It’s no secret that Portland, Oregon is the epicenter of a thriving revival of Southern old-time music in the United States. Led by pioneering old-time band Foghorn Stringband, Portland has encouraged a homegrown DIY old-time music scene that encompasses frequent square dances, multigenerational old-time bands, and a trailblazing festival in the Portland Old-Time Gathering.
Founded by Michael Ismerio, a young fiddler and square dance caller (check out his website; it’s got lots of tunes to listen to!), the annual gathering started as a bar concert and house party at Michael’s home and has grown to an event that brings over a thousand musicians and dancers from all over the US to Portland’s Norse Hall. For three days from Friday-Sunday (Wed, Thurs and Mon events are held elsewhere), this large building is filled completely with music and dance. The two ballrooms sell out quickly, concerts and workshops are packed, and every square inch and corner of the building is filled up with impromptu jam sessions. In the past few years I’ve been attending this event I’ve jammed in the bathroom, the kitchen, closets, hallways, anywhere I could find place to sit or stand.
As a festival, Portland’s Old-Time Gathering is part of a new generation of folk festivals that emphasize community engagement and participation first and foremost. Bands come from all over but are chosen by committee and the emphasis of the festival is decidedly independent and DIY. Seattle enjoyed a similar festival recently with December’s Dare to be Square and other cities are following suit. The second annual Olympia Old-Time Music Festival will be held in February this year, for example.
We encourage you to take a trip down to Portland to check out this one-of-a-kind event. It’s a golden opportunity to hear some of today’s best old-time musicians in an informal setting.
Here are some videos from past gatherings to give you a feel for the event.
Lisa Ornstein (fiddle), Michael Ismerio (guitar), Curtis Alsobrook (banjo) at the 2009 Gathering
Hot jam at a Gathering after-party
Keep up with Portland’s trailblazing old-time scene at BUBBAGUITAR, local caller and organizer Bill Martin’s website.
And check out this great documentary (excellent interviews!) on Portland’s square dance scene from Seattle photographer Doug Plummer.