In 2004, a group of 50 musicians and aficionados, spurred by a conversation on a Web forum, met at the Lucky Lab to discuss how to better connect the community of Portland to the music being made in its own backyard. After a few hours of unorganized conversation, it was decided to gather the music scene's leading lights under one roof—the Meow Meow's, to be exact—for a free three-day, all-ages, locals-only music festival.
Now in its 10th year, PDX Pop Now—both the festival and the nonprofit volunteer board behind it—is a Portland institution. In anticipation of its milestone edition, we decided to go all the way back to Year One, and catch up with the 42 bands and artists who kicked off the tradition.
FRIDAY, JULY 9, 2004
7 pm, Alarmist
THEN: The first band at the first PDX Pop Now was an abrasive noise-punk quartet that, according to a former board member, was given its slot for being "anti" the idea of an all-local music festival.
NOW: Defunct, though its members have stayed active: Guitarist Eric Crespo continues his experimental pop project Ghost to Falco, drummer Nick Bindeman records avant synthpop as Tunnels, singer Eva Saelens (nee Eva Pox) moved to Oakland and put out a record on Kill Rock Stars, and other singer James Reling (nee James Squeaky) works at Kill Rock Stars.
THEN: An outlet for the widescreen songwriting of Tim Perry.
NOW: Perry fronts the choral-pop ensemble Agesandages, the first runner-up in our 2011 Best New Band poll.
8:25, Binary Dolls
THEN: A math-y rock trio with songs "about Civil War submarines and the Siege of Leningrad," according to singer Nick Jaina.
NOW: Dat'r, Matt Dabrowiak and Paul Alcott's spinoff electronic duo, has allegedly been working on its second album since 2008. Meanwhile, Jaina has written a ballet, not to mention several albums of accomplished chamber folk.
9:05, the Punk Group
THEN: Two synth-punk deconstructionists offering cultural critique through songs like "I Married a Gay Guy" and "Fat Girls on Bicycles."
NOW: Left Portland for California in 2010, though not before recruiting a bunch of bands to help record a tribute album…to itself.
9:50, System and Station
THEN: Big-in-Wisconsin indie rockers struggling to find an audience in their adopted hometown.
NOW: Just released its eponymous seventh album. Resigned to local obscurity.
THEN: At the time, drummer Kevin O'Connor played live all by his lonesome, triggering Lisa Molinaro's viola and other prerecorded instrumental parts on a laptop.
NOW: Signed to Isaac Brock's Glacial Pace label, and recently expanded into a four-piece.
11:15, Viva Voce
THEN: Husband-and-wife indie poppers with a classic-rock jones who were a few months away from releasing their breakout third album, The Heat Can Melt Your Brain.
NOW: Lately, Kevin Robinson devotes much of his time to Electric Ill, his electro-funk offshoot, and insists on being called "Kaylee Robb" for some reason.
11:45, the Minders
THEN: Crazy-hooky Elephant 6 associates with an already convoluted history.
NOW: Broke up in 2008, but reformed to record a song for the 2011 PDX Pop Now compilation, though that's the only new music the Minders have produced so far.
12:25 am, the Forth
THEN: An energetic power trio led by Skyler Norwood.
NOW: Norwood is a producer for, like, everybody in town.
SATURDAY, JULY 10, 2004
Noon, Ross and the Hellpets
THEN: A garage-pop soapbox for the left-wing political spiels of PDX Pop Now co-founder (and sometime Neutral Milk Hotel bassist) Ross Beach.
NOW: Beach drops the occasional homemade recording.
12:40 pm, UHF
THEN: Throwback psych rockers.
NOW: UHF hasn't released an album since 2010's Here Come the Ghosts, but is starting to play shows again.
1:20, the Divided
THEN: Jangle-pop quartet nursing a '90s hangover.
