The Portland Underground: Defining Community

Vortex Music Magazine

In the underground, we define community as word-of-mouth inclusivity in order to create genuine and constructive connections.

Ollie CollinsOllie CollinsCommunity isn’t sitting around a campfire singing “Kumbaya” and patting each other on the back. Community isn’t a Facebook group of strangers one-upping each other with screen-shielded comments and filtered photos. Those are Hallmark cards and manufactured imitations.

In the Portland Underground, we define community as word-of-mouth inclusivity in order to create genuine and constructive connections through events. I admit, these are just fucking words—so let me explain with a real-world example.

I went to one of the best house shows at the Heretic House in North Portland back in December 2016. Local underground promoter Phil Garrison organized several Portland bands and two acts from California for a tour of the Pacific Northwest. Even though the tour had a Facebook event page, that’s not what made the PDX show a hit.

First, Garrison booked the Heretic House not through the internet, but with word-of-mouth persistence. He reached out to the house in-person and it paid off. When the audience walked inside the punk rock house with X-wings strung from the ceiling, wall-to-wall dope artwork (like Jesus flipping the bird), and a homemade bar, they felt that this house had a true community. You can’t book an underground venue like this solely through social media.

Second, Garrison called and texted to invite his Portland friends. Not only did the personal invitations have a better shot at packing the show, it also curated the audience. That’s not to say that everyone knew each other or that it was a super-private show. What Garrison did was construct the fire intentionally by reaching out to people who really wanted to be there. This empowered them to be the kindling that spread the fire to others. Through individual and open invitations, Garrison created an inclusive event.

Most importantly, Garrison and the bands established the event as a friendly environment. In a community, it is the leaders who set the pace. The bands were approachable and also supported one another by watching and dancing to each other’s music. As someone who didn’t know many people there, things like this made me feel comfortable, and I followed suit.

You will not find genuine community in your social media followers or at the hippest new bar. Like Garrison, you will find and build it through persistence, personal invitations and positive energy. It will take more effort, but it will be far more enriching—that’s community.

Ollie Collins is the founder of the theater company Monkey With a Hat On and co-founder of the cannabis farm Fire Flower. Stay tuned for more of his thoughts on The Portland Underground in the next issue of Vortex.

Until then, get back to reading about Portland's incredible music community in the current issue of Vortex and look to connect with it, while schooling yourself, at our next #PDXmusic Biz Panel on creating great audio/visual content at the Doug Fir Lounge on Sunday, April 29—it's free and all ages!

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