McMenamins’ new outdoor concert series asks the tantalizing question, “What if Edgefield did not feel like the Hunger Games?” The ultra-popular lawn shows at that Troutdale venue consistently draw big names, bigger crowds, and—for all their considerable glory—concessions lines and parking woes that would make Dante quiver in his laurel crown. Forest Grove's Grand Lodge is here to suggest a more civilized way forward.
Opened as a McMenamins in 2000, the former Masonic temple has long been one of the company's most versatile properties, sporting two restaurants, three bars, a hotel, a spa, a movie theater, a disc golf course, and generally lush, walkable grounds. Last winter, the spot announced its newest venture: a series of Edgefield-style “Concerts in the Grove,” with acts spanning Gen Z favorites (King Princess) to post-punk heroes of yesteryear (The Psychedelic Furs). The series kicked off in earnest on June 16, and if opening night is anything to go by, McMenamins has struck minor gold.
First things first—the Grand Lodge’s lawn is about half the size of Edgefield’s (3,300 max capacity versus 7,000), which either means more intimacy or less raucousness, depending on the kind of night you’re hoping to have. The grandeur of a four-beers-deep Decemberists scream-along would no doubt be dulled at this new venue, which faces the sunset but also faces a looming Starbucks logo across Pacific Avenue. The energy at Thursday’s inaugural gig, a She & Him show, straddled the line between blissed-out and muted; most concertgoers remained seated, and each song was met with a smattering of polite, satisfied applause. The thermometer hovered at a crisp 68 degrees all evening. Everyone was out by 9:15.
For people looking to catch, say, Bleachers or Franz Ferdinand in the open air without incurring notable physical or emotional distress, this should come as incredible news. All concerts in the Grove start at 6:30 p.m., and while a few cars lined US-47 on the drive into the venue on Thursday night, that sight mostly read like a (very reasonable) response to Edgefield trauma. In this writer’s experience, navigating in and out of the official Grand Lodge venue parking was quick, clear, and painless. Travel time from Portland, though, is likely to be a little higher than Troutdale: Forest Grove is 10 miles further out, but it is also not situated off I-84.
Assessing the food and drink at a McMenamins can feel spiritually similar to assessing the ads in Playboy (not the point!), and indeed, there’s little of note to report on that front. Lines on opening night were longish but hardly soul-crushing, with three distinct stations to reduce bottlenecking. Two are drink-only—$12 cocktails and McMenamins beer, $8–10 beers from other brewers—and the third serves up typical McMenamins concert fodder, including an entirely edible sauerkraut-drenched kielbasa, hummus plates, burgers, pulled-pork sandwiches, caesar salads, and the like. (A major benefit of the food station: it's situated within ear-and-eye-shot of the stage.)
For a brand-new venue, the sound was surprisingly locked in. Drums were audible without drowning anything else out, and the Astoria-grown upright bass player who kind of looked like a cartoon fisherman wailing on a massive violin got plenty of love in the mix. At such a harmony-heavy gig, it was an unexpected delight to hear the vocals so clearly, with Zooey Deschanel's melodies soaring right above her electric piano chords and M. Ward's guitar fireworks.
Once the band finished floating through cuts from their back catalogue and upcoming Brian Wilson tribute album, Deschanel and M. Ward reemerged for an encore of Smokey Robinson's "You've Really Got a Hold on Me." Deschanel dedicated the song to her parents, who were in the audience and gearing up to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. The sun was about to set, and I spotted the wife of my high school history teacher. It was like the entire universe had conspired in that moment to make me go, "Aw," so I did. It felt good. What else can we ask for, really?