Every year British music mag NME does a feature on the “10 Coolest People in Music.” The list usually features a slew of trendy musicians that range the gamete from people that look like American Apparel models to ones that wear cat sweaters “ironically.” Although it does give merit to a lot of deserving artists, the list focuses a lot of energy on praising those that look and play a part to a very well-pronounced scene. However, Rip City Review was still inspired. We like the idea of making a list of the coolest people we know and telling the world about it. Except to us, being cool is a little bit different. Being cool isn’t about image (though the two aren’t mutually exclusive because everyone on our list is a total babe.) Being cool isn’t about adhering to the exclusionary aspects that every scene naturally inherits, it’s about being welcoming to newcomers with open arms/beers. Being cool isn’t about doing what you do for money or tangible rewards, it’s about doing what you do because you love it. To us, these ten people have been working their butts off, not for recognition, but because they have passions and follow through on them. They love music and support all the musicians around them, and it’s about damn time they get some praise. In the words of Wayne and Garth- “WE’RE NOT WORTHY.”
1) Todd Walberg
As Rip City Review speaks, musicians around Portland praise the great name of Todd Walberg. Whether you’ve seen his photos for the various sources he’s been published in (including yours truly RCR), through bands social media sites, or maybe- you’ve been lucky enough to be featured in one of Walberg’s photos yourself? Either way, you’ve seen them. And they’re, in so few words, fucking awesome. Walberg will go to shows, take electric, high energy photos of bands and give the music world free range of them. He’s taken photos for practically every up-and-coming musical act in the area. He photographed The We Shared Milk’s residency at the Firkin extensively back in March, he documents almost every PALS show and every festival in Oregon. Walberg knows what’s going on.
Walberg has been taking photos forever. His Grandfather was a photographer, so he grew up behind the lens. He began taking photographs of musicians when he was a cook at a jazz club (now a strip club). “I asked if I could take photos of the musicians, and I liked the photos, so I started doing it,” Walberg said. History was made.
Although Walberg is building his portfolio, he isn’t exactly doing it for a big paycheck. “At this point, I don’t want to be paid,” Walberg said, “I take photos of bands, I’m a native Oregnoian, I’ve seen the scene since La Luna and the Dandy Warhols. Basically I feel like the music scene is better than it’s been in a long time, and I just want to document it.”
Long hours of editing and pretty much committing to photograph sets in their entirety, Walberg works a full-time job on top of his work in the music biz. He attributes his free time to the serendipitous nature of his life at the moment. “It’s the perfect storm- my fiance is finishing school in Colorado and my shifts at work allow me to go to shows and I just got a camera that takes pictures in low lights.” And thank the Music Gods for that storm.
In the year 2013 we can look back on, say, the days of Merry Pranksters and the acid experimentation of the 60’s thanks to documentarists like Tom Wolfe and go, “whoa, that was wild.” Well, in the year 2050, I have a feeling we’ll be showing our kiddos Todd Walberg photography to prove that we were cool at one point, saying “this is what the Portland music scene was all about.”
2) Dustin Mills
Dustin Mills doesn’t sleep. Creative Director of Eleven PDX Magazine and drummer for Tiger House, Mills is a man who doesn’t like to waste his time. “I don’t really watch TV or play video games or anything,” he says, “I like to do things that are productive.” And his busyness pays off- seeing that Eleven is one of the most successful grassroots music magazines in the Portland area and Tiger House has been playing shows in Portland for years.
Eleven Mag is extremely thought out. With hundreds of volunteers, all organized by Mills, the magazine supports artists from local to national levels, as Mills puts it, “bands that are close to breaking out.”
Although the magazine is successful and distributed around the greater-Portland area, there still isn’t a hefty paycheck. The advertisement and money that the magazine makes goes directly into funding the magazine in the first place. Mills says Eleven’s purpose was never about making a profit, “the main reason I started [Eleven] was to uplift the Portland music scene.” Local bands like And And And and Shy Girls have been featured on the cover, and just like Mill’s predictions, rose to fame around the same time.
“I’ve lived here all my life,” Mills said, “I want to give something back, do something a little more for it than just playing in bands and getting drunk.”
