Sunday, September 11

MFNW - Day One

 Besides reading up on Portland's Music Fest Northwest through the publication that hosts the event, I didn't know what to expect.  Every lineup description had a "you have to seen this band" feel to it, but let's face it - do I really want to see a band named CJ and the Dolls?  So in an effort to get to the bottom of what this city has to offer and find the pulse of the Northwest's music scene I picked up a pricy wristband and began my quest.  

   Let's get all the SXSW comparisons out of the way now so we can get on with it.  If SXSW is the bigger older brother with cool clothes and a connection to good parties, MFNW is the young, scrappy brother who is kind of quiet in person but makes damn good music in the basement.  SXSW has been going on longer (since '87) and attracts bigger names.  It is also seen as the proverbial "headphones" of international label heads and music/culture bloggers.  And what I like most about SXSW is the fact that the majority of the action all takes place on 4 or 5 parallel streets. If you don't like a band, no problem, just walk next door where a Japanese punk band is sampling the Sega Genesis theme song.
   MFNW (which used to be co-hosted by SXSW's management) is more spread out which noticeably detracts from a music festival's vibe.  If you happened to be visiting Portland during the event you might notice the big stage in Pioneer Square, but you probably wouldn't make the connection that there is a city-wide festival going on.  The distance means there is a lack of community to the festival that is so apparent in Austin.  That being said, this encourages festivalgoers to take part in the PDX past time of biking.  You feel pretty cool when your waiting at a red light with six other bicyclists all headed to an underground latenight DJ set in a warehouse.  

What MFNW lacks in proximity, it makes up for in style. 

I think the bottom line is: not as many shows, but you're bound to really like one of the bands you see at each venue.  Also whoever was in charge of pairing bands together did an excellent job.  Each show had a general genre or vibe that permeated throughout the night.  (i.e. Explosions in the Sky and Eluvium).  

Kelly Blair Bauman at Bunk Bar
Day One
Crooked Fingers
Sean Flinn & the Royal We
Kelly Blair Bauman
The Heligoats
 @ Bunk Bar

 The Festival got off to a great start at the Bunk Bar with The Heligoats. Bunk Bar is a cool, 200 person spot that makes great grilled cheeses.  Despite the mellow acoustic guitars on most of their albums, The Heligoats new-ish full band lineup really leaned into some imressive punky jams.  The vocals remind me a bit of the brilliantly simple Jon SwiftKelly Blair Bauman cooled it off a bit with distinct basslines and dark, atmospheric folk.  Sean Flinn & The Royal We clearly spend time on each song.  Everything revolves around Flinn's vocal inflections to the point that I thought I was listening to Conor Oberst perform a musical.  It wasn't my cup of tea, but my friends visiting from Corvallis could get into the lyrical orchestration.  That was it for me.  I had listened to Crooked Fingers beforehand and opted for sleep over another acoustic sideproject (Eric Bachmann is from Archers of Loaf fame).

The Heligoats Goodness Gracious
Kelly Blair Bauman - Wedding Day
Sean Flinn & The Royal We - Flightless Bird

Images: Noel

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