Theo Craig is one of Portland’s biggest music fans.
In January 2012, the chatty, affable 35-year-old became the sole talent buyer for the free Sunday Sessions at Rontoms, which have since transformed into heavily attended showcases for new and lesser-known local acts. Hosting some of the earliest performances from bands like Shy Girls and Pure Bathing Culture, the eastside bar buzzes each week with crowds of friends, barflies and other musicians. With his handpicked playlists of local artists streaming between live sets—which he’s now turned into the podcast There Ain’t Nothing Going On Here—Craig’s vision for the sessions encapsulates his ongoing devotion to music, and often steers the local beat.
When he moved here in 2007, however, Craig had little idea such a scene even existed. “No one was talking about Portland at that time, and there were all of these really great bands that I had never heard of,” he says.
While growing up in the suburbs of Juneau, Alaska, Craig cultivated his passion for music through house shows and jam sessions with classmates such as Matt Sheehy, who later relocated to Portland and formed Lost Lander. After graduation, Craig, too, got the hell out. Spending a number of years in Seattle while attending college and working for radio station KEXP, he eventually landed in Portland, where he discovered an emerging music community and couldn’t help but get involved.
Originally hoping to start a record label, Craig instead learned how to book tours after assisting Sheehy—who was living in Portland and working on a solo project—in planning a West Coast tour. “He’s such a huge lover of music,” Sheehy says. “He will see bands and have blind faith in them and just start helping.”
In 2008, Craig scheduled one of the earliest shows for Y La Bamba, leading to a small and logistically disastrous tour. But he continued booking the group during its rise to the forefront of Portland music. Gaining other clients such as Brainstorm, Boy Eats Drum Machine and Jared Mees and the Grown Children, Craig honed his booking skills while enduring the mixed emotions of aiding young bands to success.
“I felt like every time I was advancing in [my] career, things would kind of fall apart a little bit,” he says. “I’d grow with artists and I’d think that we’d continue growing together, but every time they got to the point where it’d become easy to book them, another agent would come along and grab them.” But Craig never lost sight of what drives him. “My goal is not to grow as a booking agent, it’s to support the community that I love and help bands get out there.”
And because of Craig’s hard work and faith in local artists, Sunday nights at Rontoms have become the city’s go-to event for hearing the next undiscovered act.
“It’s a feeling that you can’t put a price on,” he says. “I’m achieving one of my goals in life, which is to make our world better in a small way.”
This is the third in a series on Portland’s musical infrastructure.
SEE IT: Souvenir Driver and Paper Brain play Rontoms, 600 E Burnside St., on Sunday, Feb. 10. 9 pm. Free. 21+. Hear Craig’s podcast at mixcloud.com/smokesignalsmusic.