On Friday night, I stood in the middle of Galveston Avenue in Bend, music blaring at me from the north and the south, and thought to myself, “Something is happening here.”
Two years ago, the first Bend Roots Revival music festival was a one-day, two-stage affair, too hastily promoted for me to do much about it in this paper.
Last year, there were about 35 local music acts over three days, and we put the festival on the cover of GO! Magazine.
And this year: 55 acts, five stages, three days, and a whole bunch of people out having a whole bunch of fun. I wrote about the Bend Roots Revival in last week’s paper, but could only give it a little bit of space because it was a busy week for music in Central Oregon.
I already regret not doing more than I did, because I think this thing is on a fast track to becoming one of Bend’s coolest cultural events.
The atmosphere was electric on Friday night, especially once the sun went down. And that was on the first night of the festival — people were just getting warmed up.
The packed schedule and the proximity of the two venues — Parrilla Grill and The Victorian Cafe — give the Bend Roots Revival the feel of a block party rather than a music festival. By the end of the evening, folks were clustered around the Vic and crammed in and around Parrilla, but they were also stretched between the two restaurants like a string of pearls.
Kids skateboarding on the sidewalk. Families sitting on curbs eating burritos. Music fans filling a crosswalk with constant motion, bouncing back and forth between shows. It was a dynamic scene.
I saw three bands in total, so I got only a small slice of the Bend Roots Revival. But it was a tasty slice.
When I arrived, local bluegrass collective Blackstrap was set up under a tent near the Vic’s front door. The five-piece was fronted by banjo man Steve Arnold, though each of the band’s four acoustic instrumentalists took turns stepping up to the single microphone.
They sounded terrific, the stringed things slicing crisply through the Indian-summer air. Blackstrap did a mix of traditionals, covers and originals, and the crowd, which started small but grew steadily, hooted in appreciation after each tune. Arnold made a couple of clever wisecracks, too, but, uh, I guess I should’ve been taking notes.
Over at Parrilla, things were running on hip-hop time. The popular Person People was to play from 6 to 7:30 p.m., but didn’t get started until 6:45 p.m. It was probably just as well; the delay gave Parrilla’s parking lot time to fill up and the sun time to set.
The 11-member crew is recording an album as we speak and it seems the seven original members have tightened up their on-stage relationship with their live band. Aaron Miller’s work on digital piano and electric lap steel guitar adds a ton of color and texture to the sound. Jared Forqueran and Shane Thomas are a perfectly solid rhythm section. And DJ A-Bomb’s precision turntable work melds with the band better now than it did last time I saw the group several months ago.
The result is a jazzier sound overall, something that was obvious in the first half of the set. But once a few sound problems were solved and it got dark, Person People got the party started. “Listen” was my choice cut of the night; its buoyancy seemed to energize the MCs.
At 7:30 p.m., Person People clearly had more in the tank, but I wandered back over to the Vic to check out Bend’s newish all-female folk duo, The Sweet Harlots, aka Julie Southwell on violin and Laurel Brauns on guitar. There was a good-sized crowd hanging around the ladies, plus a roaring fire in the fire pit.
The Harlots’ sound is perhaps not well-suited to compete with cars speeding by on 14th Street, and Person People still thumping a couple hundred feet away, and the chatter of folks here for the beer and socializing more than the music. It’s delicate, pretty indie-folk, jammed with Brauns’ compelling melodies and distinctive voice.
But for those paying attention, it was a beautiful sound. Brauns and Southwell mesh, both vocally and instrumentally. Their harmonies are spot-on, and Southwell’s violin lines wrap around Brauns’ guitar like a scarf around a neck on a chilly day.
The two spoke too quietly between songs for me to catch any titles (though I recognized a cover of the Billy Bragg/Wilco/Woody Guthrie song “Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key”), but it didn’t matter; with the flames flickering and the buzz of the city whizzing by, it was one of those close-your-eyes-and-soak-it-in moments.
As the Harlots set their instruments aside, I headed for my car, grinning about the vibrancy of the scene I was leaving and wishing I could come back Saturday and Sunday. But I knew that’d be impossible because of previously made plans.
But I think next year will follow the pattern of the last three, and the 2009 Bend Roots Revival will be even bigger and better than this year’s model.
And I’m going to keep my calendar clear so I can take it all in.