MusicfestNW was founded by Mark Zusman and Richard Meeker in 1995 as a joint venture between Willamette Week, Meeker and Zusman's Portland Pulitzer Prize-winning alternative weekly, and South by Southwest, the Austin, Texas music festival. It was called North by Northwest until 2001, when Willamette Week took over the festival and renamed it MFNW.
MFNW has become the third largest indoor music festival in the United States with more than 150 bands across 18 of Portland's most popular music venues. The main festival stages include the Crystal Ballroom, Roseland Theater and Doug Fir.
In 2009, MFNW was rated by Time as one of 50 Authentic American Experiences of 2009. That year, the festival drew over 15,000 fans with performances by Modest Mouse, Bad Brains, Mayer Hawthorne and Sunny Day Real Estate.
In 2010, MFNW took place between Sept 9-12 and featured over 200 bands including, Brooklyn-based indie rock band, The National, Portland-natives, The Decemberists and Major Lazer, a collaborative musical project from DJ/Producers Diplo and Switch.
In its 10th year as MusicfestNW, the festival added Pioneer Courthouse Square, MFNW's first outdoor venue. Pioneer Courthouse Square is often referred to as Portland's living room. In addition to adding an outdoor venue MFNW combined Portland's love of food and music with an event featuring The New York Times favorite, Bunk Sandwiches.
In 2012, MusicfestNW expanded with the creation of TechFestNW (formerly PDX: Portland Digital Experience). The event featured two days of programming that showcased Portland's world-class startup, mobile, social, and open-source creators. PDX ran throughout the day preceding MFNW's nightly musical offerings. Featured speakers in 2012 included: Evan Doll, Andrew McLaughlin, Aaron Draplin, Maggie Vail, Dave Allen, Mike Thrasher, and Sam Adams. TechFestNW has grown to offer three full days of programming and runs September 6-8th, 2013. On the music side, MFNW 2012 showcased more than 175 bands across 16 venues. More than 34,000 fans danced and sweated to performances by Girl Talk, Beirut, Passion Pit, Silversun Pickups, Dinosaur Jr., The Tallest Man on Earth, Yelawolf, The Hives, and many, many more.
In February 2014 the promoters announced a radical change to the festival. They are now running a two-day waterfront festival with two stages and have abandoned the multi-venue format. Instead of the hundred plus bands performing in a multitude of venues in Portland they will now have 15-20 artists perform on two stages over two days.
- pulitzer.org "The 2005 Pulitzer Prize Winners:Investigative Reporting". pulitzer.org.
- Tucker, Reed (July 13, 2009). "50 Authentic American Experiences in 2009: Oregon". Time Magazine. Retrieved July 24, 2011.