On May 28, Seattle power-pop band the Posies played a St. Johns tugboat named Captain Bob. A hundred feet away on the shore, they had just finished a twilight show on a green-lawned, remediated brownfield called Green Anchors—looking out magisterially over the Willamette River onto the cathedral arches of the St. Johns Bridge.
Until the day of the show, no one in the audience was allowed to know where the concert was—but they wouldn't have known anyway.
That's about to change. Starting with a festival called the Great Willamette River Revival on July 30—featuring New York hip-hop artist Decora and local bands—a nonprofit called Columbia Clearwater will be hosting a series of concerts on the St. Johns waterfront, all to benefit Portland rivers. It's an offshoot of a New York river charity founded by legendary folkie Pete Seeger—apparently a name that helps with booking.
The concerts will also help restore the tugboat so there can be shows there, too. The World War II steamship is already home to an old-school music studio and a radio studio where KBOO has held broadcasts.
Clearwater director Sarah Bagby says she's working with the boat's owners on bigger plans.
"There's a great acoustic sound within the center of the tugboat," Bagby says. "The inside is three levels—almost like a club. Put the band in the middle. There's people at every level looking."
That will take some time, however. To do everything, including making the thing seaworthy, boat owner Matt Stein says he's looking at close to $1.2 million.
In the meantime, Bagby's nonprofit is also starting a monthly concert series on the steam-powered sternwheeler moored at the Oregon Maritime Museum. The first show will be in mid-August, featuring local folk-rock outfit Sassparilla—and Bagby says ticket prices are staying low because she wants as many people as possible to get out on the river.
"A lot of people can't afford to watch a show on a sternwheeler," she says. "We want to change that. Even if they have no money at all, we'll let them volunteer."
Meanwhile, Clearwater is organizing to get concerts on Oregon rivers from the Columbia to the Snake. Apparently the best new music venue in Portland is the river itself.