Slabtown's 2007 opening party, the Bender, was an impromptu affair—an opportunity for the new owners to show thanks, and to mark the storied venue's new, rawk-centric direction with a weekend-long, free music festival. It was never meant to attract bands from across the country. And, had the organizers any idea it'd become an annual event, it really wouldn't have been held on Superbowl Sunday.
"We didn't have a plan last year," co-owner (and former WW scribe) Sam Soule confesses. "We had our staff in place, food and liquor to sell, and we were just waiting for people to show up. As it turned out, Portland showed up."
Over the next year, Slabtown found itself inundated by garage bands from around the nation wanting to play the next Bender. "It was really a big happy mistake," Soule continues. "Now this is our definitive weekend. I don't think Portland's ever done a festival like [this year's Bender]. Three days of straight rock 'n' roll—punk, garage, rough, experimental…loud!"
Of course, with success comes certain drawbacks—merchandising, programs, cover charge ($25 wristbands, $10 nightly covers, plus free weekend matinees) and local media forcing the organizers to pinpoint the acts they're most excited about.
Soule: I'm really looking forward to seeing the
. They're from San Francisco, they dress in medieval armor, chain mail, helmets. They sing about the righteousness of Christ...but with a sense of humor: "What part of thou shalt not kill don't you understand?"
Co-owner Brinda Coleman chimes in: And the kick-off band—the Pity Fucks .
Soule: The Pity Fucks have a great organ sound. They're raw. They stand out already amongst their contemporaries. I'm really excited about them. As far as Friday night, Head 's developed a cult following across the country. They do the Ramones sound but inspired, not derivative. They rarely come to Portland. They rarely play at all, really.
Coleman: Got some great local bands—
Soule: One of the reasons [power-punkers] the Flip Tops are playing [is that] so many bands from San Francisco asked if they were. So we, y'know, besides loving the Flip Tops, wanted to make sure [the other acts] caught a band they'd been wanting to see.
Soule: Livefastdie , beyond having a fantastic name, [play] great, damaged rock 'n' roll. They're [coming] from New Hampshire especially to play the festival.
Coleman: And 8-Foot Tender 's playing, now…
Soule: …If we talk about bands that've done us favors over the past year, [8-Foot Tender] played almost whenever we asked, brought us great shows that didn't even involve them directly…. That's one thing about this event, it's another way of saying these bands [have] put on a lot of great shows at Slabtown. All of the opening bands helped us on the start-up...
Coleman: Sunday's a great Portland line-up—
, who haven't been playing around much.
Soule: [And] Silver Lion's 20/20 —a blues duo from Nashville, members of the Quadrajets and Immortal Lee County Killers, rough scary Southern blues...
Coleman: ...and they're free.
Soule: There's the Fe Fi Fo Fums from Seattle, another exceptional band, as are the Rock 'n' Roll Adventure Kids —who, I think, are from California. They're both favorites, to have them on the same bill should be exceptional. A lot of these bands, they're just excited about playing with Pierced Arrows because of the Fred Cole [frontman for legendary Northwest garage rockers Dead Moon] legacy. That pretty much covers Sunday. Except Meth Teeth ! They're a little more noisy and out there. We try to not...there's a certain sameness—it is a festival that's geared towards a certain type of music—but I try to make it diverse. Like, Meth Teeth's a bit noisier with some harmony and whatnot. I like a lot of it!
Coleman [laughing]: We like everybody.
The Bender takes place Friday-Sunday, Feb. 1-3, at Slabtown. 6 pm (free matinees at noon, Saturday and Sunday). $10 ($25 for full-weekend wristband). 21+. For full lineup, see Music Calendar LINK or visit myspace.com/slabtownbender.