Music of Oregon

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Woody Guthrie wrote several songs about the Northwest under the commission of the Bonneville Power Administration.

The music of Oregon reflects the diverse array of styles present in the music of the United States, from Native American music to the contemporary genres of rock and roll, country, rhythm and blues, jazz, pop, electronic music, and hip hop. However, throughout most of its history, the state has been relatively isolated from the cultural forces shaping American music. Much of modern popular music traces its roots to the emergence in the late 19th century of African American blues and the growth of gospel music in the 1920s. African American musicians borrowed elements of European and Indigenous musics to create new American forms. As Oregon's population was more homogeneous and more white than the United States as a whole, the state did not play a significant role in this history.

The state's main contributions to American popular music began in the 1960s, when The Kingsmen and Paul Revere & the Raiders established Oregon as a minor center of frat rock and garage rock. This led in one direction to the blues rock tradition of the Robert Cray Band and Curtis Salgado, and in another direction to the hardcore punk scene of the early 1980s Pacific Northwest, led by the Wipers in Portland and like-minded bands in Seattle and Vancouver, BC. Over the next twenty years, punk rock evolved into grunge, riot grrrl, alternative rock, and, eventually, indie rock. In the last decade, Oregon has made a unique contribution to American independent music, with a strong indie music scene developing in Portland. The city's reputation as a hipster mecca has paralleled the rise of local indie musicians such as The Decemberists (singer Colin Meloy attended the University of Oregon), Gossip, The Dandy Warhols, M. Ward, Logan Lynn, Storm Large, Pink Martini and the late Elliott Smith. Floater is Portland's leading example of an indie band. They have remained unsigned to a major label for over 20 years and have managed to be voted the best band of Portland for 2009 in addition to frequently selling out major venues like the Crystal Ballroom and the Aladdin Theater.[1][2][3] Other prominent musicians have relocated to Portland, including Modest Mouse (of Seattle), Sleater-Kinney (of Olympia, Washington), The Shins (of Albuquerque, New Mexico), Spoon (of Austin, Texas), former Pavement leader Stephen Malkmus (of Stockton, California), singer songwriter Patterson Hood (of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and Athens, Georgia),[4] and former R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck (of Berkeley, California and Athens, Georgia).[5]

The state also has a unique rural-urban dynamic, which has influenced the development of local bluegrass, folk, and alternative country music. Jam bands have a strong presence in the state, dating back to Grateful Dead performances at the Oregon Country Fair, and outdoor music festivals continue to be popular. Portland's Waterfront Blues Festival is the second largest blues festival in the country. Prominent cultural institutions include the Oregon Bach Festival, Oregon Festival of American Music, Oregon Symphony, and Mt. Hood Jazz Festival.


Pop Music[edit]

From the 1960s to the 1980s, some musical groups from Portland had occasional success on the pop charts. The Kingsmen (singer Jack Ely died in Oregon) were the first to hit the top 10 with their 1960s garage rock classic "Louie Louie" peaking at #2, and Paul Revere & the Raiders gained popularity in Portland after relocating there from Idaho. The Hudson Brothers had several hits, such as "Mr. Kirby" (though originally this came when the group was named 'The New Yorkers'), "So You Are a Star" and even had their own eponymous TV show during the 1970s. Quarterflash (which started out in the 1970s as a jazz band called 'Seafood Mama'), were led by the husband/wife duo Marv & Rindy Ross. The band had several hits, including a platinum-selling #3 song "Harden My Heart" in 1981. Nu Shooz, also led by a husband/wife duo (John Smith & Valerie Day), also had several hits, their biggest also going to #3 "I Can't Wait" in 1986.[6]

Punk rock[edit]

Portland had one of the most vibrant hardcore punk scenes in the early 1980s Pacific Northwest, rivaled only by Seattle and Vancouver. The Wipers and Poison Idea are the best known representatives of the scene, especially The Wipers, a major grunge influence. These bands played at The Met (now Dante's) and the Satyricon. Other hardcore bands in the 1980s included Lockjaw, Final Warning, and The Rats. Hole frontwoman Courtney Love spent time in Portland, and was active in the city's punk scene at the time.[7] She initially met Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain at the Satyricon club in 1989.