So why is Dustin on the list? If the sheer volume of work Mills has helped curate, produce and make doesn’t sway you, or the fact that Tiger House is one of the biggest balls of energy in Portland- how about the fact that Mills does all this while maintaining a full-time job? “It’s very hard, I wouldn’t suggest anybody does what I do. But I love doing it.”
When asked about how it feels to be cool, Mills says “Usually nobody knows who I am, I’m really low key. But I feel good about what I’m doing, and that’s enough.” Which is like, the coolest answer possible. “I didn’t realize I was cool. I guess it’s pretty cool.”
3) Heather Hanson
Heather Hanson loves music. And we’re not talking “has like 10,000 songs on her iPod” loves music or “has tattoos of music notes on her wrist”- We mean to say that this woman makes music her mantra. In charge of The Super Groovy Cosmic Bus, described by Hanson as an “ever-evolving project that centers around supporting the arts, embracing the fact that we’re all on a journey and we’re all ridiculous, and using our creations to give back when we can,” Hanson makes her love of music her job.
If you haven’t talked to this badass woman in person, you probably have seen her. Whisping everywhere around town, she’s at practically every major creative event around Portland. And what makes her recognizable? Aside from the fact that she’s a drop-dead Amazon, she’s always holding a toy bus. Now, here’s where things get a little bit weird. Why a toy bus, one may ask? I think at the time the bus became part of Hanson’s life, she wasn’t quite sure why either.
“I’m socially awkward, I live in a tiny town where all my friends have moved away and/or had children, and my boyfriend of seven years left me in May 2012. When that happened, I knew I had to go make friends in Portland or I’d go insane. I didn’t know anyone and I’m pretty shy, so I did the only logical thing: I brought out a toy bus and started going to shows because I adore music.” Hanson began using the bus as an icebreaker to approach bands after their sets, “I wanted them to come aboard the bus, although I’m not sure I knew what that meant at the time.
Now the bus is a staple to Hanson’s mission, which is to “party with a purpose, rock with a reason and get down for good.” The bus is in tons of photos with bands and music patrons. The bus project also works extensively with video documentation. Although Hanson says she’s never formally been trained in videography, her documentation is a raw and accurate portrayal of what’s happening in the scene at the moment.
But Hanson’s work isn’t as literal as just “videographer” or “photographer.” She says that she’s a “non-fiction story teller and everyone the bus meets becomes part of the narrative.”
Aside from the physical support Hanson gives to bands by documenting the scene, she also lends a lot of emotional support. As easy as it is to be selfishly motivated in a town full of other artists, she believes in working as a team, and “dropping the egos and making it all about the music.”
When asked about how it feels to be cool, Hanson gave, naturally, a pretty cool answer. “I guess, in summary, cool is being authentic, being a decent human, admitting you’re fucking ridiculous and doing the best to make it work for you. Wait, I’m a total dork so fuck what I just said. I really don’t know what cool is, I just do me.”
4) Jesse Moore
This Rip City Review writer has a soft spot for Jesse Moore. It’s nigh impossible to be part of the music scene when you’re under 21 (unless you have a sweet fake ID). I dare you- look at pc-pdx.com right now and name me all the 21+ shows tonight? There may be a few floating all-ages shows, but for the most part, it’s a grown-ups world. Until exactly seven months ago, this Rip City Review writer wasn’t clued in about a lot of music in Portland because of my age. And Moore is working to fix that.
Moore has been working with Slabtown and other collectives in Portland to get the all-ages message out. “I get directly involved in booking and managing shows in all ages spaces. At Slabtown, we will be taking money, sound checking and selling soda for the Church of Rock shows in the backroom every Sunday.” Basically, Moore is working his ass off to create a scene accessible to any age group.
“I would like to see more youth involvement in the music scene. Young people have a lot of optimism and new ways of thinking,” Moore says. “I get excited when I see this energy powering things like the Church of Rock Collective. My hope is that having fun all-ages shows will continue to attract more young people to a rock’n’roll way of life.”
Although Moore isn’t the only youth that’s involved in curating and organizing all-ages shows and events, something makes him stand out. When Rip City Review was first introduced to Moore, we knew only one thing about him. We knew that he was A Volcano‘s biggest fan. He has been to almost every single A Volcano show since he first saw the band a couple months ago. When their shows are 21+, Moore will wait outside and listen to them rip through the windows.
