Local keyboard man welcomed to Cascade Blues Hall of Fame
It was in the summer of 2005, one month before Hurricane Katrina hit, that Multnomah resident Steve Kerin landed near the intersection of Capitol Highway and Vermont Avenue in Southwest Portland.
The classically-trained piano player from Lafayette, Louisiana, has since earned the esteem of local blues musicians, who recently elected Kerins to their Hall of Fame.
It's the Cascade Blues Association Hall of Fame, to be exact, and in November Kerin was installed for posterity after winning the CBA's Muddy Award for Best Blues Keyboards six times.
Kerin works five or six nights a week and teaches piano lessons during the day. The appeal of Portland is simple: "We can make a living making music in this town," he says. As for his intense performing schedule, "It doesn't really feel like work. If I have a night off, often times I'll get together with friends and play music."
In-laws back in Louisiana were being evacuated as Kerin and his wife Jane were settling into Southwest Portland in 2005. "It was surreal watching the hurricane and its aftermath on television while we were so far away from home," he recalls.
By the time they made it back to Louisiana in December, power was still out in some areas, troops stood on street corners and you could see from watermarks on buildings how high the flood waters had risen.
"One thing that really stood out was the spray-painted markings on houses letting people know that the house had been checked and if they had found any dead bodies inside," he says.
That emotional experience explains Kerin's "passion project" in Portland. With his wife, he put together a living, performing, partying tribute to his Louisiana heritage called The Mysti Krewe of Nimbus. The Krewe hosts an annual Mardi Gras Ball, stages the Mardi Gras Day Parade, performs at the Waterfront Blues Festival and high-steps its way along the Starlight Parade route.
"Jane and I were homesick, especially around Thanksgiving and Christmas. So we got about 30 friends together to start the Mysti Krewe. Now we have 130 Krewe members," he says. "Since we're away from our families in Louisiana, it's like creating our own family here in Portland."
(Next year's Mardi Gras Ball will be held on March 2 at the Tiffany Ballroom in downtown Portland.)
Musicians who make a living making music have to be versatile. That shows at Kerin's regular Thursday night engagement. He plays the solo pipe organ at McMenamins Chapel Pub on Northeast Killingsworth Street. Audience members call out requests from a list of nearly a thousand songs, and Kerin handles everything from show tunes to heavy metal on an actual pipe organ like the ones heard in churches.
HIs gigs take him all over Portland and the Pacific Northwest, but the Multnomah neighborhood is home and has been since 2005.
"We love it. We're here at a high-enough elevation that you can look out our bedroom window and see Mount Hood. It's just awesome to see the evening blush when there's snow on the mountain," Kerin says.
He gets this reaction from people around town when he tells them where he lives: "Well, it's funny. People seem to think that Southwest Portland is so far from everything. I tell them it's a hop, skip and a jump from downtown, and it's one of the most beautiful parts of the city."
For more information on the Mysti Krewe of Nimbus, go to portlandmardigras.com.
IF YOU GO
Steve Kerin will be one of several local musicians performing at the fifth-annual "Stumptown Soul Holiday Spectacular" on Saturday, Dec. 15, at The Wonder Ballroom (128 N.E. Russell St., Portland). Musical festivities begin at 7:30 p.m.; doors open at 7 p.m.
Attendeees are encouraged to bring a new unwrapped toy for Shriners Hospitals for Children patients.
The concert is presented by the Waterfront Blues Festival and IBEW Local 48 Union Electrical Workers.
For a complete list of local musicians performing, go to ticketfly.com/event/1779930-5th-annual-stumptown-soul-portland.