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Friday, April 27, 2012

Portland Keeps Being Weird in Paris

Posted by Emily Dilling on Fri, Apr 27, 2012 at 9:52 AM

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[Read part one of our coverage of the "Keep Portland Weird" festival that's currently taking place in Paris, presented by the Gaîté Lyrique.]

Portland brought another evening of music to Paris last night, with a mostly lady line-up that was bookended by two boy bands. Paris has resembled Portland in one constant aspect this week: the ceaseless falling of rain. By last night, Parisians seemed to have hit a breaking point, with even the local radio stations doing special reports speculating on when the rain will stop. The mood was therefore set for a night of record shopping and mellow music, with Sunfoot, Mirah, the Tara Jane O'Neil All Star Band, and Tom Greenwood sharing the stage.

Portland's special spirit of amitié was evident throughout the concert, with members of Sunfoot and the musicians for Mirah and Tara Jane O'Neil entering and exiting the stage in order to lend backing vocals and vibraphones. Rebecca Gates had declared friendship to be the theme of her home town at Tuesday's concert, and the cooperation of the bands throughout the festival has been proof of the sense of community that may be considered a typical trait of Portlanders.

Since the kick-off of “Keep Portland Weird,” I've been trying to understand what other classic Portland characteristics might attract the French and inspire such a festival. The name of the festival itself seems to be a point of contention amongst natives of the hosted city—with the motto originally being attributed Austin, TX. So why wouldn't the Gaîté Lyrique invite Austin to be their guest city? And if they wanted Portland—why would they insist that the city be, and stay, weird?

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The French are hesitant to question or compromise their culture and lifestyle, and with all the advantages that come with being French (healthcare, free schooling, and the right to drink booze in public parks) who can blame them? However, they are curious about other cultures, and the evenings and events that the Gaîté Lyrique curated for this festival provide a comfortable museum-like atmosphere for Parisians to peer into another way of life.

Visitors to faux-Portland could see videos and photos depicting the vie quotidienne in this foreign city while browsing a selection of records (including a special edition “Keep Portland Weird” compilation vinyl including tracks from the Gossip and Elliott Smith) that provided a soundtrack to the experience.

The bagel bar and merch tables in the lobby of the Gaîté Lyrique are fleeting however and they will get packed up with the festival. What will remain of Portland in Paris? Souvenir records, some Oregon Department of Kick Ass T-shirts, and dog-eared ticket stubs? The musicians, Portland's ambassadors, and the audience, the receiving culture, are tasked with taking something more substantial away from the event.

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A common thread throughout the festival has been the genuine attempts by the artists to connect with the audience, either through broken French (gold stars go to Rebecca Gates and Melanie Valera), astute political observations (“I hear you've got some trouble in town with some right wing lunatics,” Tara Jane sympathized with the spectators), or through the making of music itself (the French rushed towards the stage when Mirah handed out tambourines during O'Neil's set, during which they happily played along). This is the Portland that got presented to Parisians—it wasn't New York, or Los Angeles, or San Francisco, or even some other weird city in Texas, it was something new and unknown, foreign and friendly.

The fact that the French will be electing a president in two weeks is not negligible, and the reality that there is rising support of the extreme right in France is an unsettling reality for many of my fellow concert goers. Parisians are ready and eager for a change, and they're open to suggestions.

So with that in mind, they came to these concerts, with the promise of good music and maybe the hope for something more—a sense of international community, an opportunity for cultural exchange, vibraphones and tambourines, and the chance to play along. This is why Paris chose Portland—they wanted to see and understand an alternative city, the weirder the better.

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