I’m not sure how it happened but Portland recently became just a little too small for me to handle. I had to leave. I left for Chicago to visit a friend for a week and re-evaluate what I loved about Portland and why I suddenly wanted to leave. I came to Chicago at the perfect time. The city was big, the people were new and music was everywhere.
At the Metro, Chicago’s version of the Crystal Ballroom, I heard Sufjan Stevens sing Illinois in Illinois and Norway’s Royksopp make an entire crowd bob to the beat. The world music festival brought musicians like Brazil’s Seu George and Cuba’s Juan-Carlos Formell to town. The Celtic Fest saluted Celtic music and dance with free shows in Grant Park.
Compared to a summer of music festivals in the Northwest, from Portland’s PDX Pop Now! and Music Fest Northwest, to Seattle’s Bumbershoot, Chicago was a melting pot of cultural exchange through music. And it was inspiring. The change of scenery gave me a new vantage point to rediscover what I love about music and art.
Portland is a city where you randomly run into people you know everyday. Our small music and arts community is a network of people who know people who know people. Sometimes it can be overwhelming. I realized it’s what I love and hate about this city. It’s what made me want to leave and it’s what made me want to come back.
I saw a lineup of Finnish folk musicians perform in Chicago. One in the group was performer Jonna Karanka. Throughout her performance she was alone on the stage, repetitively looping recordings. She pulled out a kazoo; she’d clap her hands. It seemed silly until I listened to what she was creating. The recordings created the sound of a natural environment, a forest filled with life. And as she added layer after layer of sound the forest began to become urbanized.
What I heard was what music and art should be: an exploration of emotion and movement, a relationship between listener and creator.
The day I came back to Portland I saw Arcade Fire perform at the Crystal Ballroom. The show was a visual sound of pure joy and energy. Everyone was moving, everyone felt lucky to have tickets. And the show didn’t end at the Crystal Ballroom, it ended outside of it. Arcade Fire took their music to the streets, stopping traffic on Burnside as they played. A crowd gathered around them and when I came outside I couldn’t help but run and join. The music made me happy.
I want our paper to highlight the musicians and artists that create moments like these, moments that take you further into yourself. It’s a brave thing to be honest, which is what I think music and art is founded on. It’s a form of expression for what we can’t always be or say. Being able to produce art and music is a wonderful gift, and so is being able to experience it. It’ll take you home whenever you feel lost.