[FOREST FOLK] Looking across the rows and rows of enraptured fans sitting cross-legged on Holocene's floor, awaiting Alela Diane's farewell performance last Wednesday, it was obvious there'd be more than a few broken hearts left after her departure from Portland. Yes, the wise-beyond-her-24-years folkstress—apparently weary of city life and a touch homesick—is skipping town for the more country-ish surroundings of her native Nevada City, Calif., after calling Portland home for two years.
But first, a tour: Last week's show was just one stop on the Grass Roots Record Co.'s “Summer Revue” tour, which includes Diane and fellow Nevada City-based folkies Lee Bob Watson, Mariee Sioux, Aaron Ross and Benjamin Oak Goodman. At the fitting farewell show, Diane essentially brought her hometown (or a fine sampling of it) to Portland for all of us to meet. And the communal performances by the tightly knit group of musicians offered proof that Portland isn't the only town that considers its music community an honest-to-god family. By the time the shaggy-haired Goodman joined Alela Diane on stage at the end of the night, I'd lost track of just how many times the five performers had backed each other up, each rotating from drums to vocals to guitar and back again.
Though it's clear Diane is looking forward to being back in the company of friends and family—she said in her departure announcement, “[My boyfriend and I] have been missing our roots”—she promises that she'll tour through town often. A fan outside remarked confidently, “Portland's got her by the balls,” and it's probably true: Diane's label, Holocene Music, is based here in PDX, and she just recorded her second album at local studio Type Foundry (run by Norfolk & Western's Adam Selzer). Regardless, the void left in Diane's absence will be felt by quite a few.
Despite a dazzling set featuring the lovely, glimmering voice of Sioux (who was visibly shaken after knocking a glass over)—Diane was the star of the night. Much of her material was new, which demonstrated slightly more developed, fuller songwriting (her boyfriend, whom someone quite loudly pointed out looks like Burt Reynolds, now regularly plays bass with her). Given the night's sampling, we should all be very excited for the follow-up to last year's The Pirate's Gospel
. The set climaxed with an absolutely perfect version of “Tatted Lace,” which Diane delivered with a strange-yet-awesome yodel break that was nothing short of gut-wrenching. In fact, she performed each wide-eyed, rustic folk song flawlessly, ending on “The Rifle,” perhaps her finest.
Earlier in the set, Diane had said of Portland, “I miss it already.” Portland could only respond with applause and a sea of spellbound faces.
Photo: by Justin Kent.