“What is Waking Windows Portland?” This simple question, I’ve found, is elusive. On paper, Waking Windows Portland is an indie music festival that began in Winooski, Vermont and entered its second year in Portland Maine this year. This year’s festival consisted of a promising bill with some big-name acts like Vetiver, (who you might recognize from their cover of Loudon Wainwright III’s “Swimming Song”), Jeff the Brotherhood, Mal Devisa and Yonatan Gat, as well as some more obscure New England based acts like Huntress and the Holder of Hands, An Anderson, Rough Francis, and Micah Blue Smaldone. The festival also kicked off with some prose provided by the Page Burner Series which was a literary festival that preceded the music portion of the fest. I started my day catching the tail-end of the reading series and began to reflect about this single day transformation of downtown Portland.
My first notable Waking Windows viewing experience this year was watching Henry Jamison perform at Tandem Coffee. (note: Tandem was the only space hosting music that wasn’t typically music friendly). Some might recognize Henry from his Portland roots and or his Bowdoin-formed band The Milkman’s Union.
Watching Henry play, it was difficult not to feel the familiar ache of ugh … yep … nostalgia. The friends you miss, the longing for a former Portland music scene that contained this voice. It was no help to my trip down memory lane that the single he performed from his upcoming record contains lines reminiscing about Wesley Allen Hartley, love gone wrong, and lonely rides up to Bar Harbor.
Jamison’s tunes maintain the more classic folk-style through lyricism, not necessarily in the content of the lyrics, but in their rhythmic delivery. At the forefront of his songs is the strength and poetic power of his lyrics. Seeing him play live adds this additional layer, in that, you feel like you are in the room with a poet more than a songwriter, there is this personal confession aspect to the live presentation of his work, that is very commanding of the room. In the background of the music is his guitar work which never seems to take a lazy or non-deliberated step. Jamison’s songs feel- carefully- planned- yet present.
Next up was Altar Boys. They had already won me over with their band name, but also I can’t remember watching an act that smiled so much, maybe ever, out of what seemed to be actual joy of each other’s company.The refreshing earnestness of the band, the effort and care in which the group sings each composition, (many of which are sung in other languages), is what I can only describe as the feeling synonymous with when someone invites you over to their home for an entirely home-cooked spread. The band offered open invitation towards the end of the set to anyone interested in joining in on their group.
Next I checked out Kafari’s set at the Jewel box. Kafari performed his set in the balcony space above the bar. The Jewel Box has seemingly everything going for it in style and mood.It sort of reminds me of walking into a portal. In a way it doesn’t seem like you’re in Portland, but it also doesn’t feel like you’re somewhere else. Everyone is glowing just a little bit under the soft lighting. The place just makes you feel good but Kafari’s music could also be the sole contributor to that feeling. Kafari’s music never shies from positivity and the feeling you get when you finally greet a long lost friend the airport. Kafari also has a new record out called Knockturn.
While I thoroughly enjoyed the act of attending so many shows in one evening, I kept coming back to the question “what is Waking Windows Portland?” throughout the night. The Waking Windows Portland site notes that the festival consists of over 60 bands. This is important because out of those 60+ bands, only 20 were Portland and Maine based acts. Space Gallery was host to only one Portland Maine band on Saturday. And many local acts ended up directly competing with national acts or played very early or very late slots.For example;Diva Cup opened Space Gallery around 4:00PM as the first act on Space’s bill of the evening and also the only Portland Maine act playing Space which served more or less as the festival’s mecca for the bigger&buzzier national acts. An Anderson directly competed with Vetiver, the headlining act of the festival at around 12:30. Portland’s hometown heroes Ada played a show somewhere between Burlington’s acclaimed Rough Francis and the buzziest act of the evening JEFF the Brotherhood. I felt that this is important to note because this festival is called “Waking Windows Portland” and the Portland representation of this festival was unfortunately lacking.
