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February 6th, 2001 WWeek Editorial Staff | Music Stories
 

The Seven Year Itch

So long, North by Northwest. Hello, Future.

     
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Seven years ago, the people who run Willamette Week had an idea: "Hey, gang!" [Paraphrasing here.] "Let's have a big-ass music festival! We can get our friends from Texas to help run the thing!"

And thus was born North by Northwest, that much-beloved yet sadly deceased local institution.

North by Northwest looked fantastic on paper: A showcase for Portland's ever-burgeoning music scene; an excuse for Industry pros--that lovable breed--to glad-hand; a chance for local bands to cakewalk for visiting label barons, ultimately winning fame and fortune.

WW's honchos called on some experts for help. South by Southwest, a spinoff of Austin's alt-weekly, runs the eponymous beer 'n' bands orgy each March. SXSW would handle the formidable tasks of marshaling volunteers, signing up clubs and picking bands. WW would play gracious local host and devote considerable staff time to producing an official guide to the festival.

The first few NXNW installments went well. However, like a marriage slowly going stale, the event developed more flaws and lost more momentum as time passed. Finally, on Monday of last week, WW filed for divorce from SXSW, seven years after the inaugural festival in Portland.

The next day, the Austin company announced that it would seek another city in which to continue the festival.

NXNW developed some serious problems in seven years. Ultimately, many complaints boiled down to a sense that a festival essentially organized in Texas fit poorly with Portland's homegrown musical culture. At the same time, the festival was as much WW's as SXSW's, and we accept full responsibility for the shortcomings that have plagued the festival over the years. We don't regret trying, and we thank our Texan partners for their hard work. The time has come to move on.

To that end:

Willamette Week will start a new music festival this coming fall, tentatively called PDX Fest. One hundred percent of any profits for this event will benefit First Octave, a charity that raises money for Portland Public Schools' criminally underfunded music programs.

We hope to involve about 100 bands, primarily from Portland and the Northwest. We want to sell wristbands at a reasonable price, with a couple of shows by high-profile bands sweetening the deal. A one-day trade show and seminar will be free to all members of all participating bands. Anyone else who wants to come will get in cheap.

NXNW focused on rock bands, and we hope rock will boast muscular representation at our new festival. However, we're also anxious to involve Portland's strong jazz, blues and folk scenes, as well as growing movements in electronic music, hip-hop and other genres.

We're not kidding ourselves that it will be easy--in fact, we're pretty sure it will be a hell of a lot of work. We've already started putting together a group of people who are active in local arts and music to help.

It goes without saying that we'd like this festival to be fun. Our other ambitions are fairly simple: a solid showcase for regional talent, an entertaining weekend out for local revelers, and a moneymaker for First Octave.

Most important, we want to start something that can grow into the future, rather than an event that consistently promises more than it can deliver.

Whether this new festival is a raving success, a colossal failure or (as is most likely) something in between, it will feel much better to be able to stand behind an event 100 percent. And while no one can foretell the future, we find inspiration in a dictum rooted firmly in the past: Nothing ventured, nothing gained.


WW welcomes comments and suggestions for the new music festival. Email pdxfest@
wwee

 
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