I’ve been covering Central Oregon’s music scene since 2006, and doing one of these “year in review” type of things since ’07 or ’08, I’d say. (I could check the archive of GO! Magazines near my desk, but I’m quite lazy.)
And if you look back at them, I’d bet you’d find your ol’ local music writer painting a very positive picture of the scene from year to year. Some years, that positivity revealed itself naturally; sometimes I might’ve had to apply an extra coat of paint.
You see, I not only cover music in Central Oregon, I’m also supportive of live music (and the arts in general) and I live here, so I want this place to have a great music scene.
And for the past seven or so years, it has, for the most part. I always tell people from elsewhere: “There’s a lot more happening there than you’d expect in a town this size.”
But in late 2013, I can’t shake the worrisome feeling I have for live music in Bend.
Let me take a minute to be perfectly clear: My negative feelings are not a reflection of disappointment in or lack of appreciation for the venues that are out there booking shows right now, or the people booking them, or the musicians playing them.
They are great, and I’m in favor of everything they’re doing. I appreciate the funk parties and the DJs at Dojo. I think the expanding lineup of eclectic folk at The Belfry is a great thing. I love that jazz is finding an audience at The Oxford Hotel and Greenwood Playhouse. I wish the folks trying to put on shows at Pakit Liquidators luck as they wade through red tape. I really, really hope that thing becomes a cultural hub for Bend.
I adore the Tower Theatre’s consistently diverse offerings, McMenamins’ steady presence, and the punk-rock leanings of Big T’s in Redmond. I appreciate that music is such an integral part of the programming at Bend’s endless supply of festivals and the Deschutes County Fair. And you can’t beat the buzz of a big show at Les Schwab Amphitheater or Midtown Ballroom, or a busy Sisters Folk Festival weekend.
And I’m certainly not slagging the current crop of bands and musicians who live here. I actually believe that we’re in a particularly interesting, fertile time right now as far as local artists go.
But I feel like something’s missing.
The past year was one of ups and downs on the local music scene. The Bend Roots Revival found a new home at Pakit, then endured some of the nastiest weather I’ve seen here during its maiden weekend.
The Schwab kicked off its season with amazing shows by Built to Spill and Sigur Ros, but the rest of its summer programming — “More shows!” … “Where’s the country music?” … “Michael Franti again?!” — seemed to disappoint a lot of folks. (Los Lobos and Los Lonely Boys canceling in September didn’t help.)
Bend continued to attract big hip-hop names like Aesop Rock, Method Man, E-40 and Tyler the Creator, though a rumored Kanye West appearance in February turned out to be silly talk, and maybe a scam. Organic funk-hop band Beats Antique filled the Midtown, but dubstep star Excision canceled his show. The second half of the year brought in three of Christian music’s biggest acts: Amy Grant, Third Day and Switchfoot. But over the summer, a planned concert series at Century Center stalled out after a couple of shows.
And then there are the venues that have closed: Liquid Lounge, The Sound Garden, and most discouragingly, The Horned Hand. The underground punk/metal shows at a First Street warehouse ran afoul of the man and came to an end, at least for now. Players Bar and Silver Moon overhauled their interiors and shifted their musical direction. The Volcanic Theatre Pub has been a bright spot, trying to pick up some of the slack.
Here’s what I think my big concern is: It’s hard out there right now for a rock ’n’ roll band to plug in and play loud, especially late into the night. There are some places where it can happen, but they are dwindling, thanks to a number of factors, including concerns about noise-averse neighbors, lack of support from the public and the changing focus of local venues.
And some of us like to see a rock ’n’ roll band plug in and play loud late into the night.
That’s my personal taste, but I think it’s indicative of larger problems in Bend: Too many obstacles to putting on shows. Not enough small to mid-sized places for small or mid-sized touring bands to play. Too many folks who are happy seeing the same act every weekend as long as there’s no cover. Not enough value being placed on art. Not enough live music that pushes envelopes and prods eardrums.
I have a tendency to overreact, both positively and negatively, to situations like this. I’m quick to declare the sky falling or to identify an anomalous cool thing as a great hope for the future. I know this, and it’s entirely possible that’s what’s happening here.
But the end of the year is a time for thinking back and reflecting and analyzing and assessing the things we care about, and I care about Central Oregon’s live music scene.
I don’t necessarily think the sky is falling. I just worry that all the efforts over the years to give our little town a big sky are being eroded. And this time, I just don’t have enough paint to cover up the cracks that I see.
— Reporter: 541-383-0377, firstname.lastname@example.org