In the 1990s bands such as Defiance, Bugskull, and Tragedy rose in popularity. An important cult band from Portland was the Exploding Hearts of the early 2000s. Dead Moon developed a cult worldwide following with their garage-country punk, starting from the early 1990s.

Bluegrass and old-time[edit]

Portland is home to a thriving bluegrass and old-time music scene. Popular Portland bands include Foghorn Stringband, and The Water Tower Bucket Boys. Banjo player Tony Furtado, who has branched out from traditional bluegrass music into progressive bluegrass, jazz, and other genres, currently lives in Portland. The Portland Old-Time Music Gathering takes place in mid-January each year, with a variety of Northwest musicians, jamming, and square dancing. This event attracts a more diverse audience than is found at Old-Time events in the rest of the state.

World and world fusion[edit]

Portland is home to a thriving world music and international folk dancing scene[8] including the Al-Andalus Ensemble. West Africa is represented by such groups and artists as Obo Addy (Ghana), Jujuba (Nigerian Afrobeat), and Boka Marimba (Zimbabwe).[citation needed] Eastern Europe and the Middle East has music and dance representation through groups such as Brothers of the Baladi, Vagabond Opera, Krebsic Orkestar & Balkan Fusion Project, The Underscore Orkestra, Balkan And Beyond, Kef, The Mora, Vequinox, 3 Leg Torso and Chervona.[citation needed] Portland also has been the home of Caribbean Latin Music since the late 1970's but most influence by Aquiles Montas since January 1984 to present time, promoting merengue, salsa, cumbia, chachacha, bachata as a leader musician of Ritmo Tropical (1984-1987) and with Conjunto Alegre from 1987 to today.[citation needed][clarification needed]

There are three Argentine Tango ensembles that play frequently at Portland milongas,[clarification needed] the Alex Krebs Tango Quartet, Perola, and the Rita Sabler Quartet.

Indie music[edit]

In recent years, a number of indie music bands from Portland which have played local venues have won recording contracts with promoters such as Partisan Records and Knitting Factory Records and have been touring nationally. These include Emil Amos of Holy Sons,[9] Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside,[10] Ages and Ages,[11] Ash Black Bufflo,[12] Dolorean,[13] and others.

Dance Music[edit]

Portland is also home of the world's first and only all-Asian American dance rock band, The Slants, another independent act who has been made international headlines, both for their public battle with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, as well as their active involvement in the anime industry.[14]

Electronic Dance Music has recently become extremely popular in the past several years. Many amazing producers are coming out of Portland and making an impact on music today. Some of the artists include Hatiras, Forrest Avery, Roman Zawodny, DJ Deformity, and Abrasion Equation.[citation needed] EDM is playing in many clubs and venues downtown, some catering to this genre in specific, such as The Refuge and The Watershed. Some of the current Electronic Dance Music event production crews include Red Cube, anonymous-i, Proper Movement, StarCatchers Events, Speak E-Z Productions, Flair Productions, Gitdown, Greenman Events, and BIZ Entertainment.[citation needed]


Formed in 1984, the Surf Trio was a punk/surf band based in Eugene.[15] Founding members included Ron Kleim on guitar and vocals, Pete Weinburger on guitar and vocals, Dave Myers on bass and Aaron Temple on drums.

The ska-swing-funk band the Cherry Poppin' Daddies were formed from the ashes of Eugene psychedelia band Saint Huck in 1989. The Daddies gained a large Northwest cult following during the early 1990s, conversely attracting harsh criticism from protesters who perceived the band as sexist and obscene. The Daddies rose to mainstream notoriety with the ska and swing revivals of the late 1990s. The group continues to be based in Eugene, along with their side projects, the glam punk outfit White Hot Odyssey and the piano rock trio The Visible Men. The lead singer of the Cherry Poppin' Daddies attended the University of Oregon in Eugene.

