Sultry singer Storm Large has been exposing herself around town for a while now, fronting her distinctive band, the Balls, and promoting its quirky blend of rock and soul music, a sound that's both old and new.

She's our shower-singing cover girl for Best of Portland 2004 not just because of the power of her voice, but also because her persona seems distinctively Portland, as quirky and interesting as, say, a neighborhood plumbing store with its own stage and 450-seat concert venue (see Bests 1 and 2, right).

In this issue, we aim to provide fresh information about some one-of-a-kind people and places you already know about, as well as some more undiscovered attractions.

We've spent the past year gathering up the bests that are collected here. We start this process every year by badgering friends, colleagues and even people we barely know--like my bus driver--looking for ideas.

We listen to all your suggestions about your ex-girlfriend/naturopath or neighborhood garbage hauler who deserves special recognition. And then I compile all the email suggestions, weird-ass phone messages and little pieces of paper with scribbled-down names that float into my mailbox.

On the second or third draft of the list--by this time, it has grown to more than 300 items--a blue-ribbon panel of "experts" (read: a few editors and me) determines which are worth investigating. That's when I assign a group of writers to take this bunch of random suggestions and start reporting to figure out which ones actually are worth celebrating as Portland's best.

This year, more than 60 writers, editors, photographers and designers helped create what is Willamette Week's biggest issue of the year. As an additional way to look at our city, we also asked for readers' choices. We received more than 3,000 entries from some 575 readers (that's thanks to this year's "vote early, vote often" philosophy) in our online poll. Check out those results on pages 70-71.

We consider these bests a look into the heart of Portland, a way to note the completely wacked-out soul-thumpers--people, places and things--that don't always demand recognition but are worthy of attention. We think of this issue as a celebration, a way to remind all of us what we like about our city.

You may not agree with all our choices. I hope you'll remind us of the people or places we left out. But more than that, I hope the following pages will give you a chance to think about the kind of bests that set this place apart.

Then, let me know. I'd love to hear what you think. I've been waiting all year.

All the best,

Byron Beck

Special Sections Editor

Inside "Best of Portland 2004"