you know, I don’t think he meant so much the craftsmanship of our songs necessarily but more the dynamic and the volume.”
The show was part of a weekend-long tour that also took the bands to Seattle and Vancouver. “They definitely had a pretty big buzz, kind of an underground following, but I didn’t realize how insane of a following,” says Gately. “The shows were attended like crazy, packed out all weekend. I remember being taken aback at how many new faces were there, kind of a younger generation looking for something a little different than, you know, your ’90s noisy garage stuff.”
Gately also remember that fat envelope of cash the White Stripes got at the end of the night and the thin one for the Fireballs. “Mike Thrasher, rest in peace, was settling out with us, and he handed us our envelope ... we were getting like $200. We had the same booking agent, the White Stripes and the Fireballs did. We all kind of met eyes, and Mike was like, ‘You guys really need to talk to your agent, have him restructure your guarantee....’”
Dante’s regulars Black Angel, with the vocals of J. R. Pella and Tahoe Jackson, lent their soul sound to a benefit show at Berbati’s on Saturday, December 2. (Jackson was also in Hungry Mob, which played the night before at Old Town electronica dance hall Ohm, which closed in 2009 after issues with the police and OLCC.) A long-renowned educator and mentor, trumpeter Thara Memory, who played Jimmy Mak’s this night with his Super Band, would die in 2017 under the shadow of sex abuse and harassment charges.
Dee Settlemeir, part of Mad Hattie, which played the LaurelThirst December 1, is now playing vaudevillian jazz with the Libertine Belles and works as a licensed acupuncturist. Local multi-instrumentalist Kaitlyn ni Donovan had just started playing with dream pop band the High Violets, and they had a show at Meow Meow Saturday night with the Prids, who had moved to town the year before. Freedom Funk Ensemble, which also played the night before at Ohm, appeared at Mount Tabor.
Rachel Browning played Saturday night on a bill with Trespassers William, who saw some of their songs used in Felicity, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, One Tree Hill, and The O.C. Browning doesn’t remember much about the SoCal-by-way-of-Seattle band that night, but she does remember her band’s weekly shows at the Rabbit Hole & Mad Hatter Lounge—her favorite place in that era to unleash her “alt-country with a minor twang,” she says. “Back then Portland was really known for that kind of music, roots-inspired stuff, and we were part of that whole scene.” At the Rabbit Hole, Browning says, “The staff were all wonderful, and they had these incredible sweet potato fries, which they used as a way of luring people to the shows.” She says the staff told her they always had to order more beer on her regular weekly nights there. In the decade that followed, Browning says, “I got married, I had a baby, I got divorced, things were hard, and there was a recession.” Today, she’s working from home during the pandemic as the general manager of Salvage Works, the building supply company she and her brother Preston opened in 2010 “in the midst of the recession, because neither of us could get a job.” (Also a musician, Preston played mandolin and sang in Fescu 911, which played the LaurelThirst and Duffy’s—now the St. Johns Pub—in the ’90s.)
On Satyricon’s stage, Saturday saw King Black Acid, already recording on Portland’s Cavity Search Records and soon to embark on a steady career creating music for films and TV commercials, and the well-connected Luther Russell. The still-busy Caleb Klauder, also of long-running Calobo, was at McMenamins’ White Eagle.
Biddy McGraw’s opened on SE Hawthorne in the ’90s and had recently moved to NE Glisan and 60th when Earl and the Reggae Allstars played there on Sunday night. (Later known as the O'Neill Pub, it closed in January 2019.) Bandleader Earl Marson is also the SewingMan, a tailor with a shop on NE Killingsworth Street today. “We played around Portland, Saturday Market, all over the place,” says Marson, who still works on solo music projects on garage band in addition to tailoring. “But the music industry in Portland changed. It got tougher. You know Portland’s changed, Reggae kind of got pushed to the back seat, plus I stopped performing for a while.” Marson says it’s been a few years since the last Allstars show.
Club 21-goers that night enjoyed a cover band of Norwegian deathpunk legends Turbonegro, called the Denim Demons. The little gnome house on NE Sandy and 21st closed in 2017 and was demolished to make way for a six-story apartment building.
Sunday’s act at Jazz de Opus, Dan Balmer, was also busy before the coronavirus shutdown. “I was playing three or four or five nights a week, as I have for the past 40 years. I play every Monday at Jo Bar in Northwest Portland, and every Thursday at the Jack London with the Mel Brown B3 organ group,” says Balmer, a guitarist, composer, bandleader, and educator who teaches at Lewis & Clark College. “Weekends, there’s a bunch of different groups I play with, and I do private events. But nobody’s as busy as they were in the ’90s and ’80s. Partly, Portland has become less of a jazz town.” Balmer points to a lot of reasons there are fewer jazz clubs today, like the aging of fans and the rise of new genres, but he says there are still supportive bar owners and crowds at places like the 1905 off N Mississippi, the Jack London Revue, the Teutonic Wine Company, and Christo’s in Salem. “It used to be there would be a string of names that come right off my tongue. I played at Jimmy Mak’s three nights a week for 13 years. That was one of the best jazz clubs in the world,” says Balmer. “The McMenamins are a power player,“ Balmer notes, when I observe that some of the regional chain’s venues have had some of the same names on their music calendars for decades. “If they liked jazz”—or at least if McMenamins bookers relied on jazz the same was they seem to rely on rootsy and old-time acts—“the world would be much different.”
