Interview by Bryan Bruchman
Things have changed a lot over the past few years at One Longfellow Square. The non-profit arts venue in downtown Portland has transformed from a respected but often low-key listening room to a vibrant stop on the ever-growing Portland nightlife scene. Looking at their calendar, one thing sticks out as a clear indicator of the newer directions in their schedule: for the past year, The Live And Local has been bringing local musicians who we may be more used to seeing at other rooms in town to the venue every Tuesday night for the low price of $5 (including HillyTown favorites like Butcher Boy, Lisa/Liza, BABE, Herbcraft, Afraid, If and It, and more). We talked to the current programmer of this series, Savanna Pettengill – who also happens to be a photographer with a show up at Think Tank thru April, is a member of the Bakery Photo Collective, is the resident visual performer with Waco Sparkler, and works at Kurier – about the series, OLS, and the state of the Portland music scene, all ahead of tonight’s Winter series closing show with Methuin Muir, Aleric Nez, and The Orchards. Following the interview, you’ll find an exclusive announcement of the One Longfellow Square Live And Local Spring 2015 Season schedule!
How long have you been working at OLS?
I started working at OLS in Sept. of 2012 as a bartender. Last year I did a stint as bar manager while I was finishing school, and now I’m pretty much there just as the Live and Local coordinator. I only work bar shifts on Tuesdays and the other hours I work are dedicated to booking the series and designing and coordinating marketing for the the Live and Local shows.
Any general comments on the state of the Portland music scene from your perspective?
2014 was a great year for local music despite the number of closing venues. In true Portland fashion, many rose to the occasion to create new opportunities for musicians who needed it. The creation of Live and Local at One Longfellow Square was designed to do just that: to provide an intimate room with a good sound and light system, an actual stage, and an atmosphere of good music and listening fans. We also wanted to create the ability for new energy to be pumped through the space. New energy not only for the venue, but an opportunity for musicians to approach the room with their best efforts, including maybe rethinking the way they normally play to cater to a space that isn’t their normal room. The series was designed with no rules other than local original music that could be seen for $5 on a Tuesday night. We at OLS couldn’t be more elated with how last year’s three runs went. Every performance was incredible, and had an exciting vibe with not only loyal fans to each act, but a number of weekly regulars coming to check out something new and great every week.
It’s clear that OLS has undergone a lot of change and growth in recent years, and the LAL series seems to have played a large roll in livening up the calendar. Was that a conscious effort made on an organizational level, or just more a factor of your direct involvement and taste in music (or something else)
The need for OLS to fill more of a role in Portland’s music scene was noted by the staff long before the genesis of Live and Local. The series itself developed out of a number of conversations between a few board members, a majority of the staff and some of the folks over at Portland Greendrinks. Out of all of our suggestions, Scott Mohler developed a consistent system for the series to sort of exist no matter who was organizing it, that was also a win-win for all involved. Of course that system has developed as the series has matured. The role it has played for both the “scene” and as a way for us as a venue to bring in some new patrons and discover new potential weekend acts or regular series spin-offs like the Fun Longfellow Comedy series has been very successful and rewarding.
My involvement really just started with that. Over time different positions were created a Longfellow, and there was a staff changeover. This resulted in me going from simply creating the posters for Live and Local and offering suggestions and ideas for shows based on acts I had seen historically, to organizing the whole series before it gets entered into the organization’s database of events. I bartend during the Live and Local nights as well. So, out of anyone in the organization aside from our regular sound guys for that night, I have the deepest understanding of our demographic’s listening and overall vibe standards, as well as their purchasing patterns. I also get to talk to many local musicians during these nights. Live and Local has become just one of the few important regular events in town that has artists supporting artists consistently week to week. I love the community aspect that has begun to exist around it.
Why Tuesdays? Did that just happen to be the most frequently dark night on the calendar, or is there some real science behind doing local shows on Tuesdays (I’m reminded of the TWO series at Port City a few years back?
