Music Fleece Northwest
A Line Too Far

By definition, music “festivals” are cattle calls, often not planned very well and poorly organized. Music Fest Northwest features over two-hundred bands performing at God knows how many venues over the course of four nights. For a music lover, the idea is sheer nirvana. On paper, it must look like an especially attractive idea.

Local newspaper, Willamette Week, has admirably attempted to produce Music Fest Northwest for eight years now. Borne out of the poorly planned and highly disorganized South By Southwest debacles which played out in the late ‘90s, Music Fest Northwest was designed to fix all that and make this musical pub crawl a rewarding experience for the bands playing the festival and the patrons attempting to attend their shows.

Monica Nelson at Music Fest NW.
SP Clarke with Monica Nelson at Music Fest Northwest. photo Lesley Lathrop

And there is no quibbling over the superior line-up of musical acts who performed during this year’s festival, Sept. 3-6. Great national acts and superior local acts were spread out at venues all over town. Too numerous to name. What a wealth of musicality! But wristbands to attend all four nights’ entertainment was levied at $50 per person- not prohibitively expensive for the potential cornucopia of music which the discerning music lover might encounter, but substantial enough to make of the investment something of a big deal. $100 for a couple to attend four nights of music, while spendy, is still something of a bargain, especially given the high caliber of the performers.

And, as I was fortunate enough this year to play in the band backing Ms. Monica Nelson, I was afforded free wristbands for myself and my paramour. For weeks she and I planned out our schedule, plotting our moves as if they were paramilitary excursions. The schedules and planning for the two big nights, Friday and Saturday, were especially complex.

On the evening of Wednesday, September 4, we managed to get into the Crystal to see Ohio-based singer songwriter Griffin House. That was a pleasant experience and we were looking forward to the ensuing nights of music. But on Friday night, first we were turned away at the Wonder Ballroom, hoping to catch Built To Spill. Apparently the only people allowed to attend that show were “VIPs” from Nike, the sponsor of that show.

With the intention of salvaging the evening, we hoped to get into the Crystal again to see John Vanderslice and Vampire Weekend (with the intention of heading down to Berbatti‘s after those concerts concluded). But we were met with a line of wristbanders like ourselves waiting to get inside the Crystal. At 9:00 in the evening, no less.

Griffin House
Griffin House at the Crystal Ballroom. photo Lesley Lathrop

Because the Crystal was allowed to sell tickets for the evening’s performances, ticket holders were allowed to march right into the show, while poor dumb-fuck wristbanders were herded into a line, allowed, two by two, to enter the venue only when staff deemed it propitious. The line grew in no time to over a block long.

On Saturday night, our intention was to head up to the Crystal after my gig playing with Monica at 8PM at the Backspace, to see Blitzen Trapper, Fleet Foxes and Helio Sequence. We were up at the Crystal by 8:50, only to find a line of wristbanders stretched out over 2 blocks. We knew we would have to stand in line for hours just to get in (if we were lucky) and maybe see Helio Sequence, who were closing the night We decided to attempt to salvage the evening by heading over to Holocene to see Horse feathers and Shaky Hands. But the line there was two blocks long as well. We gave up and went home and watched a Radiohead live performance DVD instead.

Like I said, my wristbands were free, so I don’t have much room to bitch. But if I had paid $50-$100 to get into the shows I wanted to see, I would feel severely ripped off by this whole process.

I might suggest, that the sales of tickets for specific shows be discontinued. Yes, yes, the venues have to make money, blah blah blah. But MFNW is the opportunity for these places to advertise themselves as well as to showcase the bands playing. (Local) bands only receive $100 for their performances, why shouldn’t the venues take a pay cut for four nights too, in the spirit of music? Also, a larger venue (Keller Auditorium?) for some of the more popular acts might be a way to accommodate more music lovers. Clearly the most popular acts are going to draw huge crowds. That should be expected by the promoters of the event and arrangements need to be made. People should not be turned away.

Something needs to be done. This was an exasperating rip-off. $50 a head to stand in line all night. Where’s the payoff? Maybe they could put speakers out in the street, so at least the line-waiters could hear the bands they’ll never get to see.

I hope to play MFNW next year, if afforded the opportunity. But I sure as hell won’t bother trying to get into any of the shows. That would be a complete waste of time. What a joke!


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