All posts by Kelly Jones

PDX Spotlight focuses on Brass Tacks – Oregon Country


Fulfilling a musical bucket list dream, Oregon Country band Brass Tacks played their hearts out on PDX Spotlight last night. Their episode will appear in May, but Portland Notes can’t wait to share our excitement about this band of “brothers”, who are so earnest about what they do. The Brass Tacks are friends as well as bandmates, and most of their songs are actually fairly literal, describing experiences they have shared along their musical travels. These musicians connect with their audiences with relatable and recognizable stories – and they really do connect! They’ve been given priceless gifts from their admirers – listen to the interview below to hear two special stories that brought tears to my eyes. The passion to connect with their audience is evident even in the way these men speak about their music.

Brass-Tacks-at-PDX-Spotlight-on-02-03-16-06Oregon Country is a label that was casually applied to this band, but the band has embraced the name – it’s a little bit blues, a little bit rock, a lot of energy, and a complete transparency of expression. With their current musical influences being drawn from a variety of genres, their music is anything but basic. Oregon Country also means something more to them than just a style – the songs are about Oregon experiences, Oregon journeys, and Oregon hopes and dreams. Here is a link to one song about the Oregon Trail journey – “Pioneer.”

Brass-Tacks-at-PDX-Spotlight-on-02-03-16-10At a live show, a listener will be a friend by the end of the night because there is something to identify with in every single song. The Brass Tacks are releasing a new album soon – hoping to start revealing songs in March, they introduced the new songs on PDX Spotlight and shared the stories in an interview afterward. I particularly loved the song “Small Town Drunk!” Who among us hasn’t said, “You can’t cut me off”? Maybe not to a bartender, but perhaps to a partner or an employer…we’ve all been desperate at times. Bonding with audiences over common ground creates a comfort and familiarity that continues to draw crowds to see and hear Brass Tacks.

Brass-Tacks-at-PDX-Spotlight-on-02-03-16-08Portland Notes would like to thank Mike Burling for inviting us to witness the show – Mike and his impressive volunteer crew spend their time and energy to support and promote local artists, an effort that we appreciate and admire. Mike will appear on Portland Radio Project’s “Sounds of PDX” show to talk about his project, and why local music holds a special place in his heart. Luke Neill hosts Thursday night, February 11- 7-9 PM on

Have a listen to Kelly’s notable conversation with Brass Tacks and check out all the photos she took as PDX Spotlight was recording.

The Amazing Taco Crawl of January, 2016 – Hawthorne District


Portland Notes successfully negotiated the first of many food crawls this past weekend. With over 80 years of combined taco-eating experience, San Diego-based John McKinnis and Austin-raised Kelly Jones covered 5 taco restaurants and food carts in a straight 16 block walk on Hawthorne. Following are reviews of the tacos, along with a photo album of our food adventure, average meal prices, and an invitation to participate in our next event!

The-Amazing-Taco-Crawl-of-January-2016-01Por Que No at 4635 SE Hawthorne opens for brunch at 11 AM on Saturdays, making it especially difficult to stick to our “Tacos Only” policy of the day. We started the day by asking servers and customers to recommend their favorite items.
Tacos average $3.50-$4.50 each – drink options are phenomenal. Por Que No offers a variety of freshly made juice-based beverages that can be combined with alcohol to create all manner of delicious naughtiness. The chips and salsa are made in-house. We sampled the Al Pastor and Pescado tacos. Al Pastor rub was full of flavor, that good balance of heat and flavor we were hoping for. The fish in the Pescado taco was breaded in cornmeal, and topped with a pineapple slaw. My favorite part of this experience was seeing other taco orders coming out of the kitchen – the garnishes on each style of taco are unique and carefully conceived to give a range of taste sensation in every bite. Mucho Gusto! Por Que No offers a seasonal vegetable taco and has vegan options.
Advice: Order before you are seated, as the dining room is very busy from open to close.

The-Amazing-Taco-Crawl-of-January-2016-03Pepinos at 3832 SE Hawthorne is an unassuming casual restaurant that reminds me very much of what I grew up with in Texas – extremely varied menu with a variety of daily specials, ranging from tamales to soup, tostadas, full meals, and more. Chips and access to the fresh salsa bar are complimentary.
We selected a 2 taco special for $5.95, which included a drink. Pescado again – fish tacos were interpreted differently in each restaurant we tried, but Pepinos served the most familiar style – a breaded portion topped with classic cabbage and a secret recipe sauce. Served in a grilled, double wrapped tortilla, this was also probably the most filling taco of the entire crawl. We also consumed the heck out of a chorizo taco, which was satisfyingly spicy. The best part about Pepinos’ atmosphere was the level of comfort – service was very friendly, and the roomy dining room hosted a variety of enjoyable conversations as strangers became friendly at the salsa bar.
Advice: Don’t rush – ask questions. There is so much variety, but everyone is very friendly.

