By Daniel Borgen, PQ Monthly
Our city certainly has and knows its fair share of music festivals; local publications routinely list the many gatherings here and around the Northwest. One conspicuous omission, though, is this year’s second annual Queer Music Festival, slated for July 22.
Founder and principal organizer Samuel Thomas — known most recently for his valiant efforts to revitalize nightlife on Stark Street — sits inside The Commodore on SW Morrison, seemingly reveling in his relative underdog status.
While discussing last year’s inaugural edition — which was wildly successful by all accounts — Thomas remains unfazed by any more mainstream shuns, and instead focuses on the road ahead. This year: more venues, two headliners (Imperial Teen and Sacha Sacket), dozens of other acts (including local darlings Magic Mouth, Jeau Breedlove, and Mattachine Social) — hours of music in total, a full day overflowing with bands.
Corralling talent into a cohesive whole — not to mention orchestrating a schedule — seems like a daunting task, but Thomas exudes nothing but a calm demeanor. He waxes a bit nostalgic when asked how it all came together.
“It actually came to be quite suddenly last year. I woke up after attending a concert and I thought about people in the LGBTQ community and how we really didn’t have a dedicated music festival for them,” he recalls. “Portland should be the epicenter of LGBTQ musical talent and innovation; our voices shouldn’t have to struggle to be heard. Because of my experience in the music industry and with music festivals, I felt like I could contribute something, so I called up some friends and said, ‘Let’s do this.’”
Then there is, of course, the talent-gathering portion of the process, which now happens months in advance. After securing headliners Imperial Teen and Sacha Sacket, Thomas went about assembling this year’s lineup.
“I opened up the application process and received over 80 artists from around North America that were interested,” he says. “I had to narrow it down to acts that were touring, were local, and those that really showcased LGBTQ music. I tried for a broad spectrum of styles and sounds and believe I have a winning collection of artists this year.”
Anyone who partook in last year’s revelries knows it’s one of the most attended events outside Pride, though Thomas hesitates classifying it a definite second place.
“I don’t have numbers from the other events, so I wouldn’t feel comfortable comparing them,” he says. “But yeah, we definitely drew a crowd.” He estimates over 600 people came through the doors last summer. (That’s a lot of fans.)
Portland’s Queer Music Festival is one of the only of its kind in the world, according to Thomas. “There are a lot of music and arts festivals, but it’s rare to find one that is dedicated to promoting and presenting only music,” he said. “I am also incredibly proud of our community. Last year we assembled over 30 acts on two stages with only three months of planning. That’s pretty incredible. I can’t wait to see how we come together this year.”
Red Cap Garage played host last year, but the festival’s size and scope called for significant expansion. Thomas cited the need for a more music-oriented, professional (music-wise) setting, and — above all else — extra room.
“Red Cap was awesome last year, but we decided to go with Someday Lounge and Backspace because that would afford us two great venues and the ability to have an all-ages stage — which we felt was really important for the community.”
And, ever eyeing growth and opportunity, Thomas doesn’t shy away from big dreams. “I just want it bigger and better,” he says. “I want people to walk away saying, ‘Wow, that was awesome,’ and I want them to come back next year. I also want to be able to bring bigger bands. Having Scissor Sisters or Gossip or Rufus Wainwright — or all three — could be a really fantastic experience.”
In just under a year and a half, Portland can now boast a queer music-fest with multiple venues, a long, ever-growing list of performers, and hundreds of attendees. At the very least, it adds to an ever-growing list of reasons why Portland — and Thomas himself —warrants any praise headed this way.
PQ is a proud media sponsor of this year’s event — and is Portland Queer Music Festival’s official LGBTQ publication. Tickets are $12 in advance, $15 at the door; not too shabby for a day filled with music. Watch for more online and much more in our next edition. You can find details — along with the list of acts and ticket information — on Facebook. Search: Portland Queer Music Festival 2012.