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Best of Portland 2013: Best Music


You're home alone, listening to your '90s alt-rock playlist, when Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know" comes on. Suddenly, you're belting it out like Uncle Joey just broke your heart yesterday, screeching and yowling with terrifying ferocity. It sounds like dying cats, but it feels damn good.

Such unbridled passion rarely erupts in public places without abundant alcohol consumption, but friends Decoteau Wilkerson, Adele Hauser and Paige Reitz have come up with a much more organic way to bring no-boundaries singing out into the open. It's called A People's Choir (, a group sing-along in which participants crowd together and sing at the top of their lungs to original recordings of pop songs. The monthly meet-up at the Waypost is like team karaoke—all the sweet release with virtually zero risk of personal embarrassment. "It doesn't matter how bad you are at singing, you get to be in the choir, because that's the rules," Hauser says. "It's nice to have a place where you can do that as an adult."

The founders say that inclusive attitude, combined with the power of music, hits people somewhere primal. "We sang 'Creep' by Radiohead, and there were people almost getting hit by cars because they were running across the street to join up," says Wilkerson of a choir held at Last Thursday. "All of the sudden, you have this way to bond that didn't exist when you were just two people walking down the street." EMILY JENSEN.


Before asking Jim Felt about his glory days promoting rock concerts in Portland in the 1960s, it's best to clear your schedule. Once he gets going, the stories spill out of him like notes from Jerry Garcia's Les Paul, and you could get through an entire Dick's Picks box set before he's done. Not all of them are easy to follow: Felt speaks in such a way that he somehow ends up talking over himself, and his digressions have asides that have their own digressions.

He's got artifacts to match his stories, too. At a location he refuses to disclose, Felt is hoarding a veritable bongload of memorabilia: handbills, photos, ticket stubs, reel-to-reel tapes, old contracts. He's sitting on a tie-dye goldmine. But, at age 66, Felt, who's operated a commercial photography studio in Southeast Portland for 39 years, has little interest in cashing in on his past.

"I'm not good at selling things," he says simply.

He will talk about it, though. In 1967, fresh out of Portland State University, Felt wandered into the downtown Masonic Temple and convinced the group to let him rent it out. For the next three years, he booked gigs at venues as small as defunct country bar Springer's Inn and as large as the then-Memorial Coliseum, and rubbed elbows with future icons and martyrs. He went guitar shopping with Eric Clapton. He got in an argument with Ken Kesey for overloading the guest list. He put on an incongruous double bill of the Doors and Glen Campbell, and his mother got stuck chatting with Jim Morrison about his leather pants in an elevator. His girlfriend ran off with Iron Butterfly…twice. As soon as he lost money for the first time—on a big outdoor show he claims was sabotaged by rumors of drug busts—he left the business.

"I never got close to them because there was too much to do. What are you going to do, send a postcard? I wasn't a groupie because I wasn't interested," he says. "I'm socially stunted." MATTHEW SINGER.



Sam Adams, Portland's best DJ, maintains that he is not Portland's best DJ. "I'm not good," he says, "but for a good cause I'll subject myself to public humiliation."

Such modesty is yet another politically savvy move from Portland's hottest DJ of benefit galas. Sam Adams left office and joined the City Club last year, but the bespectacled former celebumayor remains boss of the dance floor, getting gigs as current Mayor Charlie Hales' "DJ Sad Eyez" project remains crated. Why? Because DJ Sam Adams draws a crowd and keeps it happy. Which, when you're a hardworking nonprofit just trying to hustle some skrilla, is what you need.

Sam Adams has been spinning for a decade, starting with a gig at downtown Asian fusion joint Saucebox. Since, he's been goaded to DJ "every now and then." He got lots of cred from a gig at Jackpot. His last gig was in May at an event for XRAY.FM, a new nonprofit radio station.

What does he spin? The stone-cold jams you hear during the morning rush at a Starbucks. Adams' playlist adheres strictly to jazzy tunes from the early '60s, stuff like Bobby Timmons Trio to Richard Groove Holmes. "I really like jazz and soul," Adams says.

Now that he's getting so many gigs, Adams even has a role model, DJ Rev Shines, who mostly spins at Eastside Industrial District bar Produce Row. Shines, Adams says, pairs classic croons with millennium-ready beats. (DJ Sam Adams does not do beats.) ASHLEY JOCZ.


Nick Barbery always wanted to own a record store. He started a blog instead. That wasn't so much a compromise as a good business decision. If Ghost Capital ( were a brick-and-mortar enterprise, it probably wouldn't last long. What's the market demand for long-out-of-print copies of Persian piano music, trippy Caribbean folk and Zambian psych rock anyway? In the free-download market of cyberspace, however, the site is an ethnomusicological treasure trove. Growing up, Barbery was obsessed with the world beyond his upbringing in small-town Virginia. "I was fascinated with borders, cultural diversity, and historical and geographical contours," he writes in an email. "I guess all that eventually transferred to records."

