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Portland's Folk Festival Opens Friday at Crystal Ballroom

BOB HOWARD// Greg Holden, a hidden treasure in our midst headlines Sunday

Portland has a way of keeping secrets.  Headlining Sunday night at Portland’s Folk Festival with the Shook Twins is Greg Holden.  Scottish born, English raised singer-songwriter who sold everything he had, including his guitar, to move to New York in 2009.  He loved New York and it was his dream to live there.  Extremely talented, he soon found work touring with Ingrid Michaelson, Brandi Carlile, and Grace Potter and many others while touring extensively, playing in bars, clubs, theaters, and arenas around the world.He moved to Portland in the fall of 2021.

Greg is headlining the last day of Portland’s Folk Festival at the Crystal Ballroom this Sunday. Tickets are available for the festival or by the day.  This will be his second live performance since he arrived in Portland.  His first performance was at Al’s Den to a sold-out room last winter at Al’s Den. 

He came to Portland to get out of Los Angeles.  He loves the Pacific northwest with its spectacular views of Mount Hood and forests that remind him of his home in Lancashire, England.  When he arrived, he built his studio.  When he’s not writing songs, he’s producing songs.  Currently he is producing Fox and Bones coming album. He continues to produce Americana mavens The Brothers Comatose.

His songs are powerful anthems of personal accountability, independence, and compassion. They are honest, direct and challenge complacency. 

In 2011, he wrote two songs back-to-back, “Home” and “The Lost Boy” that kept him in the U.S. and established himself as a formidable songwriter in demand for social commentary.  Greg co-wrote “Home” with Drew Pearson. Greg says that the song almost never happened. He finished it and decided to use it in his set list for a European tour that followed.  After he returned discouraged and exhausted from the tour, his manager called to ask for his permission to use “Home” as a coronation song for the eventual winner of Season 11 of American IdolPhillip Phillips.  A pleasant and very rewarding surprise. In 2014, he was awarded an ASCAP Award for co-writing the “Home” which sold over six million copies and streamed over two hundred million times.

He is best known for his self-released song the “The Lost Boy” inspired by the book What is the What by Dave Eggers about Sudanese refugees. The song was featured in the TV show The Sons of AnarchyIt reached number one in Europe and has over 25 million plays on Spotify.

On the heels of his success with "Home" and "The Lost Boys," he was asked to write a song for two friends who ran an organization My Kid Is Gay whose mission is to support the LGBTQ community and their families. They wrote a book called This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids: A Question & Answer Guide to Everyday LifeEach year they produce a record compilation of songs to raise funds for their organization.  They gave Greg the assignment to write the “gayest song ever.”  He said, “I felt like a fish out of water.  How am I gonna write about being gay when I’m not actually gay.  Am I going to offend the community?  How can I make this personal and authentic and as far from opportunistic as possible?” After months, days before the song was due, he sat down with a cup of coffee and wrote "Boys in the Street."  Writing from his own family and childhood experience he found a way to resonate his experience his audience.  Empathy was the answer.  He found the thread that connects us all. Through a serendipitous route the song found its way to his favorite actor, Tom Hanks, who tweeted the Boys in the Street" is “a perfect song.” Greg says, “This song is one of my proudest creations.” He has shared the story of its conception and evolution with us on his YouTube channel in his podcast series My Songs + Their Stories recorded at his studio in Portland.

Greg is a storyteller.  His project “My Songs + My Stories” is a songwriter’s gift to songwriters. His songs have amazing stories behind them that inspires us to find our voice to tell our own stories. 

Greg’s Patreon page went live last week.  After over 20 years making a living as a musician, he moved to the platform “to give me accountability and inspire myself to create.”  He says, “social media platforms have driven artists away from their fans and made it very difficult to reach anybody.  I’m kinda over it.” Greg is completely grateful for the success of his music.  “However,” he says, “the social media algorithms make it hard to get to people who like you, let alone people that want to like us.” “It’s hard to find the energy.  It feels weird to ask people to subscribe, but I want to stay connected my fans in a way social media can’t.” With a wry smile, the byline on his page reads, “sticking it to the algorithm.”

A fun fact: when Greg’s not making money in music, Greg is making bread in the kitchen https://www.instagram.com/abbastanzapane/?hl=en

Come out and see Greg this weekend.  You won’t be disappointed

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Danice Brown

Bob Howard…excellent article about this very gifted songwriter. Greg Holden’s “Boys in the Street” touched my heart.

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