I’ll be straight with you from the jump here: I went to a concert Saturday night, but this column isn’t really going to be about the music.
I suspect the folks behind Church of Neil are fine with that, to be honest.
Some of you know Church of Neil and some don’t. For those that don’t, it’s an annual, underground celebration of the life and songs of Neil Young, held near the iconic Canadian singer-songwriter’s birthday. It’s been happening for nine years, with little to no promotion and increasingly large attendance.
For those that do, it’s one of the most-anticipated parties of the year in Bend.
Church of Neil has had several homes; last year’s Pakit Liquidators version was the gateway to that place becoming the home to this year’s Bend Roots Revival. This year, Church of Neil moved out of Pakit and to a warehouse on the near-north side of town, between Third Street and the Bend Parkway. That’s just about all I know.
Stay one step ahead of the man. Neil would be proud.
A friend and I found the show when he spotted some people hanging outside a door lined with festive lights. We wandered through a parking lot, past a taco truck, and opened a big, creaky, wooden door to enter another world: hundreds of people mingling in a cavernous shadowscape, where the rafters were better lit than the floor, and trucker hats might’ve actually outnumbered puffy jackets, a Bend first.
There was a vintage pickup truck parked in the corner. It made for a good leanin’ spot.
The music was solid, if a bit meandering, understandable given the nature of the event. There was a punchy version of the ‘90s Neil hit “Downtown,” played underneath an actual mirror ball twirlin’ and preceded by a hazy, slow-drip performance of “On the Beach.” I thought I heard “Heart of Gold,” but something seemed off; I was later told it was “Slowpoke” with the “Heart of Gold” melody.
I got outta there before the band — a bunch of local musicians including members of The Mostest and Hobbs the Band, Travis Ehrenstrom and a Neil-ish vocalist whose name I don’t know — got to “Cortez the Killer,” unfortunately, but walking away, here was my impression: Cool show. Cooler venue.
Coolest? In a town where live music venues are dropping like flies — Horned Hand, Sound Garden and Liquid Lounge among them — and where clashes with residential neighbors and pricey downtown rents are the norm, it’s time for local concert promoters and musicians to focus their artsy efforts on more industrial parts of town.
We’ve already seen it at Pakit, although Roots organizers had to overcome significant red tape to make that happen. And you can see the beginnings of a cultural hub trying to take hold on Southeast Scott Street, between the Old Ironworks District and Crux Fermentation Project.
But if we’re interested in securing a bright future for arts and culture in Bend, the most promising stretch of land in town is along Northeast First and Second streets between, say, Franklin Avenue on the south and Revere Avenue (or thereabouts) on the north.
It’s a perfect area: daytime businesses and few residences, with easy access to downtown and Third Street. Lots of big buildings and relatively inexpensive rent. Close proximity to established cultural businesses such as the Domino Room, Silver Moon Brewing, 2nd Street Theater and Platypus Pub.
It makes so much sense, in my opinion, to try to grow a cluster of arts/cultural/entertainment businesses in that part of town. In fact, if I were a local government official, tasked with ensuring Bend’s vibrant future — especially with the knowledge that a four-year college is growing and all the students and staff that will bring — I’d be looking into ways to incentivize exactly that kind of development there.
I don’t know if that’s happening. I hope to ask soon. In the meantime, I keep hearing troubling reports of more government discouragement of arts-focused endeavors in industrial parts of Bend than encouragement. I’m looking into that, too.
There are rules and regulations that govern every part of town, and it’s local government’s job to enforce them. I totally get that.
But someone needs to make sure Bend’s future includes art and music and theater and nightlife. Those are every bit as vital a component of a city as brewpubs and bike races.
And it might just be up to the folks that care most about arts and culture to make that happen.
But that’s a topic for another column.
— Reporter: 541-383-0377, firstname.lastname@example.org