Last year, Portland alternative radio station 94.7 FM switched from their annual Pet Aid fest to something a little bigger. Booking the large lot next to OMSI, the Birthday Bash was introduced, kicking off with a one-day festival starring Of Monsters and Men, Cake, Matt and Kim and many others—see photos from last year.
The reception of the fest varied. Many people complained about the choice of venue, stating a gravel pit was too hot, too crowded and not comfortable enough to house the crowd the lineup brought in. Some fans longed for the good old days of Pet Aid, which the year prior had brought a smaller lineup to the Sellwood Riverfront Park for a mere $12. However, others praised the Birthday Bash, complimenting the lineup and the whole of the experience rather than the details that turned off the others. A year later, it seems that 94.7 sided with those who embraced the new format, and the second annual Birthday Bash took place on August 13 and 14.
Temperatures in the mid-to-high 90s probably isn’t the ideal forecast for a music festival in a gravel pit, so using the same venue for the second year raised a few eyebrows. The price had the same effect: Compared to Pet Aid’s $12, the almost $120 for a general admission ticket seemed steep. But with that price came a larger, two-day format that stacked in even more bands, sporting headliners like The Dandy Warhols on day one, AWOLNATION on day two and support from bands such as KONGOS, Young the Giant and Robert DeLong.
While Sunday called for a manageable 85 degrees, Saturday’s forecast was projected to be nearly 100. Coupling this with the heat of the gravel and the thousands of bodies in attendance, a human roaster oven seemed to be the only possible outcome. Though this may have been true, 94.7 came prepared. The radio station brought in three things that made all the difference: a misting tent, two large LED screens and—most importantly—free water. These alone made this year's Birthday Bash a step up from last year.
The Saturday kicked off with a recent opener for Twenty One Pilots, Chef’Special. The Danish group has found a larger following since their recent slot on the Emotional Roadshow tour, and it was easy to tell what struck members of Twenty One Pilots’ clique. Mixing elements of pop, rock and hip-hop, Chef’Special delivered a 30-minute set that quickly became one of my favorites of the day. It was a perfect kickoff to the weekend and took a while to be topped.
Two sets later came Big Data. Alan Wilkis has stopped in Portland numerous times since last year’s December to Remember show, and it seems to get better every time. The project’s energy and robotic dance moves, coupled with the creativity of the computer-generated show simulation, all comes together perfectly, whether at the Crystal Ballroom or in a large festival space.
Though The Dandy Warhols may have been the day’s headliner, everyone was there for Young the Giant. Riding the wave of their new album's release just the day before, Sameer Gadhia and his band kicked off their hour-long set with “Jungle Youth,” a standout track on their latest, Home of the Strange—watch the video below.
As the band played through songs spanning all three of their albums, fans jumped, danced and sang along to their old favorites, as well as the new favorites they had spent all of the previous day learning. Just as the last time the California outfit played Portland, Gadhia impressed with his energy and smooth vocals, as well as his fashion sense—dazzling with a sparkling jacket that complemented the sunset.
As Young the Giant closed their set, the sun went down and the temperature dropped to a comfortable place in the 70s. The crowd dispersed and it seemed as if half in attendance dipped out before the headlining set from The Dandy Warhols.
Veteran performers, the Portland-based group closed out the night with a long set of songs showcasing their career. It was a nice closer, albeit with a little less energy than Young the Giant before them, but a good set to wind down to while preparing for day two.
The crowd was significantly larger on the second day. And it was no surprise, seeing as the lineup was, in my and many others’ opinions, superior. With Coleman Hell, Robert DeLong, KONGOS and AWOLNATION, there was a lot to look forward to.
As the crowd continued to shuffle in, the day kicked off with Coleman Hell. His song “2 Heads” gets regular play on 94.7, but the Birthday Bash marked his first show in our city. He didn’t disappoint, packing a ton of energy, humor and great music into his short set.
The Strumbellas, whose music brings to mind bands like The Lumineers and Mumford & Sons, were up next. Their music was full of great road trip vibes, but maybe not a wallop of energy in a live setting. However, the six-piece Canadian band brought a great performance to the 94.7 stage, gaining praise from much of the crowd.
Their set was followed by Kaleo, an Icelandic band who are no stranger to Portland, previously opening up for Vance Joy a couple years back as well as their own show earlier this year at Revolution Hall. While Kaleo may not have had the energy of either of the first two acts, lead singer Jökull Júlíusson’s smokey vocals captivated the entire audience.
Though The Strumbellas and Kaleo both delivered remarkable sets in their own ways, I was still struck by Coleman Hell’s performance—and then Lucius took the stage. Lucius brought a life and performance to the stage that matched no other, serenading with beautiful harmonies, pop hooks and colorful outfits. Playing most of their 45-minute set off their new record, Good Grief, the five-piece held the attention of the entire crowd and kept everyone moving.
Robert DeLong, a Birthday Bash veteran, took the next slot, giving his all on his high-production electronic set, despite some technical difficulties. DeLong seemed to be one of the most anticipated of the day for the crowd, with many attendees wearing his signature face paint and sporting Robert DeLong shirts.
Then the energy just kept building as KONGOS launched into their hour-long set, drawing in a huge crowd of fans who sang along to almost every song. The heat was sweltering, but in the moment, it didn’t seem to make a difference. Everyone was there for the music, and nothing was gonna stop the crowd from having the time of their lives.
Unlike the day prior, the whole of the crowd stayed for the night’s headlining set from AWOLNATION. With drinks in their system and the energetic rage that has become a signature for any AWOL show spilling out into the gravel lot that night, devotees of all ages made for the pit by the stage, moshing and singing and screaming and dancing as lead singer Aaron Bruno and the band delivered another outstanding set, closing 94.7’s birthday festivities with a bang.
Despite the 90-plus-degree weather, 94.7 pulled off an amazing weekend. With more bands and more places to stay cool and hydrated, their 21st Birthday Bash greatly surpassed last year’s event. Whether the station continues with this format next year or goes back to the beloved Pet Aid (doubtful), there’s one thing that will remain true: Our radio station throws one hell of a party.