The-Amazing-Taco-Crawl-of-January-2016-05Cha! Cha! Cha! at 3433 SE Hawthorne may be the best reflection of the neighborhood, with the emphasis on healthy, responsible, and sustainable choices. The menu educates customers about where the ingredients are gathered, and why they are personally and universally healthy.
Tacos average $3.50-$4.50 individually – margaritas are available. We were given a basket of warm chips and a few salsas to choose from while we waited for our tacos to be made-to-order. Pescado tacos here offer a choice of white fish or salmon. We selected the grilled wild-caught white fish (such a difficult choice!) and the Del Dia, which is a fresh, seasonal veggie taco of the day. The tacos are served in house-made, thick corn tortillas that taste like corn – every ingredient in these tacos stood on its own. The pickled red cabbage on the fish was delicious, but not overpowering – important, because the fish was delicate, flaky, and absolutely stunning. The veggie taco was one of many vegetarian and vegan options. What we like most about Cha! Cha! Cha!? A responsible restaurant that promotes local sustainability and focuses on our health – what’s not to love?
Advice: Have fun and try new things: you can feel good about yourself when you leave!

The-Amazing-Taco-Crawl-of-January-2016-07Neza is a food stand located in the 3300 block of SE Hawthorne, directly outside House Of Vintage. No seating, so be prepared to walk and eat. The tacos are compact and not overly messy, so it’s completely doable.
Most selections are only $1.50 each, and the canned drinks were just $1.00. Because these tacos were smaller, we tried 3 options: Grilled chicken, Al Pastor, and a basic vegetarian taco. Served in foil, and ready for mobility, these tacos were double wrapped in grilled tortillas, and the basic street food we expected to find, filling and simple. The veggie taco with whole pinto beans, rice, fresh tomato and monterey jack cheese was a reminder of home! Waiting for the tacos, we could hear the comforting sounds of meat sizzling on the grill – Pretty impressive lunch for $5.50.
Advice: No seating, so just be aware. Tacos are on the smaller side, so add an extra for good measure. When you’re finished – check out House Of Vintage.

The-Amazing-Taco-Crawl-of-January-2016-10Our final stop was La Morenita in the 3100 block of SE Hawthorne. There’s a small covered seating area attached to the stand, which was greatly appreciated on this cold, drizzly day.
Tacos are $1.75 each, for the most part. La Morenita offers a full menu of Mexican delights, but the tacos were definitely a popular item. We chose a chorizo taco with avocado salsa and a tilapia pescado. The tacos are full-size, double-shelled, and overstuffed (which is a good thing) with fillings. The fish taco was so full that we had to take a few pieces out before we could pick up the taco! For the price, these tacos were very impressive! I’ve had burritos here before, and had to share with a friend. No skimping here!
Advice: Ask the fantastically helpful person at the window for a recommendation. So many good options!

This was a great first attempt at a crawl – no one was injured, and we still love tacos! Portland Notes will announce the next crawl in advance – if you have a review or a comment, we’d love to hear and share it!

FREE Marketing Help for Musicians – no “strings” attached!


Sunday, January 24 was an historic day for Portland musicians! J-Fell Presents, Vortex Magazine, mogo Portland Music Festival, and Portland Radio Project hosted a free musicians’ marketing meetup (“meetup” is to “seminar” as “sellout rock show” is to “recital”) where the local music community joined to ask questions about social media marketing, where to invest marketing dollars, timing, venue cooperation and more. Portland Notes was there to get the scoop!

Frank Rinaldi
Frank Rinaldi

The expert panel consisted of music marketing mentors who volunteered their time and expertise to help musicians help themselves. Mike Walker of McMenamins Pubs, Breweries, and Historic Hotels, Ned Failing from Pickathon, Revolution Hall, and Mississippi Studios and Frank Rinaldi of the Doug Fir Lounge and The Bite of Oregon were very candid with their expectations and their willingness to cooperate with a band’s marketing efforts. Jason Fellman of J-Fell Presents, Harefest. and mogo Portland Music Festival offered his advice from a promoter’s viewpoint, stressing professionalism and straight-up good musicianship. In fact, the general message from all panelists was, “Be Brilliant!” – a motto we may hear often from attendees over the next few months.

