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Music of Oregon facts for kids

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Woody Guthrie NYWTS
Woody Guthrie wrote several songs about the Northwest under the commission of the Bonneville Power Administration.

The music of Oregon reflects the diverse array of styles present in the music of the United States, from Native American music to the contemporary genres of rock and roll, country, rhythm and blues, jazz, pop, electronic music, and hip hop. However, throughout most of its history, the state has been relatively isolated from the cultural forces shaping American music. Much of modern popular music traces its roots to the emergence in the late 19th century of African American blues and the growth of gospel music in the 1920s. African American musicians borrowed elements of European and Indigenous musics to create new American forms. As Oregon's population was more homogeneous and more white than the United States as a whole, the state did not play a significant role in this history.

The state's main contributions to American popular music began in the 1960s, when The Kingsmen and Paul Revere & the Raiders established Oregon as a minor center of frat rock and garage rock. This led in one direction to the blues rock tradition of the Robert Cray Band and Curtis Salgado, and in another direction to the hardcore punk scene of the early 1980s Pacific Northwest, led by the Wipers in Portland and like-minded bands in Seattle and Vancouver, BC. Over the next twenty years, punk rock evolved into grunge, riot grrrl, alternative rock, and, eventually, indie rock. In the last decade, Oregon has made a unique contribution to American independent music, with a strong indie music scene developing in Portland. The city's reputation as a hipster mecca has paralleled the rise of local indie musicians such as The Decemberists, Gossip, The Dandy Warhols, M. Ward, and the late Elliott Smith. Floater is Portland's leading example of an indie band. They have remained unsigned to a major label for over 20 years and have managed to be voted the best band of Portland for 2009 in addition to frequently selling out major venues like the Crystal Ballroom and the Aladdin Theater. Other prominent musicians have relocated to Portland, including Modest Mouse (of Seattle), Sleater-Kinney (of Olympia, Washington), The Shins (of Albuquerque, New Mexico), Spoon (of Austin, Texas), former Pavement leader Stephen Malkmus (of Stockton, California) and former R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck (of Berkeley, California and Athens, Georgia).

The state also has a unique rural-urban dynamic, which has influenced the development of local bluegrass, folk, and alternative country music. Jam bands have a strong presence in the state, dating back to Grateful Dead performances at the Oregon Country Fair, and outdoor music festivals continue to be popular. Portland's Waterfront Blues Festival is the second largest blues festival in the country. Prominent cultural institutions include the Oregon Bach Festival, Oregon Festival of American Music, Oregon Symphony, and Mt. Hood Jazz Festival.


The Kingsmen, best known for their 1960s rock classic "Louie Louie", were originally from Portland, and Paul Revere & the Raiders gained popularity in Portland after relocating there from Idaho.

Seafood Mama was a 1970s jazz band, with singer Rindy Ross, with a substantial local following that tried for national success as Quarterflash. The band was unable to find much success after its first album.

Portland is also home of the world's first and only all-Asian American dance rock band, The Slants, another independent act who has been made international headlines, both for their public battle with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, as well as their active involvement in the anime industry.

Punk rock

Portland had one of the most vibrant hardcore punk scenes in the early 1980s Pacific Northwest, rivaled only by Seattle and Vancouver. The Wipers and Poison Idea are the best known representatives of the scene, especially The Wipers, a major grunge influence. These bands played at The Met (now Dante's) and the Satyricon. Other hardcore bands in the 1980s included Lockjaw, Final Warning, The Jackals, and The Rats. Hole frontwoman Courtney Love spent time in Portland, and was active in the city's punk scene at the time. She initially met Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain at the Satyricon club in 1989.

In the 1990s bands such as Defiance, Resist, Bugskull, Detestation, and Tragedy rose in popularity. An important cult band from Portland was the Exploding Hearts of the early 2000s. Dead Moon developed a cult worldwide following with their garage-country punk, starting from the early 1990s.

Bluegrass and old-time

Portland is home to a thriving bluegrass and old-time music scene. Popular Portland bands include Foghorn Stringband, and The Water Tower Bucket Boys. Banjo player Tony Furtado, who has branched out from traditional bluegrass music into progressive bluegrass, jazz, and other genres, currently lives in Portland. The Portland Old-Time Music Gathering takes place in mid-January each year, with a variety of Northwest musicians, jamming, and square dancing. This event attracts a more diverse audience than is found at Old-Time events in the rest of the state.

