Best of Portland 2011: Best People

Best Fan

It's the summer of the Timbers, as Portland's new Major League Soccer franchise has finally replaced Portlandia and the Stumptown sale (but not the weather—never the weather) as the de facto topic of conversation at eastside barbecues. If you're under 45 and went to college (there are some 180,000 of us), you almost certainly know a member of the Timbers Army, the team's famously rowdy and obsessive band of true fans. Mine is named Ryan; you may have seen him on TV with an ax painted on his forehead. The Army is as ebullient and creative as any group of sports fans anywhere, and no member of the Army better represents the fans' joyful devotion than Jose Manuel Campos, the man in the lucha libre mask.

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Campos, like much of the Army, is not a lifelong devotee of the franchise. "I've always had a passion for soccer, but I've never had a team to support," he says. That changed on March 11, 2010, when Campos, a 31-year-old salesman for a distributor of Hispanic groceries, attended his first game at Jeld-Wen Field in the Army's Section 107—a charity match against the Seattle Sounders, which Portland won 1-0 the third round of the US Open Cup against Seattle, which Portland lost 3-4 on penalties—and was immediately converted. "That was my first game. From then on it was my big thing," he says. "This year I decided to get season tickets…. I've gone to every home game ever since."

Campos drew our attention when we saw him wearing a bullfighter's uniform and wrestling mask at the June 19 home match against the New York Red Bulls. The matador getup was a one-off, rented from Hollywood Costumers—Campos adjusts his costume to best antagonize the visiting team—but the mask is constant. "My parents are from Mexico. I was born here. Lucha libre is the second-most-watched sport in Mexico, so I put the two sports together," Campos explains. "I just love to get out there and support the team, chanting for 90 minutes."

Like many of his fellow fans, Campos is an evangelist. "I've taken friends who have never been to a Timbers game, and I tell them beforehand, 'Know your chants, know that you're going to stand for 90 minutes, know that you're going to wave flags,'" he says. "They were addicted."

Campos' faith remains unwavering in the face of the team's worrisome midseason slump. "It happens. You have winning streaks, you have losing streaks," he says. "Win, lose or tie, the Timbers Army is always by your side." BEN WATERHOUSE.

Best Saxy KJ

It's a quiet Wednesday at the Spare Room (4830 NE 42nd Ave., 287-5800,, a former bowling alley converted into a massive lounge on the border between Cully and Concordia. Thirsty patrons chat at the bar, while in the dimly lit, banquet-hall-sized dining area, most seats are empty. 

On the bar's stage, a thin man in a sequined vest plays air guitar on a Guitar Hero controller as a man sings a country song. The KJ sits with his back to the audience. He summons the next singer, and the sounds of Wham!'s "Careless Whisper" fill the bar. The singer coyly works through the first verse. Suddenly, the KJ walks to the front of the stage, whips out a sax and begins to blow the song's signature riff. All eyes are fixed on the stage.

It's just another night for the Danny Chavez Karaoke Show, in which KJ Chavez and sidekick Rockin' Raymond transform karaoke into a spectacle every Monday through Wednesday. A trained musician and son of the late Tex-Mex musical pioneer Poli Chavez, Danny's musical accompaniment has become legend. Whether blowing his trademark sax or shaking maracas, Chavez is a true showman, and for the past three years he has transformed Spare Room into one of Portland's best, albeit least known, karaoke venues.

Chavez and air guitarist/singer Rockin' Raymond—who befriended Chavez during one of his first KJ gigs at the now-defunct Grandma's Restaurant and has been by his side ever since—have become an institution at the Spare Room, figureheads that have drawn others into the fray with their showmanship, with Raymond front and center providing energy and Chavez working as the ace in the hole—sometimes, he says, to his own detriment.

"A lot of times people give [Raymond] more credit for my show," said Chavez. "They're like, 'Give it up for Rockin' Raymond and…Danny.' Rockin' Raymond and Danny!? I see where they get it. I'm basically pretty quiet, and he gets all the spotlight. Sometimes I say, 'Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.'" AP KRYZA.

The Danny Chavez Karaoke Show takes place 9 pm-1 am Monday-Wednesday at the Spare Room.

Best Comic

If there's one joke that best encapsulates the comedy of Ron Funches, it's probably this one, about his in-laws: "We mostly don't get along because they don't think I should smoke pot anymore now that I have a child, and that I should be more responsible. I don't believe those things relate. In fact, I believe if we're going to sit around watching cartoons all day anyway...." He then goes on to deconstruct the Muppet Babies theme song, like only a true pothead can.

In that single bit, Funches, 28, hits on a lot of the characteristics that have made him Portland's most charming comedian—mainly, the juxtaposition of his childlike demeanor against his status as a married man raising an 8-year-old son. Oh, and also his love of getting high. Although there are only a handful of references to weed in his act, it's led some to classify him as a "stoner comic," a label he doesn't completely accept.

“I accept that I smoke marijuana, but I wouldn’t say I’m a stoner comic,” he said a few hours before  headlining a sold-out show at the Hollywood Theatre. "I talk about me. If it's easier for someone to go, 'He's a stoner comic,' I don't mind, I guess. I just want to be a great comic."

