By Arya Imig
When one music festival merges with another, it’s easy to assume that some capitulation to acknowledging vulnerabilities has been made by one side or another. Regardless of the circumstances which led to the merger of MusicFest Northwest and Project Pabst, the results of the lineup and attendance prove that greatness recognizing greatness pays off. The elements that have made the festivals successful separately over the last few years, especially since MFNW moved to a single site day time model, were on display in stereo Saturday at Tom McCall Waterfront Park.
There’s more to a successful feeling atmosphere at a music festival than just capacity crowds though. The crowds are there for a reason, and on Saturday that reason was a line up headlined by two 80s spawned legends of their respective genres. When Duran Duran singer Simon Le Bon shouted “How fucking great was Ice Cube?!”, this was greatness recognizing greatness, too. Duran Duran and Ice Cube both exhibited a contagious, awe-inspiring swagger over the course of their sets, fully amplifying the ways in which they’ve earned their status as role models to multiple generations of music lovers.
Ice Cube brought on old friends MC Ren and DJ Yella, resulting in Maybe the only time someone in a Lakers jersey, let alone a Kobe Bryant one, has being cheered to any degree in Portland. Ren and Yella were great additions to a set that by the time they showed up had already solidified the evidence that Cube’s success in every media he’s touched has been a result of his inherent charisma, and sheer determination to succeed. Between the Straight Outta Compton film and their, sorry Gene Simmons, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it’s been a helluva few years for N.W.A. The kids from L.A. earned every opportunity along the way, helping to create and then perfect their strain of gangster rap.
Cube’s set had been preceded by a dynamic raucous performance by legends in the making Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats. Rateliff is a Colorado-based singer who has come to more national prominence over the last few years and his presence Saturday was worth the hype. Rateliff and band traffic in the deepest roots of American music, cross pollinating soul, and rock. It’s a hybrid once perfected by Ireland’s Van Morrison, and Rateliff proves a worthy successor to the mantle. With his red beard flowing in the wind with every move, Rateliff and his six piece band, including organ and horn players, transported their audience to the Sunday morning grit of a southern dirt floor church. The group’s self titled debut album was recorded in Cottage Grove which no doubt speaks to the strength of the inspiration that the atmosphere of the northwest can provide. It’s worth noting also that one can represent or reflect the spirit of the NW without the requisite of having a 9 in front of their zip code.
It’s hard to come down from the endorphins that flow when you clearly enjoy the opportunity to be in the presence of great performances, but there’s always a couple things that can bring you right back down to earth. For all the strengths the festival showed this year, one major area worth addressing for next year is in any way expanding the ways in which the audience can exit the festival. The masses seemed understanding and chipper as they made their mass exodus, perhaps more seasoned than some in the ebb and flow of a festival’s cycles. It probably didn’t hurt that many of them had just seen one of the best sets of their music viewing experience.
The legendary prowess of British 80s dance pop powerhouse Duran Duran was on full display over the course of their set, as they brought the throbbing beats of the Euro dance floor to our scenic natural beauty. All the hits and the group’s new material fit together seamlessly. Duran Duran have remained relevant to newer generations through collaborations with The Dandy Warhols and, in the same way that past Project Pabst headliner Tears For Fears were introduced to a new era, their presence on the soundtrack to Donnie Darko.
Aside from the infectious groove of their music, one non musical highlight that stood out was Le Bon giving a great stump speech about staying calm and carrying on, dedicating the next song they played to those who trafficked in love and music. In a way, what really made the moment perfect was that the sermon was delivered in circumstances created by people dedicated to those same values, in a setting designed with their fellow music obsessives every need in mind. Greatness recognizes greatness.