NOW: Everyone's scattered, though drummer and ex-PPN board member Martti Hill plays in Curezum, a "semi-theatrical extreme metal tribute to the Cure.â
2:05, Junior Private Detective
THEN: Off-kilter prog-pop quartet imported from Ohio. Witnesses to its inaugural PPN set recall guitarist Bo Fickel doing his best Pete Townshend impression and bleeding all over his ax as a result.
NOW: Went on hiatus in 2006 and never came out of it.
2:45, Bella Fayes
THEN: Scorching power-pop tunesmiths.
NOW: Frontman Lael Alderman went back to his singer-songwriter roots, but recently resurrected the Bella Fayes for a one-off reunion gig.
3:25, Wow & Flutter
THEN: Wildly underappreciated post-punk genre blurrers.
NOW: Still going, still wildly underappreciated.
4:10, Per Se
THEN: Moniker of songwriter Anne Adams, who stunned the PPN crowd by performing on the floor of the Meow Meow bedecked in homemade silver butterfly wings.
NOW: Adams continues to write eccentric pop as Grey Anne, and also gives tarot readings using plastic dinosaurs.
THEN: Alias of prodigiously bearded loop-peddler Sam Schauer.
NOW: For a time, Schauer teamed with Papi Fimbres—as Portland musicians are wont to do—in party-starting favorite O Bruxo. Since that band's 2010 breakup, Schauer has returned to playing solo (with occasional guests) as Sam Humans.
THEN: The rhythmic solo project of Danny Seim, who was prepping the first album from his other band, Menomena.
NOW: Although Menomena became his main gig, Lackthereof still is a going concern: Seim put out a free EP, his 11th release under the name, last year.
6:15, the Jolenes
THEN: An endlessly effervescent all-girl country-rock trio.
NOW: Disbanded in 2007 and had its name usurped by an old-timey quartet from England.
6:55, We're from Japan!
THEN: Instrumental post-rockers not actually from Japan.
NOW: Finally made it to Japan in 2007. Still play gigs around town.
THEN: Imagine Radiohead as Mike Patton-loving jazzbos.
NOW: Defunct, with ex-members contributing to System and Station and Blind Pilot.
8:20, Andrew Kaffer
THEN: Ex-singer of momentarily popular late-'90s twee-pop band Kissing Book; described by Ross Beach as "the next Jonathan Richman…with a laptop?"
NOW: Last heard making weirdo bedroom soul as Fuck the Rules.
9, Shicky Gnarowitz
NOW: Played a party at Ross Beachâs house a few weeks ago.
9:40, the Wanteds
THEN: After a last-minute cancelation, a call went out to Tommy Harrington, who hauled in his keyboard, guitar and drum machine and did his one-man band shtick.
NOW: After being the subject of a 2011 documentary, Harrington moved on to acting, appearing in a local production of Sam Shepardâs Fool For Love in April.
10:25, Empty Set
THEN: âBig guitar pop tunes with harmonies galore,â says PPN board member Jayme Caruso, who produced a later incarnation of the group.
NOW: Went through multiple lineup changes and became the Contestants. Currently building a studio and plotting its third album, says member and PPN co-founder Josh Kirby.
11:05, Corrina Repp
THEN: Smoky-voiced singer-songwriter known for writing sparse, hushed confessionals.
NOW: Repp is on a break from Tu Fawning, the noir-pop outfit she formed with 31Knotsâ Joe Haege in the late 2000s.
11:45, Wet Confetti
THEN: A dark-hued art-rock trio.
NOW: Evolved into the dark-hued dance trio Reporter. Drummer Mike McKinnon owns french-fries cart Potato Champion.
12:25, Sunset ValleyTHEN: Portlandâs next big thing, playing tight guitar pop.
NOW: After the band was dormant for many years, leader Herman Jolly tentatively revived Sunset Valley in 2011, though all it has done so far is played a gig at Mississippi Studios two years ago.
SUNDAY, JULY 11, 2004
2 pm, Stars of Track and Field
THEN: A spacey pop outfit with digital undercurrents.
