MFNW: It’s all about the music (mostly)

Haim performs at MFNW on Aug. 17 /// Photo by Camilla Radoyce

Lauren Achée /// Arts Editor

Each summer, Portlanders come together over our mutual love of live music for Music Fest NorthWest. This year the festival featured 18 bands and was held exclusively at Waterfront Park from Aug. 16 to Aug. 17.

MFNW made some changes this year that left many nostalgic for previous years (the festival used to last an entire week, and featured around 100 bands in different venues across the city). At Waterfront Park, attendees spent the festival sweating through sets. Many retreated to the shade, leaving a few hardy concertgoers standing by the sun-blasted stage. 

Performers braved the heat, walking around the festival listening to sets and talking to audience members. The Antlers lead singer Peter Silberman said, “we’re all in the same boat here.”

With reusable water bottles banned, concertgoers had to pay $2 for water bottles. That didn’t go over well with attendees, forcing MFNW organizers to lower the price of water to $1 and allow factory sealed water bottles for day two. Still, water was scarce (“Not Drinking Water” stickers appeared on porta-potty sinks.)

Saturday /// Day 1

MFNW featured nine bands each day. Standouts from day one included Landlady, Gardens & Villa, Man Man and Phantogram. Newcomers to the festival scene, Landlady’s excitement was both tangible and contagious, making them a memorable start to the festival. Santa Barbara natives Gardens & Villa kept the energy high with their California vibes and wooden flute playing by lead singer Chris Lynch. They scored points with the Portland crowd by dedicating a song to the dwindling salmon population. 

Man Man’s lead singer Honus Honus (Ryan Kattner’s stage name) took the stage in what could only be described as a psychedelic poncho, which he later traded in for a white fur coat. Kattner’s crazy antics included petting photographers’ heads and posing after costume changes. 

Phantogram was also strong live, and featured the only female artist of the day—lead singer Sarah Barthel. Barthel’s hair flipping performance style and mile high stilettos paired with her crystal clear voice made Phantogram a highlight of the festival. 

Girl Talk proved disappointing if you weren’t holding a drink. The dance party happening on stage seemed more fun than the one on the dusty park grounds.  

Sunday /// Day 2

Highlights from day two included Wild Ones, Fucked Up, Tune Yards and Haim. Portland-based Wild Ones’ performance style is honest and confessional and with breezy beats (accompanied by an actual breeze) attendees could escape the heat for a moment. 

Punk band Fucked Up gave one of the more exciting performances of the festival, with shirtless lead singer Damian Abraham jumping off the stage and walking around the crowd, telling everyone that they were beautiful, asking for weed and joining in a small mosh pit. Their performance also turned to politics, with discussions of Ferguson and medical marijuana. 

tUnE-yArDs kept things fresh with worldbeats, bright costumes, choreographed dance moves and crazy facial expressions that got most of the mellow Portland crowd dancing. 

Haim took girl power to a whole new level and delivered a set that showed that these sisters can rock, both in their technical skill and in their overall performance aesthetic. Featuring lots of hair flips and some off the cuff commentary from eldest sister Este, Haim was a band that the crowd was clearly excited to see and did not disappoint. 

Is MFNW selling out? 

To both performers and attendees, this year’s fest seemed different. Gardens & Villa’s Lynch remarked during their set how he, “never thought we’d be playing this close to the mighty Willamette.”

Emily VanKoughnett (’15) said that it seemed that the folks at MFNW are, ”trying to establish themselves on the music scene” and that “Portland doesn’t have a huge music festival.” The new set up, she said, made it clear that MFNW is “trying to get to that point.” Dylan Springer (’15) added that this was “the beginning” of an MFNW aiming for a “better reputation.”

If that’s the case, it’s not long before the c-word that every Portlander dreads is put into play: corporate. With MFNW moving more toward stages with corporate sponsors and booths with free samples and away from local venues and smaller bands, MFNW might be heading toward a “corporate” direction as opposed to the citywide music extravaganza of years past. 

If this is MFNW becoming more corporate then it definitely knows its audience well. As Portlanders, we like our cigarettes, our beer and our socially conscious companies as much as we love our music scene. American Apparel, who’s “Made in America. Sweatshop free. Fair Wages” mantra graced the Hawthorne stage, and Moda, an Oregon and Washington based healthcare company, together made up the main stage sponsors. Ben & Jerry’s gave away free ice cream while supporting GMO labeling. KIND Healthy Snacks gave away free health bars and aqua fresca while providing a phone charging station and a silent headphone dance party. Camel, blueCigs, Portland food trucks, Heineken and RedBull made appearances. The “Poster Marketplace” boasted band and concert posters sold directly by the artists who designed them. Canvassers littered the open area of the festival, fighting to put GMO labeling on the November ballot. This is corporate pared into pieces that Portlanders can swallow with every beer. 

And anyway, MFNW is still, for both the performers and the audience, all about the music. 

tUnE-yArDs’ Merrill Garbus summed up what many artists had remarked across both days during her set: “With all the crap that’s going on in the world all the time its nice to be here with all of you listening to some great music,” she said. Run the Jewels’ EI-P echoed that sentiment saying, “Sometimes you feel like you are working for a check. But tonight I’m like, yeah, this is my job that I like.” 

Phantogram’s Barthel told Portlanders, “You guys always fucking bring it.” I’d like to think that we do. 

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