Jason Fellman
Jason Fellman

Mike Burling from PDX Spotlight and Chris Young from Vortex Music Magazine both stressed the importance of creating content – building assets that can be shared with venues and the general public. This content can come in many forms. Once it is shared, it is a contagious and powerful force to propel a band’s image. Portland Notes spoke regarding content, communication, and cross-promotion. Audience members openly described their personal experiences – successes and failures.

Ned Failing
Ned Failing

So much was shared in the meeting, that it is impossible to cover all the topics in a short article. We’ve gathered two snippets of panelist instruction regarding social media, which was definitely a hot topic of the day. For more information, follow the PDX Musicians’ Marketing page on Facebook. These seminars will be happening at regular intervals, and will cover a variety of topics related to successfully marketing a band or solo project.

Chris Robley – The Great Make-Believer

Chris-Robley-at-McMenamin's-Al's-Den-on-01-20-16-08It’s the name of his soon-to-be-released album, but it’s also an idea that Chris Robley expresses through music. A musical artist is a Make-Believer, a pretender if you will…playing a part in order to communicate emotion and experience through lyrics, melody, instrumentation, and performance. Chris, in his week-long residency at McMenamin’s Al’s Den, became very “real” to Portland, as he shared more than his music with the audience. He shared his story and his life, even his friends with a very enthusiastic and energetic group of devoted fans.

Chris-Robley-at-McMenamin's-Al's-Den-on-01-20-16-04Chris’ work with his band The Fear of Heights is well-known and appreciated for the many layers of instruments with an eerie, haunting sound that accompanies some of the purest vocals I’ve ever heard. His new project is more of an intimate conversation with listeners – each new song has a personal message. He’s a poet, intensely metaphorical, so the songs are not autobiographical – but they are overflowing with situational wisdom. I am always drawn to songs that expose the truth that “love is difficult” and “relationships are important.” I heard this message repeated in Robley’s lyrics and his stories. He is striving to let the message come through in the music, unhindered by anything extra that might distract or take away from the melodic conversation he is having with a listener. His acoustic presentation was enchanting, as he alternated his original songs with some very familiar and traditional tunes.

Chris-Robley-at-McMenamin's-Al's-Den-on-01-20-16-15The new album, available to the public very soon, was produced at a friend’s beach house – completely live and in the  moment. Chris was looking for the emotional intensity that comes from a group of mates experiencing music together, and syncing as they work. It’s a completely new approach for Chris, for this, his first album release in over five years. From the reaction of the audience, which was extremely positive and encouraging, he is reaching people with the new material.

In this interview, Chris touches on his move “from Portland to Portland”, his upcoming album release, and the bandmates he is so thrilled to see again – big thanks to Chris Robley and his Wednesday night guest, Little Professor, for allowing us to share the experience!

A notable conversation with Chris Robley featuring “Tonight You Belong To Me” recorded live at Al’s Den, and “Eden” from the album “The Great Make Believer”

Sarah Vitort at Crush Bar

Sarah-Vittort-at-Crush-Bar-on-01-17-16-01I was blessed last night to share some very vulnerable and intimate moments with local singer-songwriters in a special showcase at Crush Bar. Hosted by Maria Webster, the showcase featured original music by Michela Miller, Adam Goldthwaite, and Sarah Vitort. Having met Sarah once before, I had been impressed by her ability to share so openly while speaking with strangers, with a visible desire to help people learn from her past experiences. Her lovely spirit shines through even more in her musical performance.

Sarah-Vittort-at-Crush-Bar-on-01-17-16-06Sarah is not afraid to share her weakness and vulnerability. Her stories, both in song and in the transitions between, draw the audience in – helping us to walk in her shoes for a night, hear her struggles, and share in the relief that comes from expressing her emotions so clearly. She strives to help her audience interpret painful situations in positive, yet realistic ways. Using clever humor and being willing to expose specific and extremely delicate details of her life, Sarah invites us to listen with our hearts and look at some of the negative experiences in life as opportunities to learn and grow.

Sarah-Vittort-at-Crush-Bar-on-01-17-16-11This artist is always growing. With a “Wild Heart and a Gypsy Soul”, Sarah is in transition right now, in almost every way. What a great time to meet this inspiring woman! Following is an interview with Sarah Vitort, a few pictures, and a sample of her music. You can find Sarah on iTunes,  Spotify, Reverbnation and YouTube.

You sang some new songs tonight, is there a new album coming? – The theme seems to be “things one can learn from all the stages of a relationship gone wrong.” Am I close?