“The first time I saw A Volcano was in Slabtown’s backroom. I was mesmerized. It was like riding a rickety roller coaster at night. You might want to get off. You look for help, but all you find is the smirking carnie. The ride ain’t gonna stop. It’s scary, loud and rocking.” Moore has made tee-shirts for the band and continues to support the heavy metal duo.
All in all, Moore’s coolness can best be defined by his love of rock and roll, and his lust for making it accessible to everyone. “It all started with a need to headbang. I love walking away from a show covered in sweat with the adrenaline of the pit fresh in my mind. Headbanging sets me free.”
5) Chris White
Rip City Review doesn’t really want to quote something from a Wes Anderson movie right now, but we feel it necessary in this case. In the movie Rushmore, Max Fisher, the protagonist, has a line that we feel represents the general gusto of coolness and passion in the Portland music scene. It goes, “The secret? I don’t know, I guess you’ve just gotta find something you love to do and then… do it for the rest of your life.” And that’s exactly what booker and music enthusiast Chris White has done. He’s found something he loves doing, which is making and supporting local art. And maybe not do it for the rest of his life necessarily, but at least do it for as long as it makes him happy. That, in a nutshell, is what being cool is all about.
White books for one of the best venues in Portland, The Firkin Tavern, and lives and books at the best unofficial venue in Portland, PALS Clubhouse. He also maintains all of this as he raises his son, who was born less than a year ago. “Honestly, having my son inspired me to stop working the shitty job that I hated and start booking more shows,” White says.
White is one of the founding fathers of PALS Clubhouse, which originally stood for the Portland Athletic Loafing Society. “We were a group of friends who got together and drank beer and played bocce ball in parks.” Now they host some of the best shows in the city.
White has also been and continues to be extremely supportive to up and coming bands around Portland. PALS was one of the first places that Portland greats’ Animal Eyes, Fanno Creek, The We Shared Milk and Talkative played at.
“I wanted to support my friends who were making music and it turns out that people really like coming to see shows at our house. I also thankfully live on a block of very awesome people who put up with a hundred people coming to their backyard two or three times a month,” White says.
But why the Portland scene in particular? White says that, besides “Evan Hailstone’s mustache,” the scene is a place of endless friendship and diversity. “I love how positive the scene is, bands support each other in a way that inspires growth and collaboration. Also, because of the general friendliness of the scene you will go to a show with three or four different genres. I’ve booked a metal band right after a solo acoustic guitar player and everyone was stoked, it’s crazy!”
When White was confronted about what he believes the real essence of coolness was, he said it’s all about support, passion, flexibility and not taking yourself too seriously. He also added “if you have beer you’re automatically pretty cool.”
Check out PALS Fest starting August 16 this year featuring bands like Hustle & Drone and Sun Angle.
6) Theo Craig
Theo Craig gives you something to do at night. This man has been booking shows for local and touring bands in Portland for years, eventually gaining recognition from honchos like Willamette Week for his work. And rightfully so. Craig is currently booking at the Alhambra Theater and Rontoms infamous Sunday Sessions. “I work as an intermediary between the venue and the artists: curating bills, negotiating performance agreements, addressing technical considerations in advance of the performance, and providing some promotion in addition to the venue and artists’s own efforts,” Craig said.
Craig not only books shows, but he plays in his own bands, currently in a new project called Mascara. He produces a weekly playlist that features Portland artists called “There Ain’t Nothing Going On Here,” which has included bands like Eidolons and Sama Dams. And Craig has great “spidey senses” for new bands- he gave acts like Y La Bamba and Pure Bathing Culture some of their first gigs. “I think it’s just important to support the things that you love,” he says.
Craig moved from a small suburb in Alaska to the rainy city in 2007, where he found his niche in the music scene. “Making friends, attending a ton of shows, and just being willing to do the less glamorous work was what lead me to booking and organizing shows,” Craig says.
When people say that Portland is the city to retire early in, they most likely haven’t met Craig. This man’s got ambition, talent and the natural ability to network. Craig says he’s got plans for the future too, in the short term he plans on putting together festivals that are genre specific and tweaking the format of his podcast. In the long term he wants to develop large stage productions in Portland. “I have some ideas brewing and I’m looking forward to sharing them.” Portland is looking forward to seeing Craig’s mastermind unfold.