World and world fusion

Portland is home to a thriving world music and international folk dancing scene including the Al-Andalus Ensemble. West Africa is represented by such groups and artists as Obo Addy (Ghana), Jujuba (Nigerian Afrobeat), and Boka Marimba (Zimbabwe). Eastern Europe and the Middle East has music and dance representation through groups such as Brothers of the Baladi, Vagabond Opera, Krebsic Orkestar & Balkan Fusion Project, The Underscore Orkestra, Balkan And Beyond, Kef, The Mora, Vequinox, 3 Leg Torso and Chervona.

There are three Argentine Tango ensembles that play frequently at Portland milongas, the Alex Krebs Tango Quartet, Perola, and the Rita Sabler Quartet.

Indie music

In recent years, a number of indie music bands from Portland which have played local venues have won recording contracts with promoters such as Partisan Records and Knitting Factory Records and have been touring nationally. These include Emil Amos of Holy Sons, Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside, AgesandAges, Ash Black Bufflo, Dolorean, and others.

Electronic Dance Music

Electronic Dance Music has recently become extremely popular in the past several years. Many amazing producers are coming out of Portland and making an impact on music today. Some of the artists include Hatiras, Forrest Avery, Roman Zawodny, DJ Deformaty, and Abrasion Equation. EDM is playing in many clubs and venues downtown, some catering to this genre in specific, such as The Refuge and The Watershed. Some of the current Electronic Dance Music event production crews include Red Cube, anonymous-i, Proper Movement, StarCatchers Events, Speak E-Z Productions, Flair Productions, Gitdown, Greenman Events, and BIZ Entertainment.

Other Portland musicians

  • A Weather
  • Ages and Ages
  • Agalloch
  • Dave Allen, former bassist for the post-punk band Gang of Four and former member of the band Shriekback
  • Alex Arrowsmith
  • Tarik & Julia Banzi
  • American Me
  • Beautiful Eulogy, a folk-influenced experimental hip hop trio
  • Black 'N Blue
  • Blind Pilot
  • Blitzen Trapper
  • Broadway Calls
  • Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer, were a folk duo from Portland
  • Crazy 8s
  • Alela Diane
  • The Dimes
  • Lee Dorsey
  • Dualesc
  • Epoxies
  • Everclear
  • The Exploding Hearts
  • Josh Garrels
  • Glass Candy
  • Grails
  • Grouper
  • Hazel (including Pete Krebs)
  • Collin Hegna of Brian Jonestown Massacre and Federale
  • The Helio Sequence
  • Hillstomp
  • Hockey
  • Horse Feathers
  • The Hudson Brothers
  • I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch in the House
  • It Prevails
  • Gary Jarman of The Cribs
  • The Joggers
  • Kind of Like Spitting
  • Miles Kurosky, formerly of the San Francisco band Beulah
  • Kutless
  • Storm Large, a singer who was a contestant on Rock Star Supernova, currently guest vocalist with Pink Martini
  • Lifesavas
  • Loch Lomond
  • Stephen Malkmus
  • Scott McCaughey, leader of Seattle-based bands The Young Fresh Fellows and The Minus 5
  • MDC, or Millions of Dead Cops, formed in Austin, Texas
  • Menomena
  • The Minders
  • Napalm Beach
  • Neo Boys
  • Nu Shooz had a #1 Hot Dance Club Play chart hit with "I Can't Wait" in 1986
  • Pete Miser
  • Pink Martini
  • Portugal. The Man
  • The Prids
  • The Punk Group
  • Quarterflash
  • Quasi, an indie rock band
  • Ramona Falls
  • Red Fang
  • The Jackals
  • Dan Reed Network
  • Curtis Salgado whose chance encounter with John Belushi in Eugene helped inspire The Blues Brothers
  • The Slants
  • Sons of Day
  • Esperanza Spalding, jazz bassist/singer
  • Stars of Track and Field
  • Tyler Stenson
  • Sweaty Nipples
  • Swords (also known as The Swords Project)
  • Talkdemonic
  • The Taxpayers
  • Theatre of Sheep
  • The Thermals
  • The Upsidedown
  • Laura Veirs
  • Vektroid, also known as Macintosh Plus, among other aliases.
  • Viva Voce, formed in Muscle Shoals, Alabama
  • Christopher Walla, guitarist and producer for the band Death Cab for Cutie
  • Wet Confetti
  • Whip
  • Wild Dogs, featuring current Journey drummer, Deen Castronovo
  • Yacht
  • Yellow Swans


