Portland has always had soul. But for seven years, a music festival in the heart of Rose City has brought in acts that reflect a collective spirit while at the same time showcasing the uniqueness of Portland’s landscape.
The Soul’d Out Music Festival (April 13-17), taking place at several venues around Portland, will feature legends such has George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, Bonnie Raitt and Bunny Wailer. It will also introduce scores of people to lesser known acts such as Dr. Dre protege Anderson .Paak, soul maestro BJ The Chicago Kid, dance starter Thomas Jack and more.
But what is soul music?
If you ask Soul’d Out co-founder Nicholas Harris, soul music is any kind of music that connects with you, has intention behind it and has a message.
That was the skeleton and framework that molded the festival when him and co-founder Haytham Abdulhadi decided to not just talk about the music they wanted to see in Portland, but make it happen.
OPB sat down with Harris for a conversation on the 2016 version of the festival, the music industry and exactly what the hell actually happens at a George Clinton show.
Q&A with Soul’d Out Co-Founder Nicholas Harris
David Stuckey: Does Portland need soul music or does soul music need Portland?
Nicholas Harris: Both. We started doing this because we felt something was not happening, that something was missing. And that’s why we wanted to do this type of music. But at the same time, Portland does have a lot of soul. It has a lot of history. There’s something special about the Pacific Northwest and Cascadia. It’s very unique and has an interesting mix of people. We’ve been fortunate enough to bring some different elements to that and help expand the conversion a bit.
DS: It’s Jazz Appreciation Month, and to me Kendrick Lamar’s latest album was a jazz album. It reintroduced jazz to a lot of (younger) people. So as someone who has been around the music business and seen countless shows, what was your feeling about Taylor Swift winning Album of the Year over him, although his album was so important to moving culture forward?
NH: I don’t want to say I’m jaded, but at this point in the music industry, when it comes to awards, it reflects more the values of the people giving out the awards than the values of the people listening to the music.
Surprised? Absolutely not. It’s more a signal of where the industry is and not the listeners or the art.
DS: George Clinton is coming to Soul’d Out … so for the person who has never seen Parliament before, what will they experience?
NH: Well, it’s unique every time. There’s going to be a huge amount of people on stage. There’s going to be a lot of different instruments being played and a lot of people making a lot of noise. And it’s going to be really funky, and really fun. Especially at the Crystal Ballroom, it fills up really nice and it’s a diverse crowd for Portland and you can feel it.
When you have a certain energy in the room like that … he’s (Clinton) consistently brought it for several decades. You were speaking of Kendrick Lamar, they just had a track to come out recently.
DS: How does the environment, the crowd, the energy, differ from other festivals held in Portland?
NH: Well, it’s a city wide event, so there’s no big field. It’s a bunch of different venues so you’re going to be out … you’re going to get some food each night, you’re going to meet up with different people, go to different shows, go to different venues. That was the idea: it’s a showcase of Portland and what we have here.
As far as the music, we hear a lot from people, “Thank you for bringing this music.” So there’s a hunger for this and people recognize we’re staying true to our concept and people are responding well to it and are excited about it.
DS: Is there an up and coming artist that’s coming to Soul’d Out that in two or three years is going to be a household name?
NH: Anderson .Paak is No. 1. I think he’s incredible. I can’t stop listening to his album. The kid is tremendously talented and from what I’ve seen out of him, it seems he has a really good head on his shoulders. He’s got a lot of potential and I think he’s going to be huge.
Also, BJ The Chicago Kid … he’s opening that show. And we just confirmed Jay Electronica later that night at Dantes, so BJ The Chicago Kid is going to come across the street and open for Jay Electronica.
DS: Same night?
NH: Same night. And that’s the idea. That’s why it has a festival feel even though it’s in an urban setting. It’s like, how do you create those unique experiences where you have people in the same room that wouldn’t be in the same room otherwise.
DS: OK, what is a show that will require people to dance and a show that will require people to think?
NH: Thomas Jack is probably the dance show of the year. He has this tropical house sound. He’s a major up-and-coming DJ … he’s got his own sound and he’s from Australia. That will be a dance show.
To make you think … I might have to go Anderson .Paak again. I think he’s talking about real stuff and he’s smart. I think there’s a different kind of energy about his show. It’s going to be inspiring. Bonnie Raitt, too. I think the blues is something that always tells a great part of the American story.
DS: Which show will have the most style (fashion wise)?
NH: I think the Sharon Jones and Trombone Shorty. I think when you have a mix of New York soul and New Orleans soul with Shorty … (yeah).
DS: Is there an act that you tried to get for Soul’d Out but it didn’t work out?
NH: It’s (sic) been a few, there’s a few every year. You know, Phife Dawg just passed and Merle Haggard just died. We lose these people every year. This year we’re doing an Allen Toussaint tribute, legendary New Orleans musician. We had Guru Jazzmatazz coming our first year, we had it confirmed … we were three or four weeks out and he passed away. Merle Haggard this year, we had him coming this year.
DS: As someone that promotes shows for a living, what’s your dream booking, any year, artists dead or alive can be on the bill, what’s your show?
NH: Wow. Wow. I think honestly … I would have Stevie Wonder ‘75, open for Bob Marley, ‘78. And maybe have Erykah Badu DJ. I think I have to have a DJ in there too. Something like that. I’d go see that show.