Winter, huh? In just one week in February we got the crap kicked out of us with a handful of snowstorms. The rest of the month, we’re practically short sleevin’ it. People were super happy for the unseasonable temperatures there for a little while. I even saw some folks wearing crocs! Unfortunately! (Sorry, it’s part of my Jimmy Buffett allergy).
Plenty of concerns race through our minds during winter storms: school cancellations, road closures, power outages, plowing, etc. Living in Portland and being so involved with life downtown, I tend to think of all the trouble bad weather causes our clubs, restaurants, and business between the East and West Proms.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s that you can’t stop Mother Nature. Living here, we know what we’ve gotten ourselves into and we can’t complain.
But when the snow fills the streets each year, I think of the live music scene and ponder, “I wonder if that band is actually going to play tonight?” Sadly, we have the quickest hands in the east on the trigger making decisions on parking bans in downtown Portland, so the answer is usually no. That band isn’t going to play, and the venue might as well close for the night if people can’t park in town. Sometimes the bans are justified, most times not.
Wouldn’t even midnight bans help out a bit? It’s not too early, not too late. Venues can squeeze in shows, and restaurants can keep their doors open for some late night food business.
Regardless of Mother Nature or parking bans, there’s one thing you’ll notice living around here; people still come out for their live music and events even in rain, sleet, or snow. They find a way to make it there: cross-country skis, husky sleds or brave/crazy taxis and Ubers. People find a way.
I’ll admit, as I get older I want to go out less in inclement weather. Yet I find myself thinking good and hard when it comes to live music. In my foolish years, I skipped plenty of shows that turned out to be classic. Those still scar me to this day. The warmth of your home and the proper placement of your ass on the couch is an evil lure. I know this. Add to this kick-ass documentaries on Netflix and Hulu at your fingertips? That’s a big win for you!
Readers, I offer you this: If the sexy allure of doing nothing has a firm grip on you the next time the snow messes with a show you planned on going to – GO TO THE SHOW INSTEAD. The couch will always be there. The warm comforter will always be there. That documentary on Nina Simone will always be … well, hopefully they keep that on for a bit. I mean, they change out those movies too quick lately, don’t they? Sorry, I digress.
A few years ago during a horrible winter night, Toronto indie punk band Fucked Up played at the SPACE Gallery. My driveway had been plowed in with snow easily four feet high. So driving to this gig was out of the question for me. However, I really wanted to see this band. They’re loud and their shows are raw and honest. They might never play here again. After half a day of contemplating, I gave in, laced up and put on a helmet.
I called for a cab, scaled over Mount Portland (the blocked access to the sidewalk) and stumbled onto the street. The cab picked me up and dumped me off at SPACE. As I entered the room, I was proud and excited to still see about 40 or 50 people there on such a dastardly night! The band kicked in and it was like a house party. Everyone gravitated to the front and we were one. The show was sensational and I vowed to not second guess going to shows during bad weather again.
In recent times around here, people haven’t let the cold or snow stop them from getting to the shows they had marked on their calendars (modernism update: “shows they had put in their phones”).
Ken Bell, co-owner and manager of Portland House of Music & Events mentioned he’s had four sell-out shows in the last three weeks. “As much as we love tourists,” Bell states, “it’s the locals, the regulars, the hospitality workers and other musicians who keep the doors open in the winter.” Last week during that cold, windy freeze-out people packed the venue two nights in a row for great local string band The Ghost of Paul Revere.
Back in December, I put together a holiday concert for the company I work for, Shipyard Brewing, with the Fogcutters (a modern big band). It was the week before Christmas. We had a major snowstorm that day and there was a parking ban. Lots of factors played against us finding any success in turnout, but on that stormy night over 1,000 people still came out to the State Theatre for a special performance. For 90 minutes, no one remembered what was going on outside. Music is supposed to do that. Theater and comedy acts as well. They make you forget things for a bit. To bring you to a place where you’re free and unconcerned with parking bans, baby sitters or jobs in the morning. For a moment.
As we press through whatever’s left of this season and we most likely deal with some type of wintery messy somethin’ somethin’ at least once more; don’t forget there’s a chance to break away. We can, in the deep cavern of this bitterly cold season still celebrate life and temporary freedom of the everyday with musicians that live here and some who travel here.
Be safe travelling of course, but don’t let the weather keep you home too much. Portland is ours! These venues, these restaurants and bands are ours! We need to brave the cold and the bans to support our own. I can tell you there is something unspokenly magical when you walk into a club on a lousy weather night and a musician on stage sees you there supporting them – it powers them up greatly. It keeps them doing what they do when they doubt everything. Freezing for music and entertainment, freezing for good local food … warm bellies, warm hearts and warm souls.
Mark Curdo is the director of lifestyle and entertainment branding for Shipyard Brewing Company and longtime host of the Spinout radio show now on Sunday nights from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. on 94.3 WCYY.