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October 29th, 2008 CASEY JARMAN | Featured Stories
 

First We Take Manhattan

How an indie-rock wedding led to the biggest invasion of Portland bands New York City has ever seen.

     
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A great day in Manhattan. Musicians photographed include Al James, Alan Singley, Animal Farm, Blind Pilot, Carcrashlander, Helio Sequence, Mic Crenshaw, Rob Walmart, Starfucker, The Grown Children, The Valiant Arms, and White Rainbow. That’s Chantelle Hylton and Jeff Simmons about to kiss in the middle.
IMAGE: Amy Sly

When longtime Portland booker Chantelle Hylton—who once handpicked bands for both Berbati’s Pan and the now-defunct Blackbird—moved to New York City last June, it was a leap of faith. She knew the Knitting Factory, the club she’d be booking in New York, had an uneven history. Once a vital haven for experimental musicians as disparate as Sonic Youth and John Zorn, it had become largely a rental space without a real personality of its own. Hylton also knew the relocation would mean spending significant time away from her then-fiancé, Jeff Simmons (who is heavily involved with Portland Radio Authority and laying a foundation for new local radio station KZME-FM)—as well as leaving her mom, local jazz singer Dory Hylton, and the music community she loved. But the prospect of working for a club so rife with history and potential was too much to pass up. “It’s the Knitting Factory,” Hylton says with lingering disbelief. “Even I knew about it.”

But Hylton also saw that leaving for New York didn’t necessarily mean abandoning Portland (which she still refers to as “home” without thinking) altogether. She could provide invaluable help for Rose City bands in search of a respectable place to play while on tour in the Big Apple. “I really did need for this to be a place where Portland bands could come and be really well taken care of, even if not all of New York City had heard of them yet,” she says.

The Portland love boiled over last Friday, Oct. 24, when the Knitting Factory hosted PDX @ CMJ, a seven-hour marathon of 30 Portland bands, from Helio Sequence to Boy Eats Drum Machine, playing simultaneously on the club’s three stages. As far as we can tell, it’s the largest gathering of Portland music ever to convene outside of Portland, and it rivals the total number of PDX bands at last year’s entire South by Southwest festival.

In a way, the festival was Hylton and Simmons’ wedding present to themselves. They were married the day before at New York’s Mount Prospect Park, and many of the festival’s performers also played the couple’s wedding and Union Hall reception. “I’ve thought about how fun it would be to book my own wedding for years,” Hylton says. “And it was amazing.”

The festival itself—which took place amid the madness of New York’s annual CMJ Music Marathon—was a hauntingly familiar affair. Much like Portland’s annual PDX Pop Now! fest, this was a building full of local musicians sharing hugs and watching each other play. The crowd was modest, with around a dozen people attending most afternoon sets and a few packed performances as the evening progressed—but the displacement of 2,500 miles strengthened the Northwest musicians’ bond even more than usual. Artists incestuously referenced each other from the stage and repped their neighborhoods with pride. And, of course, Stumptown Roasters provided the coffee.

Organizers—Hylton and Simmons had a hand from SPECTRE Entertainment Group’s Hannah Carlen and PDX sponsors who helped fly musicians into town—occasionally spoke of this year’s fest as “the first annual,” and Hylton smiles when she’s asked about plans for next year, raising the prospect of a “Portland tour” that takes a handful of bands across the country. By next year, the Knitting Factory will have moved to its new single-stage location across the East River in Williamsburg. But Hylton seems confident that finding a home for the fest won’t be a problem. She’s more concerned with booking. “We put this thing together really last minute,” she says, admitting that the breadth of music styles isn’t as comprehensive as she and the other organizers would have liked. “So it’s fun to imagine what we could do if we started, you know, now.”


THANKS: All photos by Casey Jarman’s personal photographer, Amy Sly (amysly.com), except the subway shot, which is by Super XX Man’s Scott Garred.
 
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