If you’re a fan of live music and have been to any show in Portland over the past two decades, there’s a good chance that at least one started with Mike Thrasher Presents.
Thrasher began his career booking shows at Portland's former rock venue EJ's in the 1990s. That career quickly progressed, with the founding of his eponymous music promotion company Mike Thrasher Presents in 1994. In 2005, he stepped in as the owner of Portland's Hawthorne Theatre.
Through the years, Thrasher became a ubiquitous name in the local music scene. His work included drawing up-and-coming national acts to Portland before it was considered a definite tour stop and providing performance opportunities to musicians in genres like punk, metal and hip-hop that other local venues weren’t as likely to book. Through his stewardship of the Hawthorne Theatre, he built one of Oregon’s most prominent all-ages show spaces, providing access to younger musicians and music fans alike.
André Middleton knew Thrasher since the early days at EJ's. He's the executive director of Friends of Noise, a nonprofit focused on advocating for all-ages music and art spaces. Middleton spoke with OPB's "All Things Considered" about Thrasher's work and legacy and their friendship.
On Thrasher’s Work Drawing National Artists To Portland
“He just put his arm to the grindstone and he just hustled. … Mike really knew how to open up doors for up-and-coming artists, and I think a lot of the national artists really respected his ability to create lineups that were not only going to draw people, but draw music lovers in particular. … I’d imagine a lot of people who don’t even live in Portland who don’t realize the impact that Mike had on their careers, because they were able to come through and have Portland be one of the stops. Not just going to Seattle or not just going to the Bay Area. It’s important for Oregon overall to be seen as part of that music ecosystem that is drawing talent from across the country, if not across the world."
On Creating Space For Musicians In Genres Like Punk, Metal And Hip-Hop
“While there may have been some restrictions for larger clubs to having a punk show or having a hip-hop show due to maybe insurance, or stereotypes, or misperception of the risk, I think Mike was willing to take over spaces and create space for people because he knew that it was more important to create a music scene, to create a vibe that was inclusive beyond racial lines, beyond what was acceptable, beyond what was palatable.”
Thrasher’s Impact On All-Ages Access To Live Music Through The Hawthorne Theatre
“I think the fact that he was willing to rent that space cheaply to up-and-coming artists was incredible. There’s a young woman named Empress … she was booked as part of a lineup of artists that were all local, that were all kids, but they needed a space. And I know that he gave it to them at a great price, so that they could pack the room and really experience what it’s like to not play in a basement, not to play with egg crates on the walls, but to play in a big room with real lights, on a real stage. That kind of generosity, that kind of investment in the scene, I think, is paying off dividends not just now but far into the future.”
On Middleton’s Personal Memories Of Thrasher
“I met Mike because I knew his housemate Jeff Cooper, and I was going through a spell of homelessness. And Jeff opened up his home to me. … Mike was the homeowner, and Mike was warm, engaging and welcoming. I can’t tell you how many times I think about me being this African American kid from Brooklyn, New York, who really found a home in Portland, due to the level of generosity that I met from a lot of people, including Mike Thrasher. … To come to Portland and be welcomed into spaces like EJ’s meant the world to me. I don’t doubt that it changed the course of my life.”
On Thrasher’s Legacy
“He epitomized and was an incredible example of what the Portland music scene not only could be, but really, really was. He was a pillar, a pillar, and it’s hard to believe he’s no longer here. I’m thrilled to hear that the Hawthorne Theatre will continue. … I look forward to seeing kids line around the block to see a show. That’s not something you see in Portland a lot, because there aren’t a lot of spaces like that. He was a model of a businessperson that could make an all-ages event space thrive, and I hope to follow in your footsteps.”