Jamming out at Parker's
Johnson Creek Boulevard is the unofficial borderline between Southeast Portland and Clackamas County. It is lined with industrial production plants, an historic hardware store, a decorative rock business, a longtime convenience store, and a trailer park, among other things. It may not strike you as the place to go for an entertaining evening.
But, tucked away off Johnson Creek Boulevard, musicians have been rocking out twice a week at an open mic at "Parker's Hideout" throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. You'll find it just west of Wichita Hardware and Smith Rock, across the street from Family Dogs New Life Shelter."This is our place to hide out from the world's troubles and to get away to destress and unwind," says Dale Parker, the owner of the establishment, "I want people to feel like they're at home, like they're coming over to my house to hang out." They also serve breakfast, lunch, dinner, and drinks â€“ they close at 10 p.m.
As for the live music, that happens every Sunday and Tuesday: Musicians are invited to get on stage and make some noise at the jam sessions. And those are not the only nights with entertainment; singers also have their time to shine during karaoke every Friday and Saturday night â€“ unless Parker has a band booked, something he is actively trying to make happen more often. He thinks this could be a good career break for an up-and comer seeking to make a name in the local music scene.
"I do a Tuesday jam which is electric and leans towards Jazz, groove, and dance kind of stuff," jam host Eric Tworivers says, "But Sunday night is acoustic. The whole idea then is to keep the volume down, and let singer/songwriters have some time."
The live music actually started with a man called Tworivers, who is mainly a drummer, but who also plays bass, guitar, piano, and ukulele â€“ while also having a Master's degree in percussion. Tworivers has hosted jams for nearly 40 years, and brought the idea to Parker â€“ who is a drummer himself â€“ as a way to share music with the community.
"My dad was a musician for 30-something years professionally, and he went to these jam sessions himself to find gigs and find other musicians, so it helps them and the neighborhood loves it as well," says Parker. "We definitely got a local community bar here."
Purchased by Parker in 2019, "Parker's Hideout" was originally known as "Meadows Lounge". Bartender Lolli Steele grew up just a few block away, and remembers when her dad was coming to the location.
"I just want people to feel at home. This bar, this tavern, it's been here forever. Not always as Parker's, but it's been here for a long time and I know most everybody here by their name or their drink," she says; adding, "We have around 40 to 50 regulars, and if I don't see them for a day or two, since some of them are older, I call and make sure they're okay, because I'm used to seeing them every day."
A regular named Dick McPartland, also known as Doctor Dick, remarks that, "In the time of COVID, it's a great place to hang out at and play music because it hasn't been that crowded or crazy. It's nice, and it's a comfortable place to play."
Having gained ownership of the bar only a few months before the pandemic, Parker said that it's been a struggle financially to be able to keep things running. He was able to make it through the height of COVID mostly with the personal resources he had, some Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, and with the help of Lolli Steele. Together, they were working by themselves to run the bar seven days a week, at one point.
"A lot of these bills don't stop. People don't realize that even though we were shut down, I still had to pay electricity costs, and the machines that I rent kept going and we got billed for it," Parker says, "Trying to find employees is always tough, because people don't want to work."
After living in the Bahamas, Steele moved back to Portland and was living with her brother. "My brother's kitchen was being remodeled when I was staying with him, so we were coming down here for lunch and dinner almost every day -- so I met [Parker], and the rest is history," Steele recounts.
Together she and Parker have turned the bar into a musical community for Inner Southeast neighborhood. Some may consider the karaoke on Fridays and Saturdays something less than entertainment, but she tells THE BEE. "We have really good singers. A couple of professional singers come in here. We have an Elvis Presley impersonator who comes in almost every weekend, and he's fun." Her favorite local karaoke star is "actually in a band with a lady who used to play guitar for Michael Jackson."
And it's not all little-known artists who come in to play. World-class musicians from the Portland band Pink Martini also make appearances at Parker's. Put together by Tom Lauderdale, the 12-piece band is made up of mostly Portland locals; "but often on our Tuesday [jam], their horn section is here with us, having a blast," confides Tworivers, "It's an amazing sound. Music 'in the moment'. Songs they've never played before and we've never played before, and it works out wonderfully â€“ and then it's gone. That's the fun of the jams."
So if you're bored and seeking a fun evening out; hungry and ready for a meal; or thirsty and looking for a drink â€“ don't overlook Johnson Creek Boulevard and Parker's Hideout as a destination.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.