MFNW and What We’ve Lost: A Formative Weekend for Portland.

Aaron Sharpsteen / August 16, 2014


This weekend marks the first iteration of MusicFest NW’s new look, a look that stirred some controversy when it was originally announced and has even prompted local bands and promoters to organize a worthwhile alternative, Festicide (more on that later). In case the title didn’t make it clear, I’m squarely in the camp that thinks this new fest is a travesty, or at least a gigantic let down. I think the best way to exemplify this is to give my own account of how amazing MFNW used to be.



Bands seen: Eleanor Friedberger, The Kills, Sebadoh, Black Cobra, Phantogram, Iron and Wine, Wizard Rifle, Diesto, Blitzen Trapper, Typhoon, The Antlers, Explosions in the Sky, Yob, Grails, Neurosis, Bobby Bare Jr, Band of Horses

Craziest Show-hopping Combo:

On the Saturday of the weekend, I saw my first ever Typhoon set in Portland’s frying-pan, Pioneer Courthouse Square, and then was thoroughly impressed by The Antlers before one of my favorite post-rock bands Explosions in the Sky took the stage for an amazing performance. This was followed by a quick bike-ride to The Roseland where I got to watch Yob and Grails open for fucking Neurosis. Typhoon opening for Explosions in the Sky and Yob opening for Neurosis. Yeah, sorry I’m not sorry for missing Haim.



Bands seen: ( definitely incomplete, but the schedule is hard to find online): Red Fang, Hot Snakes, White Fang, Quasi, Lightning Bolt,  Quest for Fire, Black Mountain

Best Show-hopping Combo:

I know it is a travesty to say that I didn’t want to stick around for the Melvins (lite) after watching a jaw dropping set from Old Man Gloom, but the truth is that Black Mountain has held a special place in my heart for almost a decade, while I am still even now growing into the Melvins. The decision to truck it from the Hawthorne Theater to the Doug Fir was easy, and even more justified when I heard multiple reports that the Melvins were kind of boring. The possibility of seeing bands like Old Man Gloom and Black Mountain in the same night has now been lost to lowest-common-denominator thinking, however.



Bands seen: Summer Cannibals, Black Bananas, Red Kross, Like a Villain, Typhoon, Godspeed! You Black Emperor, The Dodos, Sonny and the Sunsets, Shuggie Otis, Dirtclod Fight, Yob

Craziest Show-hopping Combo:

2013 was the first year I partook in the amazing and free KEXP day sessions at the Doug Fir, scoring a spot for The Dodos and Sonny and the Sunsets before heading downtown to catch a man whose music has been an inspiration to me since high school, Shuggie Otis, and then back across the river for Yob, by this point in my life a band whose performances I never miss. On one day in 2013 I got to see The Dodos, Sonny and the Sunsets, Shuggie Otis, and Yob. This kind of mind-bending possibility simply does not exist with the current format that MFNW has adopted.

Let’s not get this twisted. I love the Portland/NW bands that are involved with MFNW this year, including Shy Girls and Wild Ones. And I’ll admit that some of the after parties are looking pretty good, including Ural Thomas and the Pain opening up for Killer Mike, Radiation City opening for Superchunk, Tope opening for El-P, and Tacocat most likely destroying Bunk Bar. But notice the distinct lack of any truly heavy bands in the mix, and the tendency to push the rap/hip-hop off the main-stages and into bars after the main event. I’m not sure there is any incentive for the festival organizers to go back to what used to be, if this year proves financially successful, I’m not sure any amount of nostalgia will turn the tide.


A piece like this would not be complete without mentioning the anti-corporate reaction from Portland’s truly DIY  scene in the form of Festicide, an amazing showcase of bands throughout the city with covers as cheap as $0 or as spendy as $5. If nothing else, the chance to have Honduran rip your face off followed by Rabbits crushing your skull with their new album on Saturday is not to be missed, and you can ruin your Sunday completely with sets from Drunk Dad, Sad Horse, and Big Black Cloud, all without dealing with riverfront crowds and incessant/ubiquitious adverts.


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