By MEGHAN KEARNEY // A new collaboration between MusicfestNW and Project Pabst brings Portland closer to its history
In its third year, Project Pabst, originally brought to Portland, OR because its high selling Blue Ribbon beer, needed a face lift. Not so much a face lift as an expansion, a merger with the longstanding Portland staple, MusicfestNW.
MusicfestNW, an annual festival just three years ago spread city-wide, sent Portland music lovers on a week’s worth of rat races around Portland trying to catch their favorite acts at one of Portland’s unnumbered venues. The festival changed its format in 2014 to a Portland Waterfront, two-stage, weekend only festival to much critique. This happened just as Portland’s newest summer city festival, Project Pabst dropped its lineup, tickets, and big hello all in the same day in 2014.
Project Pabst boasted its own two-stage weekend, night time venue shows spread across the city, and multiple extras like the PBRcade (hosted by none other than Ground Kontrol). A relationship that two years ago seemed rival, this year came together to possibly help restore the of MusicfestNW to its previous greatness. While it hasn’t yet hit the exact mark, it sure as heck felt on its way.
So what made Project Pabst stand out this year?
It felt more like a city-wide fest: There were nearly twice as many “night shows” this time around when compared to Project Pabst’s first year. With eight venues participating, and night shows taking place Thursday through Sunday, the streets felt more crowded with Pabst goers bouncing show to show than years past.
Local music: One great thing about old MusicfestNW was its dedication to getting local acts in addition to big name headliners. This year’s fest saw even more of this with artists like Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Summer Cannibals, Adventure Galley, And And And, and so many more.
Eclectic lineup: The waning past years of MFNW saw a narrowing of genre, which Project Pabst was more inclusive. This year saw everything from indie, to prog, to hip-hop, to metal, providing something for every age and genre fan.
As for the artists? Can't say there was a single bad performance.
The Legends: Project Pabst has consistently booked legends with artists like Tears for Fears, Blondie, and GZA in past years. This year brought us Ice Cube. The entertainment industry legend had people climbing into the trees for his anti-authority powerhouse of a performance with hits like "You Can Do It," "F**k the Police" and so many more from the Ice Cube/N.W.A. catalog.
And then there was Ween. The notorious brotherly duo, Gene and Dean Ween came to Portland just nine months after their reunion, for the first time since 2011. They have an unbelievably dedicated cult following, Sunday’s fest crawled with as many Boognishes as it did PBR cans.
And finally, Duran Duran. The 80's legends didn't play a note off their heyday. Dozens of people sprinted to their stage upon gates ten hours before their performance to camp for front row spots. And by the time they cracked into the ballad hit "Ordinary World," even the most millennial of millennials could feel the powerful history through the sea of lights and pink confetti.
The Hometown Heroes: The weekend fest opened on Saturday morning with Portland’s own Kyle Craft. Craft recently signed to Sub-Pop and between his disheveled blonde hair and rock-star twang, completely erased the idea of "opener" from the Project Pabst lexicon.
Late billed Liv Warfield, in lieu of Lizzo, was a welcome replacement. Absolutely one of the most powerful women in music crushed souls with her soul. Her charming confidence and bone shaking voice had the crowd in awe, turning heads outside the fences lining the fest.
Lastly, Strfkr. Strfkr, Portland's own, knows how to do that good, good Portland weird. First, the entourage of astronauts who dance in comical, awkward, and joyful unchoreographed chapters before surfing pool floats to the back of the crowd. The impeccable synth pop compositions that come with a Strfkr show continue to get better and more daring with each show and never cease to keep Portland as weird as possible.
And a category all his own, Andrew W.K.: This set could easily be ranked as the best set of the weekend and for no lack of reasons. They produced the absolute biggest party of the weekend, the best and most happy mosh pit, most insane piano crushing weekend, and all around unstoppable performance, it was the most positive of the weekend. For Andrew W.K., the party isn't necessarily the PBR, or the infinite puffs of smoke that floated up across the sea of partiers, but the constant reminder to find the best in life. And as the king of party rock head banged through his set, introducing almost every song with "this song is about partying," it offered a collective reminder of what these Portland summer festivals are all about: coming together.
The party was in the happiness of community and the return to a music festival that brings all of Portland together, from Crystal Ballroom to Revolution Hall, not only restricted to indie-rock at the Waterfront. The partnership is a growing success; a nod to Portland's new collaboration, slowly stepping back to its roots.
Special thanks to Heather Hanson of Super Groovy Cosmic Bus for the photos!