Events and festivals like this can have a lot to offer a small city. For example; in the Fall months when tourism is at it’s peak, they can bring even more tourists. They can also serve as pleasant introduction of music from other places and new ideas from outside while also effectively highlighting the hard work and accomplishments of the city that hosts them. The aim should be to meet happily somewhere betwixt. It is clear that a city the size of Portland Maine can easily sustain an influential New England music festival. In future festival experiments, as our city inevitably changes with rent hikes and even newer restaurants, I am hoping we see a lot more Portland bands on the stage alongside their Brooklyn and Burlington comrades.
Jesus Christ, I have a press pass. How did this happen? How could anyone take WTF seriously enough to give us press passes? People know the print edition of this paper is printed on a photocopier, right? So … my assignment is to get stoned for a full day and write about Waking Windows– so that it can have a pun as the title? Yes, this is actually happening. No, this is not my idea.
Saturday Waking Windows 1:30PM
I eat my brownie and plan my day. I end up not leaving the house until 1:30 or something. The notebook I’m writing in is crap, the pages are literally falling out onto the floor. I go to CVS to get a composition notebook with a holographic cover in the back-2-school section (which is on clearance!). Only $0.40! Score. The woman at the counter called me “ma’am.” It felt old fashioned.
Looks like the first thing to do is catch Eternals in Congress Square Park. I’m so glad we didn’t sell that space to some stupid development firm. Eternals are so fucking good. I don’t want to carry vinyl under my arm all day, or I would totally buy an album of theirs. Okay, headed to Tandem to see if I can catch some of this “Page Burner” series stuff, or maybe just run into some friends. Btw, what is a page burner exactly?
On my walk back, a bunch of yuppies with white turtlenecks and black blazers just left Gorham Bike and Ski on bright red european looking bicycles. I find this hilarious.
Next up, I’ll walk to Empire for “no chill comedy.” I am looking forward to a change from Portland’s overbearing “chill comedy” scene. Alas, I really have to pee. Why can’t I find a place between here and Empire that I can go pee without buying anything? Why don’t we have public toilets? Are they afraid that homeless people would use them? Why isn’t housing a human right? People should have homes. And toilets.
I run into some friends, and we all end up going to One Longfellow to catch more of the Page Burner reading series. I still don’t know what a page burner is.
Page Burner Reading Series
I have no idea who is reading right now, or burning? Whatever it is, I dig it. Next, Roy Stranton is reading from his book, “How To Die In The Early Anthropocene.” The person next to me has a NASA patch, but the part that would say “NASA” just says “NO GODS” That’s so much more brutal than a Satanic goat head pentagram. Hail Science.
The piece from Stranton is about war. It’s totally disorienting and perfect in every way. He’s just linking buzzwords from the nightly news together into sentences that sound like they should make sense but just don’t. This captures the nonsensical vapidness of the 24 hour cable news world perfectly.
Up next a lady named Noy reads about mice eating a car, it’s a bunch of imagined potential scenarios that start out feeling real, but veer into magical realism over and over. It’s nice. And quite funny.
I think the person in front of me is wicked cute. Oh gosh! They turned around and looked at me and smiled. What does it mean? The author keeps reading and this person keeps turning around and looking at me during the laughter breaks and smiling. What’s my game plan? Uh, clearly, I will avoid saying hello, or talking to them at all. I will just crush on them quietly ‘til this speaker is done, and then I will leave and probably never see them again. Yup. My dating game is on point.
No Chill Comedy Review?
The drummer for Cool Tara yells a question at a wedding party as they leave the hotel adjacent to Congress Square Park, asking them where the party is. The groom yells something back, the drummer responds with “nevermind, I can’t hear anything you’re saying. Statistically speaking it going to end in divorce anyways.” To which the crowd erupts into cheering and laughter.
After watching Cool Tara perform at Congress Square Park I go head to empire for the No Chill comedy thing. Gary Petersen continues the marriage/divorce thread with a story about how he had a fake gun and was on the beach alone in winter, when this couple proposed in front of him, and so he decided to pretend he was a hitman who quit his job. Wait, how do you review comedy? Just repeat all the jokes? That sounds wrong. Umm. Hrmm. Well, most of the people here are laughing … so … I guess … it’s funny? Yay! Comedy. Review. Written.