Tuesdays were one of our consistently dark nights. There was more thought and strategy behind our decision, however. First off, we knew the majority of people we were targeting and that would attend this series were the musicians and artists themselves. Or, at the very least, young people who live and work on peninsula. Much of this population works in the service industry, primarily on the weekends. So Mondays through Wednesdays are many folk’s weekends. Sticking to one of these nights was a good way to create a series that could afford to take a chance on some newer unknown acts, while also knowing that for bigger acts, there were still plenty of people who could and would come out to see a show for only $5. For me, it also came down to knowing that the other consistent affordable original “series” in town on the same block, really literally across the street, was happening on Tuesdays. We didn’t want to be in the position to compete with the Monday Doldrums or with The Clash or Rap Night which both happen on Wednesdays. Setting up shows at the right time to end as Jaw Gems were beginning over at Local 188 became a really beneficial way to create some unspoken cross-promotion between both events. Many people were regularly coming out to our area of town every week anyway. With our series, for only $5 these people could choose to see a total of 3-5 awesome local acts in the same square in a 4 hour period. This is when I started using the saying #ilovelocaltuesdays.
What criteria do you use to determine which bands will play a Live And Local show, versus booking them on any other night at OLS?
The only criteria I have when looking for acts is 1) that they are local, 2) I know they can put on a dynamic and fun show no matter what, and 3) that they are willing to join our lineup that has become the Live and Local family. This leaves a ton of open room for eclectic bookings and a variety of acts to play on our special little stage in an intimate, respectful setting that has a professional sound system. I try to feature a lot of acts that I know are worth taking risks on, just to see how they do in the room. I also like throwing in some bigger names to the mix whenever possible because of the chance of some great communication and cross-pollination between various musicians who all happen to be in the room, whether they’re playing or not. This kind of camaraderie was my favorite part of volunteering with the folks over at The Oak and The Ax. I know we can’t create the same exact vibe here, but we can create a series that fills that void. It’s a small town and everyone in this field should acknowledge and hopefully respect what one another is up to. Live and Local is a place to gather around that idea.
Can you give some examples of how bands have adapted their performance to the room? What’s the most creative challenge/solution you’ve seen a band face as part of this series?
Aside from general volume, I honestly haven’t seen too many bands change their sound in order to work in the room. Part of doing this series in such an eclectic way was to showcase the variety of sounds that the room can uphold. I have seen some great uses of the opportunity to play for a new audience, however. Some have gone absolutely above and beyond in their planning. That’s my favorite part of the job. Nights like Afraid and S.S. Cretins, Video Nasties and Babe, Kenya Hall and the ToneKings, Monique Barrett and Griffin Sherry, Whale Oil and KGFREEZE, The Ladies of Longfellow, Jeff Beam’s Loudspeaker Box and Butcher Boy, Superorder and Herbcraft and the Holiday Spectacular Benefit all really excited me and made me proud to be able to bring people in to perform in the space. I am getting really excited about future shows in the next 2-3 seasons too. We definitely have some fun and creative performers coming into the space.
What’s one dream booking for Live And Local (ie. a band that doesn’t exist anymore, or a lineup that couldn’t happen for logistical reason, or a collaboration, etc)
This whole event to me is about making dream ideas happen. So many have happened already. I’d say of those left (though I do anticipate more to evolve) I’d like to see more dynamic hip-hop nights happen as part of the series. We have some great local talent in that genre that doesn’t have enough platforms to reach a wider audience. Our 1 year anniversary party is going to be a long-time dream lineup pairing of mine come true. I think that Big Blood would sound amazing in the space and I’d love for them to melt some hearts and faces on a Tuesday night to a newer audience, though they’re constrained by life commitments during the school year and only take on specific events in the summers. Some fitting band reunions like D.E.A (which almost happened with If and It), Milkman’s Union (if we’re really dreaming here) and if we’re way out in la la land, how cool would it be for some act like Jeremiah Freed to decide to reunite on a whim for a night dedicated to the local diehards? I’d like to see more of the acts from my days in helping O+A grace their stage with their intimate powerful beauty (South China, Colby Nathan, Wesley Hartley). I’d also love to host more daytime Live and Local events geared toward a wider audience where we collaborate with projects that represent some of our favorite non-profits that we work with on a regular basis (the folks at MAMM, Listen Up! Bam Bam, and The Telling Room). I’d also like to continue to bring back some local favorites who may just be visiting back in town for a short period of time. (too many to list) I’ve always thought that someday it would be cool to do Live and Local weekend shows featuring “seacoast” and “downeast” acts. It’s such special, safe, inviting and intimate room that has housed some amazing performative energy. I love seeing what local talent does with it on nights that are truly affordable for anyone. With each show I see more and more cross-over between different pockets of the music scene here, and I see it strengthening the overall music community that was already pretty strong to begin with.