Indeed, the only real connective thread in Funches' set is himself. In his deliberate, relaxed delivery, he discusses growing up on the South Side of Chicago as "the only brother on the block into bumping Alanis Morrisette," the cruel irony of a black man being forced to take a cotton-swab drug test to apply for a job, and eating Oreos and bacon with his son, who is autisic—a fact he doesn't shy away from, either.

"I never knew how to describe raising a child with autism until recently," he tells the crowd at the Hollywood. "It's like taking care of someone who is on way too many 'shrooms, while you yourself are on a moderate amount of 'shrooms. I'm not confident in all my decisions, but I know you shouldn't be eating a mouse pad." MATTHEW SINGER.

Best Choreographer

Angelle Hebert is a fearless explorer. The dances she makes for Teeth, the company she created in 2006 with partner-composer Phillip Kraft, seem to be searching for what's inside, whether that exploration takes place in an oversized tube of fabric, a trough of slime, a mirrored box, under a blanket or in someone's mouth. Hebert and her collaborators construct fascinating multimedia pieces with outrageously costumed dancers—or no costumes at all. The dances integrate pedestrian movement (grappling, writhing, twitching) into solos, duets and unisons that speak, subtly, to group dynamics, intimacy and alienation. The dance world has taken notice; Teeth won a $10,000 prize at Seattle's 2011 On the Boards festival, and makes its White Bird debut in January. HEATHER WISNER.

April 16th 2011 benefit performance from tEEth on Vimeo.

Best Ass-Kicking Pioneer

"I classify traditional martial arts as superstition, like religion," says Matt Thornton. It's an opinion that has led the Portland resident and owner of Straight Blast Gym International to be one of the most polarizing figures in the international martial arts community. Some consider him a visionary; others see Thornton, a hulking, tattooed 6-foot-7-inch former soldier, as an "aggressive jock."

You may disagree with his ideas—that you can't learn to fight or defend yourself with karate katas and goofy Asian mysticism—but it's hard to lump the guy in with the cliché of a Tapout-wearing MMA redneck. At his gym in the Hollywood neighborhood (1812 NE 43rd Ave., 230-7924), men, and a few women, of all ages—some have tie-dyed their uniforms—grapple competitively but sociably before a class. Thornton, a laid-back California native, slips in quietly and puts a jazz album on the stereo.

A former Jeet Kune Do instructor at the now-defunct Portland Martial Arts Academy, Thornton started rebelling against those "traditional" training methods after meeting legendary Brazilian jujitsu fighter Rickson Gracie in 1993. "There were 18 or 19 other guys—big judo guys—and he'd tap them all out without using his hands!" says Thornton. "I wanted a gym where people actually sparred, doing what was essentially mixed martial arts…. But everyone was telling me: 'You're never going to make it. Nobody wants to spar, nobody wants to sweat.'"

Fortunately, Thornton says, he proved them wrong. He left the academy and started the first Straight Blast Gym in Salem in 1993, later becoming Oregon's first Brazilian jujitsu black belt, and began selling videos demonstrating his methods and ideas around the world. There are now 12 other Straight Blast and affiliated gyms across the U.S., as well as in nine other countries, while Brazilian jujitsu and MMA have exploded in popularity in Portland. When we met, he had just returned from a teaching tour of Ireland, Sweden and Iceland.

Despite fans, students and critics around the globe, Thornton acknowledges that the average Portlander has no idea who he is. He's not even the biggest name in local martial arts—cage-fighter-turned-Republican politician Matt Lindland gets all the press. But he is certainly the most influential. "I think, one way or another, you can trace 90 percent of the competition that I have [in Portland] back to my own gym," he says. RUTH BROWN.

Best Indianpreneur

Annie LaVerdure-O'Brien is a self-proclaimed urban Indian. "I'm a feather, not a dot," she says, placing three raised fingers on top of her head while pointing her index finger toward her forehead. Annie, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, is also the owner of LVD Media, a Portland-based marketing agency specializing in branding, logos and website design. Her firm focuses on small businesses in the Pacific Northwest (she is also a self-declared "Portland snob") as well as various Native enterprises, including the Siletz Tribal Business Corporation. Annie is also on the tourism task force for the Portland Area Business Association, a tri-chair for Portland's Human Rights Campaign Gala, a member of the South Portland Neighborhood Association, a volunteer cook for Our House, and a dog walker for the Oregon Humane Society (yes, even in the rain). "I don't have to run off to Kenya to make a difference," she says. As a subscriber to the "go big or go home" philosophy, LaVerdure-O'Brien can impressively manage both extremes all in one day. SHAE HEALEY.

Best Goat Delivery

In early July, Naomi and Neil Montacre, owners of Naomi's Organic Farm Supply in Sellwood, which opened in fall 2009, were forced to move shop quickly so property owner Les Schwab Tire Centers could demolish their shop and build a tire store and parking lot in its place. Pave paradise and put up a parking lot. You can read all about the controversy surrounding the move on the Naomi's Organic Farm Supply website (, but the upshot of it all is that Naomi's is going mobile this summer. The Montacres will deliver retail urban-farmstead products and livestock to drop sites around town in upcoming weeks as they sniff out a more permanent plot for their plants, gardening supplies, goats, ducks, hens, bees, worms and more. What do you tip for goat delivery? LIZ CRAIN.

