Portland's Folk Festival: Those Willows, Worth, Fox and Bones, Haley Johnsen, Hammerhead and more at White Eagle on Jan. 20, 2018

As the sold-out Portland's Folk Festival wound down on Saturday night, couples cozied up on bar stools and fans held out their phones to capture the last echoing harmonies of local band Those Willows, Blaine Heinonen, of the band Pretty Gritty, passed by me, leaned in and whispered, “This is what a dream sounds like.”

The inaugural Portland's Folk Festival was dreamlike. Held at the White Eagle, the festival featured artists including the aforementioned Those Willows and Pretty Gritty, as well as Worth, Haley Johnsen, Elke Robitaille, Hannah Haas, Hammerhead, Benji Burgess, and Bend's Onward, etc.

“You never know what you’re going to get with a first-time festival; you especially don’t expect those early slots to be playing to a full room, but from beginning to end the place was filled with people,” tells local music podcast host Dan Cable.

Indeed, from the moment the festival began the crowd was a bustle of attentive, appreciative listeners. The crowd thronged the stage and piled into tables until the intimate venue was brimming with people, and at points, some hopeful last-minute listeners were even turned away at the door. It was eight hours of celebration and revelry, punctuated by moments of quiet awe.

But what stuck with me most afterward was that moment at the end—how deeply Heinonen felt and appreciated the craft of his fellow musicians. He wasn’t alone. The camaraderie that had been built among the musicians and audience was palpable and purposeful.

Festival founders Sarah Vitort and Scott Gilmore of the band Fox and Bones say, “We wanted it to be more than your average music festival, where each act stands alone. Our vision was for the audience to be able to feel the camaraderie and the love that exists in the folk sector [and in] Portland’s music scene. We wanted the support we all have for each other to be tangible and we wanted the audience to feel like they were a part of it.”

Singer-songwriter Haley Johnson recalls looking around and realizing “how many people had flooded into the venue and were actively engaged in each and every artist’s set. I could see that they were truly being heard and appreciated. That’s the sort of crowd and atmosphere that every musician dreams of.”

It is just this coming together of place and people that has the potential to set the tone for the scene beyond that night. McMenamins booker Alex Wideman notes that it “was a great opportunity for the White Eagle to present an idea that was brought to us by an artist with a vision for an amazing event.”

As Portland grows, the music scene seems to be on the cusp of finding a new stride. With growth comes change, and now Portland’s musicians and fans have the opportunity to forge their music community together across genres. One of my biggest takeaways from the festival was seeing how the support and excitement the musicians had for each other flowed into the audience, creating a memorable experience for all involved. Can it be replicated?

“It’s in creating a community,” Vitort notes, “and after [that] night, we know it’s a formula that works.” Kelsey Greco

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