When asked about what it really means to be cool, Craig says it’s simply about being genuine. Rip City Review agrees.
7) Lee Aulson
Observing Lee Aulson patch together the perfect lineup like an heirloom quilt is inspiring. This woman does not stop. From hosting open mic nights at Vivace (1400 NW 23rd Ave), to her recently landed gig booking at the Blue Monk, slinging crepes, making art and playing in her own band- Aulson isn’t just busy, she’s talented. The perfect lineup doesn’t just fall into her lap, she thinks about it. She channels her creative abilities to determine what will please the ears of the greatest amount of people.
But Aulson explains her duties best. “Basically, I act like a booking EMT for gigs at various venues in town. I like to help. I am a patron for music, curator, juror and artist.”
Aulson has recently been gaining recognition for all the work she does. Not only was she asked to be a booking agent for Blue Monk, her band, Bevelers‘ recently released their first album “Be Your Own Creature” and are playing their first set at the Doug Fir on Aug. 11.
Although Aulson has taken a break from open mic nights at Vivace, her support for brand new artists does not stop. Not only is this woman talented, she can spot talent too. Aulson directed Rip City Review to bands like Noble Firs and Amenta Abioto, who deserve a ton of recognition. Aulson’s loyalty towards her fellow musicians is relentless.
“I like to learn about what it takes to promote a show from an artist standpoint and from a venues standpoint. That role is very mixed according to the person and the venue. I don’t mind being the person making the Facebook event or doing the status update, making a poster or sharing a wacky idea with a venue.”
One of her wackiest ideas came to fruition during an alcohol-induced night at Langanos, wanting to somehow merge the Bridge-and-tunnel, Ed Hardy wearers of Old Town with the garage-rock music scene on the East side. Her marriage of the two scenes would be a DJ night where bands like Ah God or Mister Tang are played, with frequent intermissions by a DJ who played dancey top-40 tunes. Club-style attire. Rip City Review would DEFINITELY put on our high heels for this one.
Whether or not her DJ night will ever materialize, Aulson’s creativity and excitement for music are contagious. When asked what being cool really means, she says that it’s “giving yourself the license to do whatever it is you do and sharing that with the world and carrying out that weird, quirky idea that is stirring in your thoughts.” If Aulson says be weird, we’ll be weird.
8) Fabi Reyna
Fabi Reyna is, simply put, a badass. I could phrase this more eloquently but I think the more words used would be doing this woman a disservice and also just be skirting the obvious. Founder and editor of She Shreds Magazine, Reyna’s goal is to promote more women who shred. She Shreds is the only print magazine on planet earth featuring women guitarists and bassists (google this, it’s true.) Reyna founded the mag in October of 2011, and the work hasn’t stopped since. She’s the Editor-in-Chief, in charge of booking, advertising and funding.
“I’m really sick of the guitar magazines that are not only falsely representing female guitar players, if ever they do, but also just repeating the same content over and over again,” Reyna said. “There are so, so many women since the existence of guitars that have never been rightfully represented, that you would never know had a part in the evolution of music.”
Reyna explains that while females were practicing the art of guitar and bass, their male counterparts doing the same thing were the ones gaining fame and recognition. “When you think of the great guitar players in history you think of Jimmy Hendrix, Chuck Berry, Dick Dale, and the list goes on, right? But no one ever considers Babara Lynn, Suzi Quatro or Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who invented her own style of guitar playing.”
Pick up almost any guitar or music oriented magazine, and most likely a male is feautred on the cover, perhaps with a footnote about a woman guitar guitarist. She Shreds’ Facebook recently pointed out a Guitar World’s article “The 30 Most Badass Guitarists of All Time,” which did not feature a single female on the list. Proof enough that the She Shreds mission is imperative.
Reyna moved to Portland in 2009 after attending and volunteering at the Rock’n’Roll Camp for Girls, a workshop-oriented set of classes for girls to enhance their instrumental skills and be rock Goddesses. When commenting on the music scene in Portland, Reyna simply says she likes Portland because “people might actually like music here.” Being part of the burgeoning music scene, Rip City Review whole-heartedly agrees.