NOW: After dalliances with national successâplacement on Billboardâs Heatseeker chart, an appearance on Late Night With Conan OâBrienâthe band went full-bore pop with 2009âs A Time for Lions, then fizzled out. Singer Kevin Calaba performs acoustically in New York.
2:40, At Dusk
THEN: A band featuring PPN board members Cary Clarke and Greg Borenstein, self-described as âMission of Burma, had they been from the West Coast, fronted by a confused Colin Blunstone and Brian Wilson.â
NOW: Borenstein lives in New York and works in technology, while Clarke served as arts and culture policy director for then-Mayor Sam Adams.
3:20, Loch LomondTHEN: Chamber-pop pioneers who became popular enough to convince the rest of the world that this is what every band in Portland sounds like.
NOW: Though the band is still in existence, founder Ritchie Young vowed last year never to tour America again.
4:05, Gravity and Henry
THEN: A duel between Matt Sheehyâs multitracked guitars and Jarhid Brownâs massive rock drumming.
NOW: Sheehy went into the woods with producer Brent Knopf and emerged as Lost Lander in 2011.
THEN: For a while, Michael Johnson made a strong case for being Portlandâs John Darnielle.
NOW: Johnson left for Germany in the late aughts, and beamed back the last self-titled Reclinerland album in 2011.
5:25, Blue Skies for Black Hearts
THEN: A platform for singer Pat Kearnsâ love of classic pop.
NOW: Gearing up to play this yearâs festival.
6:10, the Snuggle-UpsTHEN: In the words of Ross Beach, âEssentially a boy band parody.â
NOW: Broke up in 2007.
6:50, JonahTHEN: Brit-pop-inspired alternative rock with a sound fit for TV soundtracks.
THEN: Exceptionally pale shoegazers.
NOW: Organized yearly benefit shows for Ethos Music Center through 2012.
THEN: Jona Bechtolt at a computer, pumping out largely instrumental electro beats with dissonant edges.
NOW: Added singer-scientific theorist Claire Evans (and later Jeffrey Jerusalem and Bobby Birdman), got increasingly more user-friendly and Pitchfork-approved, signed to DFA Records, then, naturally, moved to L.A.
8:55, Blitzen TrapperTHEN: Stylistically manic indie rock.
9:35, MirahTHEN: A bracingly unguarded singer-songwriter who drew such a large crowd to the Meow Meow that organizers worried about violating fire codes.
10:20, Tea for Julie
THEN: The brainchild of PPN co-founder Michael Deresh, playing an excitable and emotional brand of indie rock
NOW: Deresh runs Lamplight Studios and is producing the upcoming full-length debut from Genders, who are playing this yearâs PPN.
11, Jeremy WilsonTHEN: Formerly of Portland garage legends the Dharma Bums, Wilson was booked for the festival on the strength of his alt-countryish contribution to the first PPN compilation, but ended up turning in an ear-ringing rock set.
11:40, Tara Jane OâNeilTHEN: Multifaceted artist and musical explorer who was joined onstage at PPN by Hazelâs Fred Nemo, Portlandâs answer to Bez from Happy Mondays.
12:20 am, the Joggers
THEN: Portlandâs kings of angular, guitar-driven, post-punkish melodic rock, who closed out the inaugural PDX Pop Now by encoring with a string of Led Zeppelin covers.
NOW: Singer-guitarist Ben Whitesides moved to Massachusetts, while drummer Jake Morris is the most visible ex-member, having played with the Jicks and Shaky Hands and, most recently, the retro-riffinâ Street Nights.
SEE IT: PDX Pop Now, featuring Shy Girls, Natasha Kmeto, Sons of Huns and dozens more, is at the eastbank lot at Southeast Water Avenue and Salmon Street on Friday-Sunday, July 19-21. Free. All ages. See pdxpopnow.com for schedule.