Floater was formed in 1993 and made their start playing garage parties and at the University of Oregon. Now residing in Portland,[16] Floater has released eight studio albums, plus three live albums on indie label Elemental Records. They have also received nominations to the preliminary level of the Grammys from NARAS in 1995 under Best Rock Performance for their first album Sink and in 1996 under Best Alternative Performance for their second album Glyph.[17]

As for songs about Eugene, two country stars have weighed in. Dolly Parton wrote a song about Eugene in 1972, which was released in the 4-CD box set Dolly in 2009,[18] with the refrain, "Eugene, Oregon I'll remember you for the rest of my life, I won't forget how good you were to me, No and I won't be forgettin' all the kindness that you show To a homesick country girl a long, long way from Tennessee."[19][20] In addition, Johnny Cash recorded the song "Lumberjack," written by Leon Payne, referring to Eugene Saturday nights: "Well you work in the woods from morning to night, You laugh and sing and you cuss and fight, On Saturday night you go to Eugene, And on a Sunday morning your pockets are clean."[21][22]

In 2015 Sufjan Stevens released Carrie & Lowell, which includes a song entitled "Eugene", as well as "All Of Me Wants All of You", with references to Spencer Butte, a landmark at Eugene's southern edge.[23]


Guitarist John Fahey moved to Salem in 1981 and died there in 2001 at the age of 61. Larry Norman, who some call the "Father of Christian Rock" lived in Salem until his death in early 2008. Native American jazz sax player Jim Pepper was born in Salem in 1941 and lived for two years at Chemawa Indian School, where his mother and father were employed.

Salem and the surrounding cities also have had a large influence on the Portland and Northwest music scenes since the 1990s. The majority of the members of nationally recognized alternative rock bands Blitzen Trapper, Dharma Bums and Typhoon were originally from the Salem area and got their start in the Salem music scene, playing at venues like The Grand Theatre, Jimi's Guitar Planet, The Ike Box, The Governor's Cup, The Knights of Columbus Hall and The Space. Ryan Neighbors, keyboardist of rock band Portugal. The Man is from Salem. Joe Preston, who was the bassist for The Melvins and High on Fire, and now performs solo as Thrones, grew up in Salem.

List of Oregon Musicians[edit]

See List of Oregon musicians for a full list of notable musicians from Oregon.

Songs that reference Oregon[edit]

Over the years, a number of songs have been written about Portland specifically.

According to the New York Times, the dozens of karaoke bars in Portland, Oregon make it not just "the capital of karaoke" in the United States, but "one of the most exciting music scenes in America."[26]

Musical events in Oregon[edit]

  • Oregon Bach Festival
  • Oregon Festival of American Music
  • Britt Festival, outdoor summer music performances in Jacksonville
  • Shanghaied in Astoria is a musical melodrama performed from July–August since 1984 written and performed by local talent
  • The Eugene Celebration
  • The Oregon Country Fair, although not primarily billed as a music festival, has several stages where musicians perform regularly during the three-day event.
  • The Ernest Bloch Music Festival, an annual composers' symposium and showcase for progressive and contemporary music, is held in Newport. Ernest Bloch was a composer who lived in Agate Beach, and has a memorial located in Newport. The festival is regarded country-wide and is a cultural high-point every year for musicians classically or otherwise trained. Traditionally, performers from the Oregon Symphony and other local performance groups attend specifically to play pieces written by the guest composers.
  • Vortex I, a 1970 music festival near Estacada
  • Boombox In Da Boondocks, an EDM festival near Salem, OR that has been running for almost a decade
  • Fire, a long-running electronic dance music festival near Mount Hood
  • Paradiso, a large, high-attendance EDM festival in the Columbia River Gorge featuring many national and international headliners
  • MusicfestNW, a two-day festival on the waterfront in downtown Portland
  • Pickathon is a three-day music festival taking place every August at Pendarvis Farm in Happy Valley