Best Bookmaker

In a town that likes its success stories artisan and small-batch, Patricia No represents a kind of ideal: She co-founded and runs day-to-day operations for Publication Studio, a micro-printer of books where a typical launch consists of 20 copies. Her co-founder, Matthew Stadler, gets more ink, but No is the Studio partner with her hands on the press. "I am the person that actually makes the books," says the 27-year-old Bard graduate, giving a tour of the four machines that produce each paperback, including a tabletop binder and a guillotine paper cutter that "slices through 500 pages like it's butter." Publication Studio has spread to six cities, printed a new translation of Walter Benjamin and partnered with Yale, but No is most excited by the imprint's new storefront (717 SW Ankeny St., 360-4702), where a sidewalk sandwich board proclaims what's hot off the presses. AARON MESH.

Best Renaissance Man in Drag

On her business card, Zora Phoenix presents herself as a sort of jill-of-all-trades: a singer, emcee, graphic designer and burlesque producer. Nowhere does she use the phrase "drag queen"—even though, when she gets off her day job as a red-haired, bespectacled advertising executive named Chris Stewart, she changes out of her black slacks and gray shirt and into fake eyelashes, a dark bob wig and shimmering red dress. Instead, she prefers the term "gender illusionist."

"I'm not really trying to be what most people think of as a drag queen," says Stewart, 31. "I'm not transgender, I'm not a transvestite. But if you take drag queen, transvestite and transgender and put them in a triangle, I'm in the center."

Zora singing Hot Child from Zora Phoenix on Vimeo.

Stewart began entertaining at age 8, as a square-dance caller in his hometown of Louisville, Ky. When he moved to Southern California in 2004, he picked up a gig hosting a bingo night at a piano bar in Long Beach, where he began to develop an act combining music and comedy around his Zora Phoenix persona. He describes Zora as "a seemingly promiscuous, dumb girl who's really acerbic and witty and quick to catch you off-guard," but insists that under the makeup, "it's really just me."

Since moving to Portland in 2007, Stewart's job description has expanded. In addition to putting on burlesque events all around town—including Burlesque S'il Vous Plaît at Crush and Phoenix Variety Revue at Kelly's Olympian—he runs the website, uses his marketing  background to teach performers how to better brand themselves: to, in his words, "use your T&A to help your S&L"). MATTHEW SINGER.

Best Kemo Sabe

He has no black mask—no Silver or Tonto, either—but for Portland Parks & Rec, he'll do just fine. Bob McCoy is Forest Park's lone ranger—the first and only PP&R ranger dedicated exclusively to the crown jewel of the city's parks system. The extroverted 56-year-old was hired last fall amid increased concern over how well the 5,170-acre urban forest was holding up under the ecological pressures of its metropolitan location. Now several months into the job, Ranger Bob spends his workdays the way your average Portlander would feel lucky to pass a summer Sunday: hiking Forest Park's more than 70 miles of trails as "the eyes and the ears for the park." By and large, McCoy says, Forest Park is "amazingly problem-free"; the biggest issue he sees is off-leash dogs, which can disturb wildlife, spread invasive species and trip up bikers. Better yet, most park users need only a friendly reminder to toe the line. "They may not be doing the right thing at the moment," McCoy says, "but they have in common with almost everybody else in the park that they'd like to see their children and grandchildren…be able to enjoy it the way they did." Interacting with people to cultivate that dual sentiment of appreciation and responsibility for the park comes naturally to McCoy, who, though a lifelong outdoorsman, has worked mostly in editing, writing and teaching. "A lot of what I have done in my life, the strengths that I had, were strengths of working with people, resolving conflict," he says. "That's what urban rangering is…. You're dealing with quality-of-life issues that have to do with people's behavior, and how [to] negotiate with people so that everybody gets a little piece of the pie." JONATHAN FROCHTZWAJG.

Best Bash Builder

Samantha Swaim's background is in theater and TV production, but these days she's the financial guru for nonprofits from the American Heart Association to the Willamette Writers Conference. Swaim's business, Samantha Swaim Fundraising, specializes mainly in fundraising consulting, producing events, and classes that help Portland nonprofits maximize revenue.

"I always call it human economics," Swaim says, explaining that her goal is to help nonprofit organizations capitalize on the limited amount of time that a fundraising event allows.

Swaim's productions include such highlights of the nonprofit gala calendar as Basic Rights Oregon's Strut fashion show, Children's Relief Nursery's first Iron Bartender competition in February and Central City Concern's luncheon honoring Portlanders working to end homelessness. This year, she also produced a Glee-themed dinner for BRO, with over 50 singers and 900 attendees. "I believe that the people that are running nonprofits are the people that are affecting the most change. By educating them and giving them the right tools, we can make them much more impactful," Swaim says. NATASHA GEILING.

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