"I am the most authentic Stevie Ray Vaughan tribute act going," proposes Eric King, a Portland resident. He plucks at his guitar absent-mindedly and pulls at his unkempt handlebar mustache.
The businessmen fold their newspapers, gather their briefcases and overcoats, and walk briskly through the revolving door into the Portland drizzle.
As if on cue, several North by Northwest (NXNW) conventioneers straggle into the room. With shaved heads, goatees, leather jackets, bell-bottoms, red lipstick, black sweaters, ripped Levi's, and sunglasses, they order coffee as if life depends on it and light up cigarettes. Peering through the smoke with red-rimmed eyes, they observe each other skeptically and make halfhearted attempts at small talk.
The NXNW music convention, the first of its kind to be held in Portland, has drawn 1,000 registered conventioneers -- musicians, bookers, agents, managers, journalists, and promoters -- participating in 19 panels/workshops, and 300 regional acts, some coming from as far as Alaska, performing in over 20 nightclubs. San Francisco is well-represented in the weekend roster by the Sorentinos, Blow Up, Mermen, Popgun, Chris von Sniedern, Stone Fox, Dieselhed, Tina Age 13, Pee, Heavy Into Jeff, Bucky Sinister, Rich Ferguson, American Sensei, Carmaig de Forest, Van Gogh's Daughter, Beggars, Stephen Yerkey, and Mongolia Thunderfinger.
The Mermen impress both local music lovers and local press with their 40 minutes of surf-rock madness at Berbati's Pan on Thursday night. As the Oregonian puts it, "Portland's Underpants Machine was completely outgunned on the surf turf by the Mermen from San Francisco." Heavy Into Jeff, too, garners heavy kudos and big applause from a packed house at the Lotus Cardroom on Friday night. An A&R rep from Interscope points out encouragingly that "if a band can get jaded industry people dancing, they can get anyone dancing." Despite technical difficulties, Pee's gig is attended by a large group of happy Portland music fans who say the "name made us laugh." The only convention glitch occurs when a group of eager industry folk find themselves on a futile search for the Broun Fellinis. Shango's, which was to play host to the hip hop acts in town, cancels after the first show because the owner finds the gangsta rap on the bill "intolerable." The remaining shows are relocated across town at the Melody Ballroom. Determined, hip-hop heads make the trek only to find that the Fellinis never left their San Francisco port; organizers of NXNW had failed to remove the band's name from the bill.
Toni Isabella, booker of the Paradise Lounge, ignores her San Francisco bias and stakes her good-music-good-time money on Seattle's Red Neck Girlfriend. As expected, the raunchy, rollicking, rock 'n' roll foursome has everyone at Moody's sweaty and smiling by the end of the show with only two minor band mishaps to show for it: Skeeter, the guitarist, nearly chips a tooth on his tongue piercing, and lead singer Lane complains that the Coke he drank in hopes of sobering up only made his ulcer flare. The ever-rational Isabella suggests that they attend the "Health Concerns for Working Musicians" panel at the Benson the following day.
Saturday night at the Ash Street Saloon proves the most enjoyable evening of the convention. Portland's Kelly Joe Phelps, a singer/songwriter with a rich, effortless voice and an amazing gift for slide, receives a standing ovation as people on the street stop to press their faces to the windows. Vancouver's riotous Rattled Roosters headline, bringing down the house with some revved-up, retrograde rock 'n' roll that features some of the finest stand-up bass playing this side of the Mississippi. A near-tragedy occurs when lead singer Rick Cameron, known as much for his rock-inspired acrobatics as his honey-boy croon, miscalculates the height of the bar and comes close to losing his head to a ceiling fan. Fortunately, Cameron, a bar-leaper from way back, adroitly recovers his balance with nary a hair out of place.
A note to all youngsters: The musicians at NXNW are trained professionals. None of what is printed here should be attempted at home.
By Silke Tudor