Spring is here, a particularly warm and sunny spring, and Front Porch Jazz has returned, as well.
On Sunday afternoons, weather permitting, Gordon Lee and a very talented group of musicians perform on his front porch, just a few blocks from our house. The porch is at a quiet intersection with almost no traffic. So Gordon puts a sign out and folks bring chairs, wine and food, and sit on the sidewalks or right in the middle of the street. Large upturned buckets set up warn any drivers of what’s going on.
The band has a keyboard, stand-up bass, drums, and alto sax. They play classics like SpringisHere and CantaloupeIsland (my favorite Herbie Hancock song) as well as Gordon’s original compositions like Pendulum Swings and Tobacco Monkey.
The music is great, the camaraderie is amazing, and the vibe is most definitely Portland.
Good Portland. Positive Portland. Funky, happy, neighborly Portland.
Last night Grandpa Nelson and I drove down to Auntie Katie’s bookshop to watch a show. I know we usually walk, but it was 96 degrees, which is too hot to walk a mile.
First, we all went to dinner at The Smokehouse Tavern on Morrison. The pulled pork sandwich was smokey and tasty, with cold, refreshing cocktails for the hot day.
The show was a pair of sisters, Angela and Aubrey Webber, who go by the group name “Doubleclicks”. They play guitar, ukulele, and electric cello, and even a cat keyboard that “meows” when you play the keys. But mostly, they write and sing very sweet, funny songs about being different, even a little weird, and being okay with that.
The Doubleclicks are very popular here in Portland, especially with people who like comic books, so they were a good match for BookswithPictures. By the time the show started, all forty chairs were full and there were probably thirty more people standing in the back. The audience was mostly people in their thirties and forties, but some much younger (8 or 9) and some much older (like us!)
The first song they sang was called “Cats at Parties”. It is about being awkward in large groups of people and seeking out pets to hang out with instead. I do this, sometimes. They had me.
Other songs paid homage to Wonder Woman, Dimetrodons, and board games. There was lots of funny conversation between the sisters, and with the audience. Auntie Katie asked them to dedicate a song to Grandpa Nelson, called “I have Nothing to Prove.” It was very sweet, about being happy with yourself and your accomplishments.
During the break, I got to visit with Chelsea Wright, Auntie Katie’s dear friend, and other folks in the audience. A lady named Kathleen, who sat right in front of us, was signing the lyrics as the Sisters were singing. I told her how much I enjoyed watching her and we had a nice conversation.
When the show was over, we all hung up our chairs and headed off. As we got in the car, the train gates came down, and we. Were. Stuck. For thirty minutes while the train got rearranged and ready to head north. The main train tracks crossing a main road is a drawback of driving in this neighborhood. But, small price to pay.
We got home, wide awake, and watched the Giants win their ballgame, then went to bed.
It is a new year, and I am looking forward to some more big changes. I will be coming to Salinas to stay with you for a few months while I teach, and my life here in Portland will be put on hold. Grandpa Nelson and Auntie Bridgett will stay here and take care of Mouse the kitten, the houseplants, and their jobs…but we won’t be together. This will be weird, and sometimes sad.
Before looking forward, though, I want to look back on the crazy trip that got me here and what I love about Portland.
During the hot Summer, we learned about getting around on air-conditioned buses and trains. We got to visit our new favorite Laurelhurst Park with Auntie Katie and the cousins. We even walked to the Willamette River and put our feet in!
It was fun getting to show you all the things in our new city, like the zoo.
The biggest thing that we learned about is the weather. It rains a lot here, and we are getting used to asking Google if we should take an umbrella. It even snows! This takes getting used to, but is such a nice change from highs of 70 and lows of 50 that I don’t mind.
I have fallen in love with the theater and art here in Portland. Theaters are made from old churches, warehouses, and even set up in parks. Art and music are everywhere.
People playing music, reciting and writing poetry on street corners just isn’t something we saw in Salinas, and it is a real treat.
And of course, the history! I have been studying about Portland’s past…it’s buildings, trolley cars, and people. It is just about as old as Salinas, but since it is a bigger city, it has more stories.
There is so much I love about Portland. I will miss it, and then return in June to re-discover my new city all over again.
Yesterday was another really hot day. By 4:30, it was 101 degrees! Auntie Bridgett and I spent the hottest part of the afternoon in the nice cool Main Branch of the library, downtown. I found more books on Portland’s history and Auntie Bridgett found art books!
In the evening, we had a new adventure. Grandpa Nelson had read about an event called “History Pub”, held at the Kennedy School. There would be dinner and music. We love history, pubs, food, schools, and music, so we went!
The Kennedy School is an elementary school about three miles north of us, built in 1917. That was four years before my Momma was born! The school was named for the man who sold the land to the city of Portland, John D. Kennedy… not the president, as I had thought. The school had been abandoned in the 1990’s because there weren’t enough kids in the neighborhood anymore, and a restaurant company called McMenamin’s bought it.
McMenamin’s saw how this old building could be beautiful and useful again. They fixed the plumbing, heating, and electricity. They re-modeled the classrooms into hotel rooms (each with its own chalkboard!) and turned the cafeteria into a quirky restaurant. There is a small bar called Detention just down the hall from the Principal’s office.
There is also beautiful artwork everywhere. The halls have murals of children learning and helping each other. Mosaics made from old dishes and things pay tribute to teachers at the school. Fairies even follow you into the restroom….it is magical.
We had dinner, walked around the school a bit, then went into the auditorium. This has been re-fitted with cozy, velvet covered chairs and couches, with more artwork and murals on the walls. We learned about Obo Addy, a Ghanan drummer, from Susan Addy, Obo’s widow. Obo Addy came to Portland in 1978 with his four brothers, bringing real African music to this area for the first time. The group toured schools and gave concerts, teaching thousands of people about African drumming, singing and dancing.
Then came the best part of the already wonderful evening….music! Five musicians, a group called Okropong, came out in beautiful African costumes with bells and danced up and down the aisle. They set up different drums in the front and played, sang and danced. The energy was amazing, and the audience began dancing and clapping, too. The musicians went into the audience and took people’s hands, bringing them into the aisle to dance with them. People were having so much fun!
Every now and then, the leader would explain about the music. One piece was from Liberia, a country next to Ghana…he said, “Ghana went to Liberia, fell in love, and brought this one back.”
After almost an hour of exhausting performance, our musician friends did one final song and danced off stage. We gathered our things and headed for the parking lot, through the halls of the coolest school I have ever seen. We slept like rocks to be ready for the next adventure, whatever that might be.