Local institution the Freak Mountain Ramblers (regulars at LaurelThirst and one of those rootsy bands that found a lot of work with McMenamins) lost core member Jimmy Boyer to cancer in 2016. The Meow Meow bill on Sunday included the sludgy hard rock of Last of the Juanitas, a longtime Portland band originally from Arizona who released albums on Montana’s Wantage USA label. Back in Arizona, today one of its members runs a record store in Tucson.
Jazz guitarist John Stowell, who played at Brasserie Montmartre Monday, December 4, was busy with performances this year before coronavirus closed things down. Hair metal band Ratt, whose biggest hit, “Round and Round,” came out in 1984, made a stop Monday at Crystal Ballroom on its reunion tour. (The group has since splintered amid trademark disputes, with some version of it appearing in a recent Geico commercial.)
Karaoke From Hell was still at Dante’s every Monday (plus a few other regular spots on other nights) into March 2020. Drummer, bandleader, and Portland native Ron Steen, who played at Produce Row on this night in 2000, was still plying his nearly four-decade-old Jazz Jam at Clyde’s Prime Rib and the 1905 this year. Another LaurelThirst regular, Little Sue (a.k.a. Susannah Weaver) played at the White Eagle Monday night. Nineteen years later, the singer-songwriter would be inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame. (Other Hall of Famers who played this week include Steen, Balmer, Lloyd Jones, Curtis Salgado, Mel Brown, Janice Scroggins, Norman Sylvester, Pete Krebs, Jerry Joseph, the Freak Mountain Ramblers, and the Dandy Warhols.)
The usually indie-rock-oriented Berbati’s hosted a local blues lineup Tuesday with Curtis Salgado, Janice Scroggins, and Lloyd Jones. Salgado has upcoming shows scheduled close to home as well as in Netherlands and Italy, though his website notes dates are subject to change. Longtime performer, teacher, and mentor Scroggins died in 2014. Jones would be playing this week at the Muddy Rudder and the Spirit Pub if not for COVID-19 closures.
Jackstraw has been a Tuesday constant at the LaurelThirst, up through 2020. “They’ve been doing a regular happy hour for over 20 years,” says pub co-owner Lewi Longmire, adding that Jackstraw guitarist Jon Neufeld has helped with construction projects while the pub has been closed this spring.
The Medicine Hat on Tuesday hosted Garmonbozia, an early version of Blitzen Trapper with a Twin Peaks–inspired name. At the Pine Street Theatre (which had spent the ’90s as the storied La Luna and would later be briefly known as Solid State), 71-year-old guitar legend Link Wray took the stage on one of his last tours. He died five years later. Common played the Roseland Tuesday night, a few years before some UPN sitcom cameos would lead to the hip-hop artist into acting more regularly.
Across the Columbia River in Washington, Vancouver’s Arnada Café space is now home to I Like Comics (currently open for curbside pickup). Slabtown denizens the Dandy Warhols crossed the Willamette River to play at the Pine Street Wednesday. Front man Courtney Taylor-Taylor would purchase the Portland Mercury five years later. (Kidding! That didn't actually happen. But it was a good joke and a memorable issue!) Rabbit Hole performers Pete Krebs & Kung Pao Chickens were both still performing regularly this year, though not generally together. In the intervening decades, Krebs (also of local punk legends Hazel) beat cancer yet again.
NE Alberta’s Star E. Rose Café closed in 2012, its space in the old Rexall Drugs building now occupied by the “welcoming unicorn café” Just Bob. Overseeing Beat Resurrection at the Viscount (still around and offering both recorded and livestreamed dance classes during the shutdown) was Cat Daddy, who would later cofound downtown Portland institution Voodoo Doughnut with Karaoke From Hell’s Tres Shannon.
Will all the “still going” artists and venues and regular gigs return when the coronavirus shutdown is over? We hope so, but we don’t know. In the meantime, maybe we can catch a livestreamed show and add to a virtual tip jar, buy a local artist’s record from a local record store (Music Millennium has curbside pickup), or, if we’re able, even set aside some of that stimulus check or federal unemployment supplement for future concert tickets (to quote my friend Jerry, you never regret buying concert tickets, so just buy the damn concert tickets) or cover charges or band tip jars. The live music will come back. It has to.
Did you play at or attend any of these shows and have something to add? Or just have a question or story idea? Email [email protected]