Category Archives: Notable Performances

Show reports

The Lower 48 – Stunning Harmonies and Pop Hooks

When listening to The Lower 48 it’s impossible not to be stunned by their beautiful harmonies. It’s no surprise to learn that this 60’s influenced pop band started out as bona fide folk singers. Their first album, Everywhere to Go, from 2009 reflects a simple acoustic band with impeccable three part harmonies. Since then, the Lower 48 have turned their harmonies away from folk and towards psychedelic pop. The result is simply brilliant.

The Lower 48 list the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club band as a specific influence, as well as the Kinks, but in my mind I think the closest comparison might be the early 90’s also-from-Minneapolis band, Trip Shakespeare’s album, Lulu. All three multi-instrumentalists and vocalists, Sarah, Ben, and Nick, have lived in Portland for eight years, but they still play most of their gigs while on tour. Their stage show is a must see.

Check out this live clip of The Lower 48 performing their song, Rabbit Hole, recorded at Alberta Street Pub on August 12, 2017. You can pick up their most recent album, Hot Fool, through on-line streaming, CD, and vinyl, and catch their upcoming gig at Rontom’s on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, Sept 3, 2017.

Anita Margarita and the RattleSnakes at Grand Lodge

Turtle VanDemarr on guitar, Jeff Hudis on drums, Dan Haley on guitar & lap steel, and Brent Martens on bass are joined by newcomer to the Portland music scene, Jazzy Lee VanDemarr. Jazzy (lead singer for Anita Margarita and the RattleSnakes) has studied and been involved in musical theater, performing on stage for the past 20 years. Her singing style is a little bit sassy with a lot of strong jazz/blues influence. This band is “too much fun”, covering everything from Johnny & June to Ella & Louis, Doris Day, Louis Prima & Keeley Smith, Dan Hicks, etc. – with added hilarious stage banter. They are the foremost proponents of a new music genre – JassaBilly.

Even though this summer has been hot, it’s always cool in the shade at Pat’s Corner (the lawn at McMenamins Grand Lodge) when there is a breeze. Such was the case earlier this month as I captured this band doing “Don’t Be That Way”, a jazz composition composed by Benny Goodman and Edgar Sampson and made famous by Ella Fitzgerald and Louie Armstrong.

Clara Baker at McMenamins Grand Lodge

On the first Saturday of the month, Tara Velarde plays the Garage Door at McMenamins Grand Lodge, and generally brings a friend. She has awesome friends. Case in point, Clara Baker. Clara grew up in Portland as part of a musical family. She has spent the past seven years learning licks and writing songs while performing and touring in Oregon, Wisconsin, Illinois, Kansas, California and the Northeastern US. Her debut album, Temporary Things, was successfully funded on Kickstarter and came out in June 2015 to critical acclaim.

Clara did the second set during Tara’s residency last weekend, and I was there with my video camera. As much as I loved her music, I enjoyed the storytelling even more. Knowing a little background on a song just makes it pop to life all the more. Here is a great example (picked because it made me laugh) for you to check out. Then, head to her show page and catch a show. You won’t be disappointed.

Ashleigh Flynn at the Sundown Grand Ol’ Country Festival

Ashleigh Flynn grew up in Kentucky and cut her teeth on local bluegrass music. She arrived on the national scene in 2008 with the release of her third record, American Dream, and continues playing national and international stages with the release of A Million Stars (2013). A prolific songwriter, Flynn is also an electrifying performer blessed with unbridled charisma. Other full-length studio records include Chokecherry (2002) and Ashleigh Flynn, self-titled (1999) and a live record, Sneakin’ Out with Ashleigh Flynn (2005).

I was fortunate to catch up with Ashleigh last weekend as she played the first annual Sundown Grand Ol’ Country Festival on July 22nd at McMenamins Grand Lodge in Forest Grove with her all-girl band the Riveters: Nancy Luca on lead guitar, Carmen Paradise on bass and Jolie Clausen on the drums.

Jennifer Smieja at the Sundown Grand Ol’ Country Festival

Aware at an early age that music could take her to places that felt better than anything, it wasn’t until years later that Jennifer Smieja grabbed a guitar and started to share the magic with the rest of us. There is nothing flashy about her or her music, it’s all pure and personal, with shades of Gillian Welch, Abigail Washburn and Richard Thompson. To Measure the Sky is the name of Jennifer’s album, released in 2015.

Jennifer played the first annual Sundown Grand Ol’ Country Festival at McMenamins Grand Lodge over the weekend. With her on stage was Greg Paul on guitar and Dave Stricker on bass. Believing the world lacks enough *good* news, Jennifer would sometimes deliver some between her songs. Musically, the show consisted of a great mix of country, folk, alternative and blues, and it’s a blues number, Those Other Days, I’ve captured for you below.