Oregon Music News: Oregon’s all-genre music magazine since 2009


Thank you, McMenamins

By JESSICA BLACK // 10 years ago to the day, on October 26, 2009, OMN went live. We are still here today, thanks in large part to the continuous support of McMenamins.

Chances are, if you’ve seen music in Oregon, it’s been at a McMenamins. They are a vital part of the Oregon music community, and community as a whole.

OMN sat down with Lori Hughes Killen, long-time music booker with McMenamins to learn more about how music is infused in the McMenamins ethos and how they have contributed to Oregon’s music (and beer!) economy and culture for over 35 years.

So how did a hotel and pub conglomerate become synonymous with the music scene?

Music has always been interwoven into McMenamins’ culture and values.

Mike and Brian McMenamin opened the Barley Mill (on SE Hawthorne) in 1983, transforming an existing watering hole, notorious for live (albeit, loud!) music, into the family-friendly restaurant and pub it is now.

Killen says that McMenamins culture has always supported creatives of all kinds – at all levels. Barley Mill was opened with “imaginative murals” painted by local artists and a steady homage to historical musical acts and artists (both audibly as well as visually, through posters and representation), and these values have been incorporated across all McMenamins properties since.

There are currently 57 McMenamins properties and counting across Oregon and Washington. Locations are mostly along the I-5 corridor, from Roseburg to just north of Seattle, with a smattering along the Oregon Coast to the west, and east to Bend. At least 15 properties regularly host live music events (Edgefield, Crystal Hotel and Ballroom, Kennedy School, White Eagle, Hotel Oregon, Rock Creek, Boon’s Treasury, Wilsonville, Grand Lodge, Old St Francis, Gearhart, Kalama,  Elks Temple, Olympic Club, Anderson School). The popular brand is adding new large-scale projects continuously. One notable project currently in the works is a hotel and music venue in the Tacoma area that is projected to be “the Crystal Ballroom of Tacoma.”

With this number of venues featuring live music 6+ nights a week, McMenamins books between 700-1000+ artists a year, and Killen says that about 80% of those acts are local and independent, keeping with McMenamins’ mission and values. But how do they stay current on the abundance of local artists, keep their finger on the pulse of the music scene and ensure their lineups are consistently featuring the best local acts?

Killen credits this to connections with the local community. Through retaining strong relationships with other venue buyers, local record labels, musicians and reading local papers to stay familiar with current events, McMenamins builds a rich culture of musical talent. She also says it doesn’t hurt when artists reach out directly to venue bookers to let them know about new projects or albums. She admits that often times, persistence is key. Sometimes an artist is very promising but there is just not availability at any of the venues when they are, and ‘the right place at the right time,’ is ultimately how the relationship between the artist and venues are built and grown.

And Killen says these relationships are nurtured. Often the onus is on the artist, but when there is a great band that wants to build that relationship with the McMenamins team, heed what they recommend for sustainable growth, and are willing to start in smaller venues to build their fan base (and hone their musical talent and stage presence), Killen and her team all too willing to support up-and-comers.  They love to witness their success over the long-term.

With every music booker on the team being a musician, whether currently or formerly, they have an even keener sense with those that show promise to make it (and have the first-hand experience to support the bands in an even more meaningful way than someone who has never lugged their own gear, pitched a new song, or played an open mic to disinterested listeners).

Two notable examples of stand-out success stories Killen shares are the Avett Brothers, and, more recently the Talbott Brothers, (though it’s not required to have a band name called something-“Brothers” to be successful).

The Avett Brothers started in small venues on the Great Northwest Music Tour and have continued great relationship with McMenamins by performing multiple dates at Edgefield Concerts on the Lawn most summers (usually about every other year).

Watch: I and Love and You by The Avett Brothers at McMenamins Edgefield

 The Talbott Brothers similarly have been growing a steady following through live shows in small venues across the PNW for the past several years, and just headlined at the Aladdin Theater on October 19.

In these cases, having multiple locations promotes McMenamins’ ability to support local artists, by allowing a variety of venue sizes for artists to grow as fan base expands. Plus with a multitude of consistent programs like the Great Northwest Music Tour, artists are able to travel to multiple cities, getting in front of many different audiences in a short span of time, without having the organize the tour and promotions themselves, but having the support and security of a well-known and well-trusted brand.

Killen did not have statistics to state exactly how much McMenamins contributes to the local music economy (compared to other brands), but we know their contribution is vast and deeply apparent. We also know that without McMenamins, the music scene in Portland would be much, much less rich (and possibly even sad and lonesome).

Thank you, McMenamins for everything you do for music in Oregon and across the Pacific Northwest – we are immensely grateful for your support.

*Ed note: The number of McMenamins properties was incorrectly reported as 80.  The number has been updated to 57.

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