Formed in 1984, the Surf Trio was a punk/surf band based in Eugene. Founding members included Ron Kleim on guitar and vocals, Pete Weinburger on guitar and vocals, Dave Myers on bass and Aaron Temple on drums.

The ska-swing-funk band the Cherry Poppin' Daddies were formed from the ashes of Eugene psychedelia band Saint Huck in 1989. The Daddies gained a large Northwest cult following during the early 1990s, conversely attracting harsh criticism from protesters who perceived the band as sexist and obscene. The Daddies rose to mainstream notoriety with the ska and swing revivals of the late 1990s. The group continues to be based in Eugene, along with their side projects, the glam punk outfit White Hot Odyssey and the piano rock trio The Visible Men.

Floater was formed in 1993 and made their start playing garage parties and at the University of Oregon. Now residing in Portland, Floater has released eight studio albums, plus three live albums on indie label Elemental Records. They have also received nominations to the preliminary level of the Grammys from NARAS in 1995 under Best Rock Performance for their first album Sink and in 1996 under Best Alternative Performance for their second album Glyph.

As for songs about Eugene, two country stars have weighed in. Dolly Parton wrote a song about Eugene in 1972, which was released in the 4-CD box set Dolly in 2009, with the refrain, "Eugene, Oregon I'll remember you for the rest of my life, I won't forget how good you were to me, No and I won't be forgettin' all the kindness that you show To a homesick country girl a long, long way from Tennessee." In addition, Johnny Cash recorded the song "Lumberjack," written by Leon Payne, referring to Eugene Saturday nights: "Well you work in the woods from morning to night, You laugh and sing and you cuss and fight, On Saturday night you go to Eugene, And on a Sunday morning your pockets are clean."

In 2015 Sufjan Stevens released Carrie & Lowell, which includes a song entitled "Eugene", as well as "All Of Me Wants All of You", with references to Spencer Butte, a landmark at Eugene's southern edge.

List of Eugene musicians

  • Adickdid, indie rock
  • Tracy Bonham, singer-songwriter
  • Robert Cray, guitarist, singer
  • Tim Hardin, singer-songwriter
  • Bill Harkleroad (Zoot Horn Rollo when he played guitar for Captain Beefheart)
  • Tom Intondi, folksinger, spent his last years in Eugene
  • Kelly Keagy, drummer for Night Ranger
  • Mat Kearney, singer-songwriter, whose album Just Kids has an anthem to the Oregon Ducks, "Coming Home"
  • Thomas Mapfumo (originally from Zimbabwe)
  • Shawn McDonald, singer-songwriter
  • Dan Siegel, keyboardist and composer
  • This Patch of Sky, instrumental/post-rock band
  • Mason Williams, singer-songwriter
  • Paul Wright, singer-songwriter
  • Yob, doom metal band


Guitarist John Fahey moved to Salem in 1981 and died there in 2001 at the age of 61. Larry Norman, who some call the "Father of Christian Rock" lived in Salem until his death in early 2008. Native American jazz sax player Jim Pepper was born in Salem in 1941 and lived for two years at Chemawa Indian School, where his mother and father were employed.

Salem and the surrounding cities also have had a large influence on the Portland and Northwest music scenes since the 1990s. The majority of the members of nationally recognized alternative rock bands Blitzen Trapper, Dharma Bums and Typhoon were originally from the Salem area and got their start in the Salem music scene, playing at venues like The Grand Theatre, Jimi's Guitar Planet, The Ike Box, The Governor's Cup, The Knights of Columbus Hall and The Space. Ryan Neighbors, keyboardist of rock band Portugal. The Man is from Salem. Joe Preston, who was the bassist for The Melvins and High on Fire, and now performs solo as Thrones, grew up in Salem.