Reyna also shreds in two bands of her own, she is guitarist in Older Woman and bassist in Ghost Ease. She Shreds is having a release party for their third issue August 24, “Shred Fest” sure to induce a heavy headbang. Bands like Bath Party, Habibi will be playing. Not to mention there will be a mini-ramp and the newest issue of She Shreds. Rip City Review will be there, will you?
When asked what being cool is all about, Reyna says that “If you’re just totally 100% yourself and embrace all the weird, neurotic tendencies, and say what you mean rather than what you think other people want you to say, than being cool won’t matter, and nothing is cooler than not giving a shit what people think about you.” God, that’s such a cool answer.
9) Bim Ditson
There’s more than one factor that plays into Bim Ditson’s role as a Portland celebrity. This man is involved in so many different activities and collaborations with so many different artists, that back in Puritanical times priests could throw stones at him for being a slut (it’s a far-fetched analogy that doesn’t necessarily make sense but pretty funny imagery). Ditson plays drums in And And And, runs the PDX-Pop now tradition of Rigsketball and does sporadic booking. He has written an ongoing schedule for Willamette Week that gained internet infamy entitled “Bimstagram.” He’s done work for intothewoods.tv. He practically created the “#pdxmusic” tag on Twitter and acts as the local music guru on all his social media sites. Who hasn’t, at one point, been lost and looking for music and turned to Ditson’s twitter as the music bible? He also gained local fame for his jewelry booth “Chainmaille” at Portland’s artisianal tourist trap Saturday Market, which has been successful on Etsy as well. Not to mention he makes a general rule for himself to see a show every single night. The list could probably go on. Either way- Ditson does a lot.
When we asked Ditson why he does all this stuff without getting a huge paycheck, he says it’s part of his philosophy. “I think that the things people do for money, that they wouldn’t otherwise do, are a waste.”
Not only does Ditson love what he does, but he loves where he does it. “What’s not to love about Portland? People here are pretty damn interesting and everyone has a non work-endeavor that they’re stoked on. It’s kind of my place. Rent’s cheap.”
Ditson has big plans for the future too. “I’m trying to develop a volunteer based record label that can give bands that don’t have the money/connection to press vinyl and put out a professional release a chance to do that for free,” Ditson says. Clearly, Ditson has an itch to support his fellow musicians. By promoting shows and other local artists, Ditson is pretty much the figurehead of what it means to be part of the Portland music scene.
List of Ditson’s local faves at the moment: Sama Dams, The We Shared Milk, Mister Tang, The Memories, Gaythiest and Minden.
10) Jon Hart
When I grow up, I want to be Jon Hart. At age 65, the Lead Ambassador for opbmusic.org and self-proclaimed “OPB evangelist” goes to more shows than you. And he loves it. But why does this musical sage appreciate the Portland music scene as much as he does? Why has he spent years volunteering, writing and listening while not being paid?
Hart says it’s simply because of his strong sentiment towards rock n’ roll, “the love of music, the familial community that supports it, and the discovery of the rich vein of talent this town offers,” is what Hart says it’s all about.
Aside from his volunteer work, Hart is a general contractor and a high performance driving instructor. But he’s not too attached to it. “I will give up the construction world when I figure out where I really fit in the music environment in Portland, or the world.”
Hart’s love of music began when he was young. His father was a manager of the Oregon Symphony and a classically trained pianist. Hart says he was always bobbing his head to something, “music was always around, good music.” Hart’s father would give him records to listen to, from Roger Williams playing Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody in Blue to the Sergeant Peppers Lonely Heart’s Club Band. Ever since, Hart’s been an avid music listener, not to mention annual Oregon Symphony ticket holder.
Hart believes in the importance of social media in the modern music scene, saying that “we as a community, in this day of internet and electronic media, have to find a way to support those people that makes the music we love much better than we have been doing.” He also has some pretty spot-on advice about where to get all the funding for it, “we need to get the Republicans to get involved, they have the money.”
All in all, Hart is cool because he’s been doing what he loves doing, which is listening and writing about music, since he was a wee lad- and has no plans on stopping anytime soon. Hart leaves us with a bit of wise words: “There are a lot of rockers playing music, the best are musicians playing rock.”