Tune-filled weekend builds bridges
The Portland Children's Museum will be bustling with activity for the inaugural Building Bridges Family Music Festival, Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 21-22.
It's all meant to bring people from all walks of life together, including parents, and promote peace and friendship. Several nationally recognized musicians and DJs, including Aaron Nigel Smith and Red Yarn from the Portland area, will be taking part. Like an energetic child, it'll be nonstop action both days in every part of the children's museum at 4015 S.W. Canyon Road at Washington Park.
"We're super excited about it. It's about two years in the making," said Jeremiah Sazdanoff, director of museum experience. "We've never done a music festival at the museum, and it's very unusual for a children's museum to host a music festival. We're planning to make it a signature event for the museum.
"We just think music can be a force for social change and good. If we get people in the same room, and have artists singing about peace and inclusion, maybe we can build bridges rather than fighting or not wanting to spend time with people who are different."
Andy Furgeson, aka Red Yarn, has been performing folk rock for kids for years, often with his wife, Miss Jessie.
He and Smith have been spearheading the festival, given their connections.
"It's filling a void in Portland," Furgeson said. "Aaron used to organzie Rox in Sox (in Portland), and other than that, there hasn't been something like this, where family musicians locally and nationally gather in one place. That the children's museum is putting it on is amazing."
Smith, a reggae performer who leads One World Chorus, reiterates that it's a festival for everybody from Portland, no matter race, gender or political affiliation. Focused on kids, it's the right emphasis to show an example for young people.
"We saw an opportunity at a time on our planet of bringing people together rather than separating them ... for the most important of our community, youth and family," he said. "We've reached out to the whole of Portland. We'll see if that draws that kind of diverse community. We want everyone to see each other as human beings, and just experience that."
The entire children's museum will be involved in the festival: a 1.3-acre outdoor space with main stage, a small indoors theater, dancing and DJs in the traveling exhibit hall, and exhibit space. There'll be a roving acoustic artist. Kids can make posters, design clothes, build instruments. There'll even be a low-sensory room and food trucks.
Tickets are $4 per day for members, $14 for nonmembers.
The lineup: Saturday, starting at 9 a.m. — Eagle Sun King, Kukatonon Children's African Dance Troupe, BodyVox, Earthtones Northwest, Jazzy Ash & the Leaping Lizards, Painted Sky Northstar, DJ Action Slacks, Mr. Ben, Alphabet Rockers, Red Yarn, DJ Anjali & the Incredible Kid; Sunday, starting at 9 a.m. — Mo Phillips, Kaleinani o ke Kukui, Bravo Youth Orchestra, 123 Andres, Music Together, Oregon Koto-Kai, A Beat Happening, Okaidja Afroso, Caspar Babypants, Aaron Nigel Smith, DJ Lance Rock.
"It'll be an experience for kids to see music and participate in music activities," Furgeson said. "A music festival can be very overstimulating. It can be a lot for a kid."
Reactions from kids are typically "anything," Smith added.
"Smiling, laughing, singing and dancing and acting like animals all the way to sitting down," he said. "It's fun to see children willing to go on creative and active adventures."
Smith does reggae, Furgeson folk rock, but "no single genre appeals to kids, you can make any genre work," Furgeson said.
"It does need to speak to them directly in some way, but it doesn't need to be pandering or saccharin sweet or simplified. Artists that succeed in a performance area can really engage a crowd, create an environment where kids move freely, dance and use imaginations. Music that is danceable, something to latch on to, speaks to kids in a respectful and accessible way. Not many kids want to hear an extended guitar solo or how cool a band is."
Furgeson plays with a band and does solo work. At the Building Bridges fest, he'll be joined by Miss Jessie, a drummer, upright bass player and steel guitarist. He mostly sings adaptations of old American folk songs, and he uses puppetry to depict animals. He'll sometimes talk about emotional skills or activism.
Smith feels he can reach children as young as preschool with his music, adding that third and fourth graders are "the sweet spot."
He has released five children's albums while serving to educate and create curriculum for youth. He tries to appeal to teenagers with his mainstream reggae music.
"What I love most is they're honest; they're the most honest audience you can encounter," he said, of kids. "It's a thrill every time you step in front of them."
For more on the festival, see www.portlandcm.org.
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