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jarman, Casey (2008-03-26). "Stone By Stone, An Elder Statesman Of NW Moss-Rock Reps Hard, With Or Without You". Willamette Week. Archived from the original on 2009-11-21. Retrieved 2009-06-29.
  2. ^ ""Floater" Rocks the Crystal Ballroom". 2009-04-11. Retrieved 2009-06-29.
  3. ^ Waterhouse, Ben (2009-04-11). "2009 Best of Portland Reader's Poll". Willamette Week. Archived from the original on 2010-07-17. Retrieved 2009-07-23.
  4. ^ "A Southern Gentleman in the Old Northwest: Patterson Hood on Moving to Portland and Being Inescapably Southern". Retrieved 2018-08-10.
  5. ^ Fricke, David (February 7, 2011). "R.E.M. Roar Back With 'Collapse Into Now'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved February 6, 2012.
  6. ^ Morgan Troper (August 8, 2018). "So You Are A Star? Okay". Portland Mercury. pp. 11–13.
  7. ^ Brite, Poppy Z. (1997). Courtney Love: The Real Story. Simon & Schuster. pp. 44–46. ISBN 0-7528-1337-4.
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2017-02-02. Retrieved 2016-10-01.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^ "Grails – "Almost Grew My Hair" (Stereogum Premiere)". NPR / Stereogum. February 16, 2011. Archived from the original on August 22, 2011. Retrieved 2011-04-28. Seasoned Portland instrumental out-rock quartet Grails are set to release their fifth album, Deep Politics. It the first in three years. During the time off, drummer Emil Amos (aka Holy Sons) recorded God Is Good, his first album with his other...
  10. ^ Ryan White (January 7, 2010). "Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside build some buzz". The Oregonian. Retrieved 2011-04-27.
  11. ^ Ryan White (January 2011). "The AgesandAges debut is here, listen to 'No Nostalgia'". The Oregonian. Retrieved 2011-05-08.
  12. ^ Caile Michelle (2011-05-13). "Ash Black Bufflo – Andasol album review". MVRemix Urban. Retrieved 2011-05-13. Ash Black Bufflo (or Jay Clarke) comes from Portland, Oregon
  13. ^ Kelefa Sanneh (November 9, 2003). "PLAYLIST; Elliot Smith's Legacy and Pink's Big Idea". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-05-13. Alex James leads Dolorean, a band based in Portland, Ore., that began recording its beautiful debut album, "Not Exotic," almost two years ago.
  14. ^ "Simon Tam Makes Headlines Internationally • Marylhurst University • Portland, Oregon". Archived from the original on 2015-09-05. Retrieved 2015-10-26.
  15. ^ "Surf Trio Page". Retrieved 2015-10-26.
  16. ^ Jarman, Casey (June 23, 2010). "The Band That Wouldn't Die". Willamette Week. p. 23. Archived from the original on June 26, 2010. Retrieved 2010-06-26.
  17. ^ "Angels in the Flesh and Devils in the Bone". World Drum!. Vol. 2, no. 2. June 1 – July 14, 1998. p. 2.
  18. ^ "Dolly Parton to release 1972 song 'Eugene Oregon'". KVAL News. August 18, 2009. Retrieved August 11, 2014.
  19. ^ "Eugene Oregon". Dolly Parton On-Line. 2014. Retrieved August 11, 2014.
  20. ^ "Dolly Parton - Eugene Oregon". YouTube. April 5, 2010. Retrieved August 11, 2014.
  21. ^ "Johnny Cash Lyrics - Lumberjack Lyrics". MetroLyrics. 2014. Archived from the original on 2016-09-13. Retrieved August 11, 2014.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  22. ^ "Lumberjack - Johnny Cash". YouTube. 2011. Retrieved August 11, 2014.
  23. ^ Wright, Craig. "Emerald Recommends the best albums of 2015". Emerald Media. Retrieved April 24, 2016.
  24. ^ "Wandering Coyote Booted from Airport Hops a Train Instead". The Scoop. February 15, 2002. Archived from the original on July 1, 2007. Retrieved 2007-06-22.
  25. ^ "Wily Coyote Tries to Take a MAX Ride". The Columbian. Associated Press. February 16, 2002. Retrieved 2007-06-22.
  26. ^ How Good Does Karaoke Have to Be to Qualify as Art?, Dan Kois, New York Times, January 17, 2013


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