The joke runs that Portland is where Millennials go to retire. This must explain why PDX has become the west coast’s best live music city, luring indie stars like The Decemberists and The Shins to set up camp by the Willamette River. Here are some of the best Portland music venues to check out on your next trip.
The Crystal Ballroom
Look into the Crystal Ballroom and you’ll see more than a century’s worth of popular music. James Brown, Little Richard and the good ole Grateful Dead threw swell dance parties here. Listed on the National Register for Historic Places in 1979, the building, including its legendary floating dance floor, received a full renovation from the McMenamins team in 1997. Three floors of entertainment and a brewery draw crowds these days, while the third floor ballroom still hosts a variety of bands ranging from alt-country to soul to neo-psychedelia.
In a city where “Only in Portland” has become so cliché, Doug Fir feels like it could only exist well, in Portland. Where else does a woodsy lounge attached to a retro motel attract the likes of Vampire Weekend, Alabama Shakes and other bands that usually book theatres ten times the size of this cosy urbane cabin. Reasonable ticket prices and 24 bookings a month helped garner “North America’s Top Clubs” kudos from Rolling Stone in 2013. The Doug Fir is one of those rare venues where, should you stumble in without planning, you’re gonna like what you hear.
It’s all about discovery at Mississippi Studios, one of the newest and hottest Portland music venues. This is that place where you’ll one day recall seeing a now famous band with a few of your closest friends way back when. Eclecticism dictates the booking schedule here, so don’t be surprised to find an up-and-coming comic like Hari Kondabolu doing stand-up the night after psychedelic Bright Light Social Hour out of Austin. Prefer punk, jazz or electronica? There’s a good chance you’ll find a cure for what ails you inside (or outside on the two heated patios) over an evening at the Studios.
Tribute band fans unite. With 70’s icons like David Bowie and Glenn Frey checking into new hotels, it’s good to know that tribute bands remain to rock us down memory lane. Built in 1906, Revolution Hall isn’t exclusively retro, the one and only Dan Savage will spend Valentine’s Day here followed by the Oregon Beer Awards and Indigo Girls later in the month. But still, tribute bands dedicated to the music of Journey and Heart take their place alongside groups like, The Music Box, a Montréal-based band that performs the entire early Genesis albums with the blessing of Peter Gabriel. To their credit, the good folks at Revolution Hall make every effort to book all ages shows when appropriate, so that a whole new generation can discover “Trespass” or “Selling England by the Pound”, even without the album artwork.
The Wonder Ballroom
Not all that glitters is retro in Portland’s music scene. Consider the Wonder Ballroom, another historic room (1914) that maintains solid bookings of buzzworthy contemporaries. Selections range from hip hop to The Reverend Horton Heat. You’ll find the Floozies and Bob Mould up on stage, but also bands with only a cassette or EP to their name. Like Revolution Hall, the Wonder Ballroom offers access to all ages whenever possible, one of the main reasons that Portland remains the Northwest’s premier live music city.
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Have you been to any of these Portland music venues? Have we left any of your favourites off our list? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Crai Bower