Southeast neighborhood hosts free 'Summer Music Series' for all
Even the frightening spectre of the COVID-19 pandemic has not stopped live summertime music concerts in Inner Southeast Portland – business sponsors and volunteers presented the "September Sounds in Sellwood" series last September.
This year, even though the pandemic was winding down in June, it became clear that the beloved July "Concerts in the Park" series by the Portland Parks Department, sponsored by the Sellwood Moreland Improvement League (SMILE) at Sellwood Park, would not be taking place, for the second year – in fact, no Parks concerts were to take place anywhere in the city in 2021.
"Because our park concerts were cancelled again this year, SMILE decided to host a free 12-concert neighborhood music series that we're calling the 'SMILE Summer Music Series' that runs through the end of August," the organizer of the concerts, Jim Friscia, told THE BEE. "SMILE" is an acronym for the Sellwood-Moreland Improvement League – the oldest of the 95 neighborhood associations in Portland.
As musicians were setting up the summer series' opening show on Saturday evening, July 10, held in the Windermere business building's Westmoreland parking lot, residents and visitors began to drift in – many of them bringing their own chairs, and take-out food purchased from local restaurants.
"Even though we were not able to host our July 'Concerts in the Park' series, we decided we still wanted to bring live music to Sellwood and Westmoreland for all the people in Southeast Portland to enjoy," said Friscia, who is also a SMILE Board Member – and is Chair of its new Events Committee.
Asked why this year's concerts are taking place in parking lots instead of in parks, Friscia responded, "Even if they allowed it, we'd need to buy permits from Portland Parks & Recreation – and then bring in electricity, a sound system, and perhaps a stage.
"But, because three location partners are providing the space and power, it's not too much to ask our professional musicians to bring their own sound equipment for these smaller performances," explained Friscia.
Also, he added, with the dozen concerts taking place in three locations around Sellwood-Westmoreland – see the list below – these are very accessible events.
"And, the booking principle we've used is to showcase professional performing musicians who either live in the neighborhood, or play in the neighborhood, such as at the Muddy Rudder, or the Corkscrew Wine Bar. In this way we're supporting the people and businesses who keep live music in our neighborhood," Friscia pointed out.
Asked why he was willing to put so much effort into a volunteer concert series project, Friscia replied, "Music is one of those things to which everyone positively responds. Especially live music; it's something that brings people together, and lifts people up – and that's central to developing a stronger sense of community."
The audience assembled for this particular concert knew they were in for a musical treat when they saw the duo of Mark Shark and Sellwood neighbor Lloyd Jones setting up to perform. Mark Shark has played and recorded with such luminaries as Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, and George Harrison; and Jones is a world-famous, internationally-touring roots, blues, and Americana artist.
"It's true, I've played at music festivals before audiences of 10,000 people, but I'm loving being here this evening, because this area – right here – is where it all grew from," Jones said with an introspective smile.
"For me, this is 'coming back home'; it's charming to play here, in my neighborhood. You know, music is meant for people to get together and feel good, in a space like this; in huge venues, [a concert] gets so slick and so technical, and so big, that it loses some of that.
"So, here we are, right back home, and I love it!" said Jones, as he turned away to begin the free concert.
Introducing himself to the audience, Jones revealed that he's lived "in the same house on the same street here" for 47 years. "When I moved in, I was the hippie in the neighborhood; and now it's me who's saying, 'Hey you kids, get off my lawn'!"
About 150 people attended that outdoor concert; and, to the delight of all who attended, the music flowed for more than two hours.
On Saturday evenings through July 31 in the Windermere Building parking lot, concert-goers were successively entertained by the Soulful Americana of Silver Lake 66; the American Roots and Blues music of Terry Robb & Lauren Sheehan, and others.
August SMILE Summer Music ConcertsAt Sellwood Community House Pavilion (SE 15th and Spokane) Tuesdays, from 6:30 until 8:30 p.m.
August 3 – Marv and Rindy Ross – Seafood Mama, Quarterflash, Trail Band – versatile Portland superstars
August 10 – Paula Byrne – Jazz Vocalist
August 17 – Robert Meade – Upbeat Americana, Rhythm 'n' Blues originals & classics
August 24 – Carpathian-Pacific Express – Klezmer music
At Moreland Presbyterian parking lot (SE 19th & Bybee) Saturdays, from 6:30 until 8:30 p.m.
August 7 – Annette Lowman Trio – Jazz vocalist and storyteller
August 14 – Adlai Alexander Trio – Soulful Jazz guitar and vocals
August 21 – Mary Flower – guitarist and singer
August 28 – Pete Krebs and The Catnip Bros – Bakersfield Honky Tonk, Western Swing
Note: Available seating will vary, so consider bringing your own chairs. Pick up food at a neighborhood restaurant, or bring a picnic basket from home.
To get a sense of what these concerts are like, click here for some highlights of the first one, in an exclusive short BEE video – youtu.be/AfMD6B6PNMM
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