The late '70s and early '80s were extravagant times: The economy was booming; high-style party drugs like cocaine were in vogue; hair was big and bodified, and beards followed suit. The music? Well, the music was smooth
And what smoother—or more indicative of excessive wealth—than sailing? Enter posthumously named musical genre “yacht rock.” The tag, placed on island-inspired soft-rock tunes released by artists such as Christopher Cross, the Doobie Brothers, Kenny Loggins, Michael McDonald, Steely Dan and Jimmy Buffett between the years of 1976 and 1984, yacht rock has made a resurgence in recent years. And East End co-owner Tony Mengis is all over it. In March, East End hosted the first “Boat Drinks,” an event dedicated to the aesthetic. “People for sure have a place in their hearts for it,” he says. “[They] were singing along every word.”
Mengis, who plays bass in local power-pop troupe the Soda Pop Kids, says he and Matt Hollywood (fellow Boat Drinks DJ and Brian Jonestown Massacre/The Out Crowd guitarist) found inspiration in Oregon's dreary winters: “It was the dead of winter... and we just needed a party.” Aptly, tunes like “Sailing” (you know, “Takes me away/ To where I've al-ways/ Heard it could be”) evoke easy, breezy times spent sipping cocktails poolside. “I went to some estate sales and got fully brown and orange '70s pool chairs and chaise longues,” says Mengis of the last Boat Drinks. “Girls were sunbathing with blended margaritas and stuff!” Casting the era in a glamorous (if comical) glow, he invites attendees to step into a spray-on tanning booth, and the 20 best-dressed guests win a chance to perform “yacht rock karaoke.” He expects song choices to fall in line: “You can't just bust out some Heart,” he warns.
Though Mengis—who prefers to be called “Malibu Tony” when discussing yacht rock—chuckles heartily through our conversation, he says yacht rock holds a special place in Matt Hollywood's heart. “He's from Santa Barbara,” says Mengis, “so he used to see Michael McDonald all the time, just at the grocery store, walking the dog and stuff.” And cheesy as the genre often is, he says people are “really dedicated” to it. “There's message boards, people arguing about what is yacht rock and what isn't.” He readily drops sub-genres: black yacht rock and what he calls “random smoothness.”
Even ultra-hip Portland artists like Grails' William Slater and members of Federale and BJM signed on as live tribute band Sundance and Sweet Freedom—who played the March edition and who Mengis says will be back in May. “They can't be held down, man. They're yacht-rockers.” In the meantime, we presume, they'll be sailing away...setting an open course for the virgin sea.
DJs Key West Hollywood, Brkfst Sndwch and Dairy play Boat Drinks II Sunday, April 6, at East End. 9 pm. Free. 21+.