Eight years ago, Barbery moved to Portland; four years ago, a little after the birth of his son, he finally got his vinyl out of storage. Looking for something to occupy his time after putting the baby to bed, he began ripping his collection of Brazilian batucada, Indian film scores and Syrian pop online. A self-described "mild-mannered contrarian," Barbery—who does the occasional DJ gig around town and compiles mixtapes for other blogs such as Aquarium Drunkard—says the idea was to explode the notion that the history of popular music begins and ends in the West. "The rough concept for Ghost Capital is something like phantom currency, or hidden value," he writes. "I guess I enjoy adding to, or even challenging, the commonly accepted musical canons." MATTHEW SINGER.


If you're new to the Portland music scene, you may recognize PALS Clubhouse (palspdx.or) as "that place that kind of looks like a frat house" on Southeast 8th Avenue and Division Street.

However, past the rows of battered lawn chairs and lazily painted walls lies a musical paradise, equipped with fire pits, old speakeasy stages and thoughtfully strung lights.

The stars aligned for this place: PALS is nestled in the Eastside Industrial District, between a set of friendly neighbors and train tracks, one of the few close-in spots where such a project could continue in a little beige bungalow for three years without the cops investigating a noise complaint.

The house began its road to infamy by throwing themed shindigs, ranging from Robert Burns Day to Lady Gaga spaceship parties. Next thing the PALS crew knew, it'd grown into a three-day festival with 14 bands, two stages and three kegs set up in the cul-de-sac and yard.  

"We do this because we like this house to be a place where people can come and practice their art or whatever they're into," said pal Chris White. "If you come out to a show and are a cool person, you're part of the PALS community."

They've had their bikes stolen. They've spent way too long picking up empty beer cans. They've let you pee in their bathroom. When the line was too long, they let you pee in their bushes. Oh, and they put together a house festival headlined by WW's Best New Band 2012, Radiation City, along with Hustle and Drone, and Animal Eyes. ASHLEY JOCZ.


In May, Sam Beam, of acclaimed chamber-folk act Iron and Wine, left his home base in South Carolina, rented a studio at North Portland production facility Audiocinema (226 SE Madison St., 467-4554, and flew in his touring band to rehearse for their upcoming North American tour. He went all the way across the country to accommodate one man: Rob Burger. The 42-year-old multi-instrumentalist, who served as musical director on Iron and Wine's latest album, Ghost on Ghost, was expecting his wife, Mary Mulliken, to deliver their second child at any moment, and refused to leave town. So Beam came to him.

Many of Burger's other collaborators would have done the same. Testimonials on his website, from Lucinda Williams and Calexico's Joey Burns to jazz musicians Bill Frisell and John Zorn, praise Burger's invaluable versatility as a musician and arranger. "In fact," writes Grammy-winning producer Hal Willner, "I think he is a fucking demon who made a deal with Beelzebub and will lose his soul one day, but in the meantime he's as good as it gets, and I'm lucky to have his phone number."

A child prodigy, Burger—who was born in Brooklyn and moved to Portland less than two years ago—discovered he had perfect pitch at age 5. His parents enrolled him in classical piano lessons with an instructor from Juilliard. As he got older, Burger's interests expanded into rock 'n' roll and avant-garde jazz. In San Francisco, he formed the genre-blurring Tin Hat Trio, which led to other studio gigs, appearing on albums by Norah Jones, Beth Orton and Marianne Faithfull, and jobs supporting the likes of Elvis Costello, Lou Reed and Sting on tour. He's also put out two solo records, combining his boundary-pushing jazz and classical sensibilities with a worldly mélange of folk styles. Those are perhaps the least-known entries on his résumé, but as a kid who grew up poring over liner notes, Burger says he's just as content seeing his name in the credits as on the cover.  “I like to lead, but I’m equally comfortable following,” he says. “The world needs good followers.” MATTHEW SINGER.


Unlike with, oh, every other radio station on the dial, there's no wrong time of the day to tune in to KBMS 1480 AM. It touts itself in promos as the "home for party blues and oldies," but there's so much more.

Looking for some uptempo jams to amp you up for an evening out? KBMS is at the ready with a playlist of new and vintage soul, funk and R&B. Want to hear some engaging (and sometimes infuriating) debate about current issues? It broadcasts the Rev. Al Sharpton's talk show every weekday. Trying to set the mood for some bedroom or backseat boot knockin'? Its late-night selections of "quiet storm" slow jams are there for you. Looking for some soul cleansing after Saturday night's revelry? Sunday mornings on KBMS are all about heart-stirring gospel tunes and prayer requests.

Screw your car-stereo presets: Set your AM dial to 1480 and pry the buttons off. ROBERT HAM

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