MusicFest NW Day One Recap
“Energy up-beat under my feet, under my feet energy up-beat!” the dance rock local favorites Adventure Galley shouted the repeated mantra from the stage—the room of enthusiasts burst into a synchronous jump along with the beat.
If there was one continuous theme from day one at MusicFest NW, it was nonsensical, joyous lyrics. The band packed the tiny stage of Mississippi Studios with six musicians and four keyboards (five if you’re counting the laptop). Earlier in the show, one band member had leaned up to the mic and hesitantly welcomed the growing crowd to MusicFest Northwest, noting that they had been graciously chosen to be the first act of the festival.
You see, MusicFest NW isn’t as much like SXSW as it would like to be. Venues and shows are spread far apart across town and most people seems pretty unaware that an indie music festival featuring big names like Passion Pit, Girl Talk and Beirut is occurring in their city at all. Portland’s independent music scene is an amorphous thing to get a grasp of, yet its growth seems almost inevitable at this point. After gaining attention both as a place for big indie artists like Robin Pecknold and Colin Meloy to migrate to and as a place with its own local scene, it was only a matter of time before Portland got a festival worthy of the city’s music-lovers. I’m here to find out if MFNW is that festival.
Adventure Galley ushered in the festival with its usual assortment of four-on-the-floor dance beats and singalong melodies—a fitting way to begin but certainly not where the music that is best experienced while jumping stopped. As the band finished its encore, me and my girlfriend rushed across the city to see another band who’s known a bit famously for making kids jump. As we walked up the creaky wooden stairs of the Crystal Ballroom, I could hear the familiar melody and bass rumbles of “Take A Walk” echoing through the floorboards. Soon enough, as we reached the auditorium famous for its “bouncy” wooden floor, the bass rumbles became foot stomps, pounding to the beat.
By the end of the first song, I already saw a pasty white overweight kid take off his shirt, so caught up in the music that he could care less about what the attractive girl standing next to him thought. Passion Pit certainly has garnered some new enthusiastic fans in the past year or so, most of the room raising their hands when frontman Michael Angelakos asked who was seeing them live for the first time. Angelakos was as confident a vocalist as ever before, commanding his voice, band and audience with the leadership of a maestro. I wondered how many people in the room had read the emotional interviews where he had been open about his struggle with suicide, drug abuse and depression, which eventually lead him to have to cancel a string of recent tour dates. I wondered how many people actually felt something in their hearts when Angelakos pointed his mic to the crowd and we all shouted the lyric “I’ll be alright” at the top of our lungs. Maybe it was just me.
Our night ended back at Mississippi Studios, catching the end of a performance by yet another talented synth-pop band, this one called Superhumanoids. I knew little about the band before seeing them, but the angelic vocals and warm synths of frontwoman Sarah Chernoff quickly caught my attention—enough to make me write myself a reminder to check out more of their music when I got home. The four-piece ended with their blissful New Wave single “Too Young For Love” as the surprisingly large crowd shook their hips to the beat.
We may have been the only ones who caught all three of these synth-pop bands on day one of MFNW, but I did notice one thing about that the crowds at all three were all there for the same reason: to ride that energy under their feet like there was no tomorrow. Sometimes there’s just no better way to celebrate life and music together with a bunch of strangers.