KEXP at the Doug Fir in Portland
photo by Kim Ervin
written by Kim Ervin
Itâ€™s day one at the Musicfest NW broadcast and I must admit that Iâ€™m feeling less than confident knowing that Iâ€™m competing with Dave Allen of Gang of Four and Pampelmoose fame for the Portland broadcast blog honors. In order to have an edge (or, more accurately, to let the music guy critique the music), I going to try to come at it from a â€œgetting to know our listenersâ€ perspective since a) I really enjoy our listeners and their opinions on music and b) I work in the membership department at KEXP, so listeners and donors are who I love the most.
But Iâ€™m getting ahead of myself. You see, dear reader, everyone who is working at the broadcast at the Doug Fir today (Cheryl, Kevin, their assistants, Timie, and a few volunteers who signed up to help) drove down last night, missing traffic and the early morning wake-up call, or they were already in Portland because they live here. They awoke refreshed and ready to brave the day. But not I â€“ I faced the early wake up call head on (John, I want no guff because 6am is early – seriously) and hit the road. Along the way, I saw 5 victims of the road (1 deer, 1 raccoon, 3 squirrels, and 1 unidentifiable), listened to 5 great CDs (Sunset Rubdown, Wet Confetti, Ghost Stories, Justice, Menomena), drank 2 Redbulls, and passed 3 houses on semiâ€™s. Who knew that a journey 3 hours south could be such a visually engaging drive?
Upon arrival, I walked bleary-eyed, passed the Justin Timberlake bus (he may actually be staying in our hotel and for all you celebrity news junkies Iâ€™ll keep my eyes peeled), and headed down into the depths of the Doug Fir.
First off, I found it to be one of the nicest venues Iâ€™ve ever been in, with its cabin-like woodwork mixed with spectacular lighting and tons of tables with seats. If you consider yourself a live-music fan, you should definitely try to catch a show at the Doug Fir. Iâ€™m already planning my next trip.
Secondly, I discovered that you need a ton of gear to make a remote broadcast happen â€“ way more than I ever realized. Now, as I mentioned earlier, I work in the Membership Department — in other words, Iâ€™m not super-tech savvy and I like talking with people — so things with buttons and knobs, although fun because of the mystery factor, are just that: a complete mystery. I have no idea what any of it does. Plus, Iâ€™ve never had the pleasure of attending a remote broadcast, so this was first opportunity to â€œlook behind the curtain.â€
Kevin Suggs and the KEXP crew
photo by Adam Bagerski
Hereâ€™s a quick rundown of the gear for those who are interested. Thereâ€™s the remote kit (made possible by a generous donation from our good friend Annie Wilson â€“ yay Annie!), which houses the board for the DJs, the mics, CD players, etc., basically everything DJs need to do their job. Then thereâ€™s the board that is used to â€œmixâ€ the live performance. My very basic understanding is that producing a solid â€œradio mixâ€ is different than the normal sound you might hear at a club, so thatâ€™s why we have our uber-talented engineer Kevin Suggs along for the trip. While the sound is piped into the Green Room to a board, Kevin expertly twists and turns knobs so that you in radio-land hear beautiful music. But poor Kevin faces a great challenge: he canâ€™t actually see the bands and their individual instruments from where he stands. Instead, he makes his best guess of which instrument or person needs their guitar turned up or their vocals turned down. Itâ€™s kind of like heâ€™s driving in the dark. But still, he pulls it out and weaves all the sounds together seamlessly. Also, since weâ€™re lucky enough to welcome 30 or so listeners into these exclusive performances, we must have sound for the rest of venue. For that, we have a sound tech adjusting levels for the house simultaneously. All this is going on while Cheryl and Kevin are picking songs, taking your requests, and talking with our team of people in Seattle. And to be fair, these are just my observations, so Iâ€™m probably missing a few crucial components. Needless to say, Iâ€™ve been getting schooled in the ways of the remote broadcast.
Everyone who attended day one was friendly, excited, and anxious to learn more about the KEXP. There have been many donors who have made the trek out, including a couple who are on vacation in Portland from Massachusetts. They heard John talking about the broadcast this morning and ran right over to catch the last few songs from The Prids. Awesome. Plus, there have been a lot of attendees who have never heard of KEXP, but loved the band that was performing. Iâ€™d like to hope we got a few KEXP converts.
All the bands sounded incredible and were all very kind â€“ The Prids and The High Violets, two hometown heroes, and Aesop Rock, a hip-hop genious whoâ€™s about to blow up. Day 2 is sure to be a blast with latest buzz band The Brunettes, The Helio Sequence (Ben is my favorite drummer to watch, ever) and The Thermals, whose energy is sure to make everyone pogo around the floor.
photos by Kim Ervin
If you canâ€™t make it to the broadcast during the day, be sure to come say â€œhelloâ€ and join KEXP DJ’s and staff on Friday night from 6PM to 8PM in the Doug Fir Lounge as we throw back a few drinks to celebrate our Portland broadcast. No need to RSVP, just come on down anytime between 6pm and 8pm, grab a drink and join us (we are reserving the “fireplace room”). The Doug Fir is located at the corner of East Burnside and 9th Ave (830 E Burnside). Sorry, 21 and over only. I look forward to seeing some of you there!