If we're being honest, you don't really need a guide to PDX Pop Now. It's free, it's one of Portland's best civic traditions, and it goes on for three days. Just show up and hang around a while, and chances are you'll discover a great band, rapper or producer you never knew existed. They might even be your neighbor.
On the other hand, some of us just need schedules, whether in life or a music festival. So if you're looking to plan your time, and take in the full breadth of the Portland music scene in one weekend, here are my picks for the acts you should make sure to see.
Remember Unlocking the Truth, the preteen metal band whose videos of playing on the streets of New York briefly went viral? Saola isn't quite that young, but the band has shown a similarly advanced mastery of the shredding arts that should make the stoner bros you knew in high school who are still pining for a Wednesday night opening slot at Ash Street weep with envy.
Related: "Introducing: Saola."
A few years ago, the Portland indie-folk institution vowed it would never play in the United States again because, as founder Ritchie Young put it at the time, he couldn't bear the thought of touring through Phoenix again. Obviously, they didn't hold to that, but hometown performances have grown more rare. With fifth album, Pens From Spain, arriving in September, look forward to hearing a lot of new material.
In Portland, it seems like only one rapper is allowed local ubiquity at a time, and right now it's Mic Capes. That's a testament to his hustle, and his continuing maturation into a potent voice of African-American protest—see newest single "One 4 O'Shea," his enraged response to the most recent spate of officer-involved shootings. Even if you saw him on the steps of City Hall for Hip-Hop Day, at WW's Best New Band showcase, or opening for Bone Thugs-n-Harmony at Crystal Ballroom, headlining PDX Pop Now is the culmination of Capes' year on the grind. Expect him to deliver something special.
Related: "Year End Q&A: Mic Capes."
One of three representatives from Good Cheer Records, the youth-oriented label run by Blake Hickman and Mo Troper, the quartet makes lo-fi bubblegum in the Robert Pollard genus. Taken with the basement emo of Sabonis and Little Star's heart-bearing indie rock, it's proof that the kids of Portland are all right, even if they don't have many places to play.
Related: "Introducing: Mr Bones."
A visual artist who seems to regard hip-hop as just another open canvas, Grape God splatters beats with his stream-of-consciousness flow in a way that defies a lot of the preconditioned rules of the rap game. Whether painting with the alien screw music of his main producer, Skelli Skel, or the cosmic electronica of his recent Calmanac EP, a collaboration with the Dropping Gems label, no one in Portland sounds quite like him, and predicting what he'll bring to the stage for any given show is impossible.
Related: "Introducing: Grape God."
Admittedly, there's not a whole lot out there about this new project—all that exists online is a handful of YouTube videos revealing a jammy soul ensemble with a glittery fashion sense to match its burlesque-dancer band name. But PDX Pop Now is the place for coming-out parties, and based on what little evidence exists, a party it should be.
Playing roughly effervescent pop-punk that's both sugary and scrappy, Blowout somehow triangulates the Get Up Kids, Hop Along and the Breeders within swollen-hearted pogo anthems that seem destined for bigger things and, frankly, better set times in the near future. The just-after-lunchtime placement for these Best New Band finalists is downright criminal, but if you need a reason to get out of bed before midafternoon, here's your inspiration.
Related: "Introducing: Blowout."
"Doom metal" to the degree that the Game of Thrones theme song is "doom metal," this goth-leaning chamber trio's morose instrumentals—played primarily on harp, cello and viola—suggest a heaviness most can't conjure with their amps turned to 11. Seeing them in the glare of the midafternoon sun isn't ideal, but unless the festival moves to a medieval dungeon, the setting was never going to be perfect.
A standout member of psychedelic rap crew Renaissance Coalition, Maze Koroma recently found a home for his future-forward vision in Martell Webster's EYRST label, home to the breakout star of last year's PDX Pop Now, the Last Artful, Dodgr. On his recent Osiris EP, Koroma offers his knack for blending abstraction and commentary on life in the digital age, largely moving away from the dusty psych samples of his previous projects toward production that could be used to score the next Mega Man game.
Also make time for: Cilantro's potpourri of multi-culti grooves (2 pm), Force Publique's electronic shoegaze (3:20 pm), Consumer's cataclysmic (but sometimes oddly danceable) sound collages (6:40 pm).
SEE IT: PDX Pop Now is at AudioCinema, 226 SE Madison St., on Friday-Sunday, July 22-24. Free. All ages. See pdxpopnow.com for complete schedule.