accordion · acoustic · banjo · Cajun · Celtic · Irish · traditional

Portland Oregon: Part Two

Foghorn Stringband
Foghorn Stringband

Day Two of the Portland Experience is now history. It’s 10:30 AM and people and pets are starting to stir in the household. A cup of English breakfast sits steaming beside my laptop and a black cat named Chicken is rubbing my ankles. Today we will somehow find some clean(ish) clothes in our travel bags, dress up nice, and head north for the last gig of this tour.

Yesterday, after knocking around town (two cafes and of course, Powell’s City of Books), we headed over to the Hawthorne Eagles Hall for a double-header dance with music by Foghorn Stringband and the Too Loose Cajun Band. Foghorn has evolved a bit, with new and very competent players filling in for the respective founding members on guitar, banjo, and bass. Rumor has it that the current lineup will be recording a new collection of music soon. If the resulting CD is anything like the tight and lively tunes we enjoyed last night, then I can’t wait to hear it.

Too Loose is a six-piece outfit that plays an extremely danceable mix of fiddle tunes and French-worded Acadian songs. The lineup is two fiddles, accordion, pedal steel, acoustic guitar, electric bass, and drum kit. We enjoyed what we heard, and wanted to stay for more, but being diddleheads we had no choice but to get on over to the Irish Ceili at the Portland Policeman’s Athletic Assocation and check out that scene before it was over.

The ceilis here are held once a month, and this one had a definite Halloween theme. Rollicking reels and jigs were provided by Elliott Grasso on uillean pipes and flute, Django Amerson on fiddle, and Cary Novotny of Cul An Ti on guitar, while lines and circles of laughing dancers moved back and forth in traditional pattern dances. There is something very horse-and-carriage about the natural union of fiddle tunes and pattern dances, in any tradition. Like wine and cheese, they have always paired well and I think they always will. As a musician who has played contra dances for 30 years, from West Virginia to Hawaii, I can say it’s a real rush to look out on the floor and see the swirling skirts and grinning guys moving to the music you’re making.

The dance wrapped up around 1 or so, but the night was young yet by Irish-musician standards, so we adjourned to the Moon and Sixpence for a few after-hours tunes. The session was brilliant for a while, but time flies when you’re having fun, and all too soon the lights were coming on and then we were out on the street in a misty Irish rain saying our long goodbyes. “Til next time… keep it between the ditches!”

Special thanks to our host and tour guide Chris Kokesh for making our Portland field trip so fun. It’s just so much nicer to have a roof over your head when you’re on the road.

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