Songs that reference Oregon

  • "April 29 1992" (1996) Sublime
  • "Back to Oregon" (2007) - Broadway Calls
  • "California One Youth and Beauty Brigade" (2002) - The Decemberists; references the Multnomah County Library
  • "City of Roses" (2012) - Esperanza Spalding; refers to her childhood days spent in her hometown and the nickname of Portland, Oregon
  • "City of Roses" (approx 1980) - Seafood Mama/Quarterflash; flipside to "Harden My Heart"
  • "Eugene, Oregon" (2009) - Dolly Parton
  • "Everyone Knows Everyone" (2004) - The Helio Sequence; music video contains scenes throughout Portland
  • "Hot Time" (1987) - Poison Idea, references Old Town
  • "I Will Buy You A New Life" (1997) - Everclear; references Portland's West Hills
  • "Light-Rail Coyote" (2002) - Sleater-Kinney; references the city of Portland and its residents. Title derives from a coyote that boarded a MAX train in 2002.
  • "Night of the Living Rednecks" (1979) - Dead Kennedys
  • "On The Bus Mall" (2005) - The Decemberists; references downtown Portland. The song title refers to the Portland Transit Mall
  • "Paul's Song" (2005) - M. Ward; lyric "every town is all the same/when you've left your heart in the Portland rain"
  • "Portland" (1980s) - The Replacements
  • "Portland" (2013) - Sharks
  • "Portland, Oregon" (2004) - Loretta Lynn and Jack White of The White Stripes
  • "Portland Oregon You're My Home" - (2000s) Carrie Brownstein
  • "Portland Rain" (2006) - Everclear
  • "Portland Song" (2010) - Jewel; first performed live at the Oregon Zoo in 2010
  • "Portland Town to Klamath" (1941) - Woody Guthrie
  • "Portland Water" (?) - Michael Hurley
  • "Portland Woman" (1969) - New Riders of the Purple Sage
  • "Solid" (2000) - The Dandy Warhols; references Old Town
  • "Pride of Cucamonga" (1974) - Grateful Dead

Over the years, a number of songs have been written about Portland specifically.

According to the New York Times, the dozens of karaoke bars in Portland, Oregon make it not just "the capital of karaoke" in the United States, but "one of the most exciting music scenes in America."

Other Oregon musicians

  • Hoyt Axton, a country singer/songwriter lived for many years in Glide
  • Broadway Calls, group from Rainier
  • Meredith Brooks, singer/songwriter and guitarist from Corvallis
  • Falling Up, a Christian rock group from Albany
  • Gary "Chicken" Hirsh, former drummer for Country Joe and the Fish lives in Ashland
  • Neighb'rhood Childr'n, a 1960s psychedelic group originally from the Medford area
  • Mickey Newbury, best known as a country songwriter, lived in Vida
  • Johnnie Ray, singer, best known for his 1952 hit, Cry, born in Hopewell
  • Lewis Southworth, 19th-century fiddle player
  • The W's, a Christian ska/swing group from Corvallis

Musical events in Oregon

  • Oregon Bach Festival
  • Oregon Festival of American Music
  • Britt Festival, outdoor summer music performances in Jacksonville
  • Shanghaied in Astoria is a musical melodrama performed from July–August since 1984 written and performed by local talent
  • The Eugene Celebration
  • The Oregon Country Fair, although not primarily billed as a music festival, has several stages where musicians perform regularly during the three-day event.
  • The Ernest Bloch Music Festival, an annual composers' symposium and showcase for progressive and contemporary music, is held in Newport. Ernest Bloch was a composer who lived in Agate Beach, and has a memorial located in Newport. The festival is regarded country-wide and is a cultural high-point every year for musicians classically or otherwise trained. Traditionally, performers from the Oregon Symphony and other local performance groups attend specifically to play pieces written by the guest composers.
  • Vortex I, a 1970 music festival near Estacada
  • Boombox In Da Boondocks, an EDM festival near Salem, OR that has been running for almost a decade
  • Fire, a long-running electronic dance music festival near Mount Hood
  • Paradiso, a large, high-attendance EDM festival in the Columbia River Gorge featuring many national and international headliners
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