I’ve been playing my newer songs because I’m going through a big rebrand, we are updating my music style (I used to be straight pop country. Now I’m less country and a little edgier, bluesier, darker but still mainstream), my look, even my name! We have started recording here and there, but nothing set in stone yet for the next album.

My first album, Wild Heart Gypsy Soul, was written during my first major transformation in my life. I quit my corporate job to travel solo in South America, and my life was never the same. So that album was all about breaking out of your shell and seeing the world with new eyes. It was very upbeat, bubbly, and mostly positive, but still real for who I was at the time.

With my new music, I’m really going deeper into the dark side. I have realized that one cannot simply be positive all the time, it’s unrealistic. Life is messy and we are messy. But if you get really honest with yourself, if you really look within and take the dark in stride, your light becomes that much stronger. Relationships do that for me. They force me to see myself in less flattering light, and I really do a lot of my best processing through other people. So this new music is more raw, more honest, and I hold nothing back. I want to show people it’s ok to be vulnerable and sensitive and there is no weakness in being truthful and authentic to who you are and how you feel in the moment. We live in a society where we are so afraid to feel, and I was a victim of that mentality for so long. So this is me breaking out of that.

The reason I ask is that you seem to be very honest about wanting to use your music to help people who may be walking along a path that you have already traveled. You have some experience and wisdom to share. Are people responding to your music? I know I could identify very closely with many of your songs.

Yes! The best thing about my career so far as been people’s responses to my music, so I love playing in intimate environments like house concerts so I can connect with my audience. It’s not uncommon to have people in tears at a show, I have discovered that I have a talent for really getting past the bullshit we surround ourselves with and going right for the heart. People really seem to relate to my music, I think my writing is very universal and that’s part of why pop music appeals to me so much, I can sneak a deeper message into a catchy song and reach so many more people.

Your music seems to have country and blues influences – any other styles that you love to listen to? Who are your musical heroes?

I grew up on classic pop and rock, and mainstream pop music. My dad works for a pop radio station, so I was deeply ingrained in pop music from day one. But my parents era of music was very prevalent too, that’s where the blues comes from. I love 70s music of all kinds, soul, funk, rock, all of it. I remember my dad listening to it on full blast outside in the summers doing yard work and cleaning the garage. It’s nostalgic for me and that era is so attractive to me for so many reasons.

I also love really sexy loungy stuff, Motown, soul, and big band, those are elements I’d like to bring more into my music as I continue to write. I also love any artist doing something a little wild, my new brand will allow me to show all sides of me, and I have many! My major influences now are ZZ ward and Zac Brown Band, other influences include Taylor Swift, Joni Mitchell, Katy Perry, the Eagles, Janis Joplin, Elle King, to name a few.

You mentioned writing songs with your sister when you were teenagers. I always love to hear that music has been a driving force in someone’s life since childhood. What’s the first song you remember singing for people? Either one you wrote, or one you “covered.”

When I was 4, I was incredibly shy. I barely said a word in preschool, I had decided early on that I preferred acting like a dog to acting like a human, and I really committed to that lifestyle ;). So my preschool teachers were shocked when one day, out of nowhere I raised my hand and asked if I could sing for the class. I sang “Somewhere Out There” from Fivel Goes West, a Capella, start to finish, then sat back down in silence. I wish someone would have filmed it.

You have an event coming up with Metts, Ryan & Collins – it seems like a very good choice by Jason Fellman to put you all together. Are you excited?

This is the most excited I’ve ever been for a show, and that is saying something because performing is like breathing to me. I love the Doug Fir, and I’ll be playing with a full band which allows me so much more expressive freedom onstage. And not to mention Redwood Son and Metts, Ryan & Collins are both incredibly badass bands, I’m honored to share the stage with them and I think the lineup couldn’t be more brilliant. Jason Fellman knows his stuff!

Where are you going from here? How can we find your music and your concert schedule?

The next big step is this rebrand, which will be rolling out over the next few months. We are also starting to work on recording demos of my new stuff and booking as many gigs as possible! I’m trying to do a house concert tour this summer, so I’m looking for hosts! Spotify and iTunes are the best places to listen to my music, I also have a few songs on ReverbNation. The best place to find my show schedule is my website,, and I’m the most active on Facebook at Sarah Vitort Music, Instagram at @sarahvitort and on Snapchat: sbvitort.

Though I can deeply identify with the place Sarah speaks from right at this very moment, I am looking forward with great anticipation to seeing what she has planned next with her rebrand. Look for her to appear in an upcoming “Local Women in Music” series on Portland Notes.