Favorite recent local release?
Well it’s incredibly hard to choose a favorite, especially since don’t yet own all of the local albums that I want in my collection. However, the three local albums I’ve listened to most in my iTunes purchased in the last year are Jaw Gems Blades Pural, Afraid’s Pink Life, and Lady Lamb’s After (already). My sister and I have also really enjoyed sharing car rides over Caro Khan’s Pyronauts. There is a list of like 50 other local albums that I absolutely love, but here I am already not having truly answered your exact question.
Most anticipated upcoming release? (local or otherwise)
I’m really looking forward to the incarnation of Jacob Augustine‘s new full length album when it happens. Dominic and the Lucid are working on something vinyl collection-worthy for everyone, which I’m also looking forward to hearing. On a more national scale, I’ve been eager to have the time to hunker down and digest some new releases from Screaming Females, Of Montreal and Modest Mouse as well. One other release I’m looking forward to, which I don’t believe has a date yet, is the first physical copy of something from LUH (Lost Under Heaven). It’s an epic male/female duo that features the former lead singer of Wu Lyf, Ellery James Roberts.
What upcoming show are you most looking forward to, aside from your Live And Local series?
For local shows in general I’m actually most excited about seeing what the kids in the MAMM Slam have to offer. Stakes are high this year and from hearing them at Open Mics at OLS, these kids are phenomenal. They have all of us who grew up convincing all of the adults around us that we could play music in high school gymnasiums and grange halls supporting and teaching them, and it’s really an all-encompassing experience to watch. On the acts from the out of town side of things I’m really looking forward to seeing Screaming Females again at Space on April 7. The first time I had seen them as at The Aphodian years ago. I just so viscerally remember the energy of awesomeness that existed that night. I’m also really pumped about Neutral Milk Hotel and like everyone else in this town, Spoon. As far as acts at OLS I’m most looking forward to upcoming events hosted by M.E.S.H., who are selflessly doing groundbreaking things for this community, Lucy Wainright Roche, Gregory Allan Isakov, the return of Heather Maloney, and comedian Todd Barry. It’s going to be an exciting spring at the venue.
Who should we look out for, ie. somebody who surprised you with their LAL performance, or with a show you saw somewhere else and have coming up at LAL, etc?
I’d say definitely keep an eye out for new material and performances from all of these local acts:
The Asthmatic (or side project, Metal Sideburns) – she blows your mind with her performance.
Contrapposto is about to have a reunion in the with Jake’s return from India. They’ve been working together long-distance and I can’t wait to see what they’ve come up with.
Leveret‘s sound is ever-evolving
Dom and the Lucid is about to truly state their full return when their new album drops.
Always always always go see a performance by Id M Theftable. It’s life changing.
More people should always know what Big Blood is quietly up to.
Old, etc really impressed everyone with their OLS performance
SS Cretins did as well
I’ve heard rumor of future possible collaborations between Monique and Griffin as a result of their LaL show, and more performances by the Ladies of Longfellow after their big night as well.
Old Soul is overdue to release their much anticipated album that’s been almost 2 years in the making.
John Nels has a great new thing going. Check it out.
Lord Earth are doing some big things in terms of collaborations for events.
Cocaine Lasers are working together again from a distance.
Tranx and Bright Boy are damn fun.
Micromasse has big realistic dreams for dynamic performances and a fantastic sound to boot.
Jaw Gems have a fast moving future ahead of them.
And I’m chomping at the bit to hear what new things the guys of Video Nasties have been up to behind closed doors.
Spring 2015 Live & Local Schedule:
April 14 – Live & Local 1 Year Anniversary Bash with Special Guests TBA
April 21 – Dana Massive & The February Ballet
April 28 – Isaiah Bennet and Ryan Halliburton
May 5 – Cinco de Mayo Masquerade Ball with Viva and El Malo
May 12 – Tranx & Bright Boy and Moonrocks
May 19 – Family Planning, Perfect Hair and Greef
May 26 – Cool Tara and Dustin Saucier and the Sad Bastards
June 2 – A Severe Joy and Waco Sparkler
June 9 – Laughing Animal and Myles Bullen