Like the surrealist bluegrass set that you can’t find on YouTube, the Portland Underground is word of mouth.
Underground performances fly under the radar not to be exclusive, but to build intentional, long-lasting communities. This makes them hard to find; however, the underground is free and leaderless, so anyone can start their own event. That’s right Johnnies and Sallies, grab your shovels, ’cause the best way to find the Portland Underground is to dig it yourself!
First off, the underground isn’t just warehouse ragers and super-cool basement shows—at least it doesn’t always start that way. Your grand, recurring event can begin as anything. Most underground gatherings originate as a creative version of charades and organically grow from there.
Got a dinner party? Get a couple buddies to play live music and boom! Now it’s the start of a monthly music series. Hanging with friends in the park? Everyone share a story about the time they almost died and now it’s a weekly storytelling showcase.
The underground event you host isn’t just about entertainment. It’s about empowering each other to have genuine experiences instead of manufactured fun at productions put on by businessmen. Your activity needs to be comfortable, jump-start conversations and foster new friendships. Your show’s goal is to build community.
Include as many performers as you can. This not only encourages variety, but people take more pride in the experience when it’s theirs. And they invite their friends. So the more people involved, the more potent the audience.
Send personal invitations. Even though it takes more time, individual invites are far more considered and respected than a Facebook blast. Social media poorly imitates inclusivity, while direct connections are genuine. The underground’s objective is to facilitate relationships, not just pack basements—it’s deliberate quality over diluted quantity.
Invite strangers and those you normally don’t talk to. Portlanders bitch about a lack of diversity but far too often fail to go beyond their own bubble. This is your chance to include people who don’t look, talk or act like you. Take off the cool and jump in the pool.
It’s not easy to create an underground event. It takes courage to throw yourself out there. It takes time to invite intentionally. It takes effort to build community. But once you see inspiration on someone else’s face and feel it on yours, you’ll forget your blisters and keep on digging.
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.