East End, Portland, OR

A not untypical Portland neighborhood street.

We all slept in for most of the morning, then had a most delicious breakfast of homemade bagels with lox. Though I’d had a substantial amount of my hosts’ brew the night before, I didn’t feel hung over at all. They theorized that perhaps, since their beer is all unfiltered, and that the residual yeast has vitamin B12, that helps with recovery. Could that be true? At any rate, it was a nice surprise.

It was an incredibly beautiful day, warm, clear, and sunny, and we took a long walk to enjoy it,hiking from where Hawthorne Street is just a quiet residental road to where it turns into the very popular strip of stores and restaurants it’s known for. One of the things I like about Portland, and there are many, is that even the commercial strips look like a small town’s Main Street. Big billboards and garish signs are kept to a minimum, the streets are generously wide in a way that suggest Midwest space more than L.A. boulevards, and the shops inhabit charming old buildings that proudly show their wear and tear.

We stopped into a branch of the massive Powell’s bookstore, itself bigger than most indie bookstores I’ve seen in New York, had some top-notch tea and wandered around for a good hour. Then we hopped a bus back to the house and I settled into an Adirondack in their impressive garden to take care of some laptop business. A quick dinner of pasta with vegetables all raised in that very garden, then it was time to catch the bus back into town and to the East End.

This is a club known for loud rock shows, and the decor showed it; pinball machines, black walls, screen-printed horror-movie posters. But the bathrooms boasted a full complement of paper towels, toilet paper and clean seats, inexcusable in a true dive. Portland’s just like that; a high priority seems to be placed on making all things pleasing to the typical human being, even in places where the opposite is commonplace.

I’d arranged the bill for the evening, and had hand-picked two other solo artists to join me, The Weather Machine and Brave Julius. I met these two gentlement last year on tour and was knocked out by both, so I’d been looking forward to the chance to see them again and was pleased that they were up for playing on a Tuesday night at a rock joint.

Our soundperson was of the classic stripe, clad in black leather and impossibly scrawny, but he expertly set up our acoustic guitars through the powerful system. People were starting to arrive, so The Weather Machine took the stage and kicked things off. The PA was cranked up twice as loud as it normally is for this kind of music, but it lent an extra intensity to Slater’s nimble fingerwork and twisting turns of phrase. It was a smashing set, and I knew I had big shoes to fill when I took the stage.

Since much of my music is instrumental, I feel like I have to work extra hard to keep a crowd’s attention. Slater had really connected with the folks listening, and I felt a twinge of self-doubt as I started off, unsure if I could pick up the connection where he left it. Even though my hands felt limber, the sound was good and a number of friends were in the audience, it took a good half the set for my confidence to rise. But then I started really enjoying myself, and by the time I finished up I was feeling swell.

Brave Julius then took over, and showed how well music can get across to people even without words. Glenn has an enviable touch on the steel-string guitar, and his fleet alternate-tuned melodies seemed to lock in instantly with the room. I settled into a booth with a few friends and let his music have its way with me.

Afterward, I congratulated both Slater and Glenn on their top-notch performances, then headed to Biwa for a late-night bite. Again, being Portland, instead of the more typical burrito or fish & chips available at midnight on a Tuesday, I had pickled mackerel and grilled trout while I caught up with two old friends. An excellent day this was.