In 35 years, Scottish free-folk icon Vashti Bunyan released only two albums: 1970's Just Another Diamond Day and last year's Lookaftering. For three decades, she was barely heard from, living in relative seclusion among the Hebridean hills and moors, disaffected with a time and place with little room for an artist creating simple, innocent music. The British musical climate seemed (and continues to seem) over it: The "free spirits" already had their moment in the sun. Though our cultural memory rarely places bounds on the liberation and love movement of the '60s, Bunyan is quick to call the era out: "It has a name for people being nice to each other, and all sorts of lovely things [were] going on. But it was such a tiny proportion of the population who had those ideas, and mostly, life lived on in its usual way.... I've said it before, but it's worth saying again: I think the '60s are more alive and well now than they were then."
It will be hard to argue with that statement this weekend, when 43 forward-thinking musical acts will converge at Disjecta for the first Halleluwah Festival. Those represented will emblemize the artistic freedom and outsider openness that brings the freaks and free spirits to Portland faster than our writers and venue bookers can keep up with them. Speaking generally about our time, Vashti says reassuringly, "I get very whimsical about it, just looking at my [college-age] children's generation and the generation after them, as well. They seem so different: They have a wonderful attitude toward each other."
It makes me wonder what would have happened if Vashti had begun making music here, now. How many more records of hers would we have helping to teach us to open ourselves up to one another?
But even if Vashti Bunyan never released another song, the spirit of escapism that runs through her music would remain. That spirit will be alive and well when free folks like Alela Diane, Sir Richard Bishop and so many others turn Portland's Eastside Industrial District into a remote campfire circle. What began as a simple tour date for Vashti (her first U.S. date ever) snowballed into the mammoth two-day festival that is Halleluwah. Says festival co-organizer Mike McGonigal: "It was just supposed to be a Vashti Bunyan show, but so many peeps wanted to play with her it became a festival." It could have happened otherwise: It's in the nature of our time and city. But having Bunyan, the sublime distillation of the free-folk spirit, at the center makes Halleluwah mean so much more.
Halleluwah takes place Friday and Saturday, Sept. 1-2 at Disjecta. 6 pm Friday, 4 pm Saturday. $16 ($28 for two-day pass). All ages.