Every September the heart of the Rose City buzzes for the better part of a week with psychedelic and indie rock nouveau, avant-garde electronic beats and impassioned folk music.
Now in its twelfth year, the festival has become the third largest indoor festival in the country. Over the years, MFNW has attracted such acts as The Smashing Pumpkins, Built to Spill and Band of Horses.
This year, MFNW expands to five days of music and for the first time includes Portland Digital eXperience, which is like a PDX version of a TED conference with speakers focusing on tech and digital creativity.
Bands headlining the 2012 edition include Silversun Pickups, Passion Pit, Beirut and Girl Talk. In all, more than 180 bands will appear during the festival. Whether you have a wristband, or just happen to be visiting Stumptown that weekend, here is some can’t-miss action.
Single Best Lineup
Friday, Sept. 7, Pioneer Courthouse Square
5:30 p.m. – Gardens and Villa
This Santa Barbara band debuted last year with a self-titled album recorded in Portland and ripe with blissful summery synth. Lead singer Chris Lynch’s scratchy pop vocals resonate well with the dreamy music and he even throws in some flute from time to time.
6:30 p.m. – Menomena
Portland indie-rock band Menomena were early adopters of the DIY format and are now regularly recognized by major national publications like Pitchfork. Their sometimes subtle and other times blazing psychedelic is polished, yet still retains an unrefined quality that sounds rebellious.
8 p.m. – Beirut
Sante Fe multi-instrumentalist and singer Zach Condon spent a lot of his youth traveling in Europe. The influences of those expeditions find their way into the Baroque and gypsy sound he creates. Horns, ukuleles and accordions pepper tales of wandering and heartache.
Bands to Watch
Portland pop-orchestra Typhoon is hard to wrap your head around. Sometimes their songs can be as hollow as a solo act and other times, their robust composition of 10 or more musicians delivers a sound so big it could fill a concert hall. Lead vocalist Kyle Morton infuses songs like “CPR/Claws Pt. 2” with personal stories and ideas about the human condition.
Another blazing hot Portland band, Adventure Galley produces agile synth with British-influenced guitar rock and industrious vocals floating atop nimble drumbeats. When macerated with anthem-like choruses, their music becomes delicious power-pop rock with a genius vintage hue.
Cambridge dance-synth group Passion Pit has a sound you won’t find anywhere else. High-pitched and off-beat vocals are fortified with sunny electro-pop—it’s game-on for a sweaty, twirl-your-body dance party.
Things to Bring
Cash: Venue hopping means cabs and chances to lose plastic. Paying cash at the door also gets you in fast.
Cab Phone Numbers: Have these programmed into your phone. Portland isn’t NYC and cabs don’t whiz by every second.
Point-and-shoot camera: Don’t be a douche—flash sucks, so make sure your camera is decent enough to take pics without one.
Smartphone with Google Maps: If you’re not familiar with the layout of Rip City, a smartphone app is just the thing to get around using your own two feet.
Tucked away amongst the Central Oregon Ponderosa is one of the region’s biggest and best folk festivals. A three-day event, the Sisters Folk Festival attracts such artists as Todd Snider, Blind Pilot, Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside and Willy Porter. The 2012 version of the feel-good country, blues and bluegrass festival promises to keep that tradition alive.
Headlining the Sisters Folk Festival this year are songwriting stalwart James McMurtry, Southern songstress Mary Gauthier and multi-instrumentalist John Jorgenson. As always, expect newcomers and a few returning favorites, too.
Get out the denim jeans and straw hats, here are some can’t miss acts from the 2012 lineup.
Though folk troubadour Slaid Cleaves lives in Austin Texas, he writes thematic tunes with acoustic guitar and piano that feel more like they we penned during a silent snowfall. Perhaps that is because the silky-voiced singer was raised in Maine or maybe because he writes most of his songs while secluded for days at a time in a remote Texas cabin during the winter.
Bands to Watch
Austin Texas artist, Eliza Gilkyson is that kind of comforting antique sounding singer perfect for listening to while around a homey wood fire. Her songs are backed by delicate banjo and fluid violin, and use vivid imagery to bring you into her stories.
Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion-
It’s a dark moonless night and you’re up late assessing your complicated life. Chances are you’d find the simple messages and folk-rock music of duo Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion a welcome companion. Their yet-to-be released fourth album is a collaboration with Wilco front-man Jeff Tweedy, who produced the album and appears on a few tracks himself. The music is vintage and forward thinking all at the same time, which is appropriate since the lyrics are often about connecting the past with the present and future.
Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys
Equal parts dusty rockabilly and ‘50s swing music, Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys produce a comforting sound from an era when hip-swaying dance was dropping jaws and driving wedges between parents and their children. They are sure to convince more than a few toes to tap and more than a few couples to get up and shake a rug.
A quartet of fast-paced string musicians, Colorado group Taarka will pluck and strum their way into your heart. Their sound is a blend of dance bluegrass and pensive classical music.
Gregory Alan Isakov
Things to Bring
Warm clothes: It’s September on the High Desert, should go without saying that it gets chilly at night around here.
Your friends: Carpool to the event. Not only will it make getting to and from Sisters much easier, but the Sisters Folk Festival is best experienced when you’re passing a flask of whiskey around a circle of companions—after you arrive of course.
A printed schedule: The Sisters Folk Festival takes place in several different venues around the town, including coffee shops. The best way to keep track of it all is with a schedule you can fold up and tuck in your pocket.
Ice chest of food: Chances are, you’ll be spending most of the day in Sisters. While normally there is no shortage of good places to eat—the town and its restaurants will be packed all weekend. That makes having a place you can go get a snack without waiting in line a must-have option.
Photos taken from Big Hassle and Sarah Lee's Myspace page.
Wristbands $75-$350 depending on VIP/PDX entry status at musicfestnw.com
Individual shows at the door, varied $
Sisters Folk Festival
Go to sistersfolkfestival.org
for ticket information