I run through the rain to catch the end of Greg Jaime and Drab Pony’s set. All of Greg’s projects are so great (Odeath,Blood Warrior to name a few)His high tenor over the best and most beautiful chord changes always cut me straight through the heart.
Where should I go next? I could catch Altar Boys at Tandem still. Or Micah Blue Smaldone at Space. Or Carinae at Empire. Or … Oh no! Empire! I’ve missed Beeef! Maybe I’ll never know what they are now. Or I could google them when I get home.
Lisa/Liza’s set is up next. The first tune they play together, with Devin Ivy on drums and John Downs on guitar, is like a feather pillow that you can lay your head into, and it just keeps sinking in further and further, for infinity. Everyone is standing up, and it’s totally quiet. Liza has total control of the room, and commands everyone’s full attention. Passing cars are creating sizzling ride cymbal washes on the wet pavement outside, pairing with Devin Ivy’s actual sizzling ride cymbals. Everything he plays is not holding down the beat as much as it is building cathedrals of time to contain the song within. He isn’t drumming as much as accompanying, as an extension of Liza’s guitar and vocals. All three of them are a single instrument together. The lights in the room are warm and soft, and Liza’s 3/4 tunes swing contemplatively, like a hammock by a lakeside in late autumn.
Snaex plays next. Me and a friend argue about how the band’s name is pronounced. Soon enough they announce it….and… I’m wrong. They open with that song that they are internet famous for now “Razor Blade”. And then they played some other songs that are also good, but aren’t as famous. I can’t stick around for their entire set, I have to make a mad dash to the other side of the Arts District” to catch Huntress and the Holder of Hands.
The lights at this 7-11 are so beautiful in the light rain, I can’t stop looking at them. But I need to look away and keep going. I have business to attend to.I am a music journalist now. I have a press pass. I run into friends who are contemplating what they are going to go see next. I let them know that Huntress is playing at Space, they let me know that Leveret is playing right now at Empire. We part ways.
Waking Windows at *I don’t really know what time it is*
I am mesmerized by Huntress ‘til the end of their set, at which point I make a dash to Wild Burrito for a cheap, crappy burrito, but I am denied that burrito, for they are closed. It’s been several hours, so I eat my second brownie, and go to Otto’s. I don’t want to repeat the mistake I made during my lunch and fall asleep at home again.
I finish my pizza and head up to Empire to see if I can’t catch the rest of Pile’s set. Why are Yairms on stage? Wait, it’s 10pm all of a sudden? What happened to the last hour? Did I eat one slice of pizza– for an hour?
Yairms is fun. The songwriting is really solid, and the lead singer’s vocal style is really unique.
While listening to Yairms, it occurs to me that it is kind of a terrible joke on all conscious beings that people are attracted to one another’s bodies because you can’t really help your body. Like, that’s mostly determined for you. Diet and exercise can only do so much. Like, if you’re short of tall, or missing a limb, you just can’t really do anything about it. That’s just your body, and you can’t really help your body. You just get the one, and that’s your lot in life. Bodies are weird.
Rough Francis takes the stage next. This was my favorite portion of the evening. They are literally descended from the Detroit-based inventors of punk, Death, and they bring the most dancingest, most hi-octane, face melting energy I have seen in a live act in a long time. They take classic song forms and chord progressions from the 1950s pop era, run them through a hardcore punk filter, and produce music that reaches into my body and grabs it by the lungs and tugs it to it’s feet. OK, fuck yes, this mosh pit is on. The beat is so driving, the grooves are so full of confidence and conviction, the singer’s on-pitch, vocal-tearing screams are inescapably energizing. I let Satan into my heart, and I accept him as my lord and savior. Rough Francis is probably one of the best punk bands on earth, if not the galaxy.
Rough Francis will literally melt your face off of your body.
This time, I definitely buy the record, and I have them all sign it. I’ve missed Ada’s set at Blue, but I can still catch An Anderson at Geno’s. Nope, actually, I am completely exhausted, and feel like I will collapse into a pile of melted flesh and broken bones at any second. I make my way home and go to sleep-immediately.