For almost 30 years, Laurelthirst Public House has been building a sense of community centered around folk, bluegrass and Americana music in Portland. It’s got the spotlight in this month’s Know Your Venue feature.
Black Water is more than just a bar on a strange corner in the Lloyd District, it’s Portland’s underground music resource center. Owner Keith Testerman named the venture after a favorite early ‘80s track by Japanese band Execute (NOT the military company). It started as an underground label and distribution center and later became Black Water Records on NE Morrison, where you can find old Hawkwind vinyl and a number of records off of the Black Water label. Black Water Records also houses a screen printing studio for shirts and show posters, as well as a recording studio, where guitar blasts might escape while perusing the inventory. Most recently, the second location on Broadway was secured to open a bar, restaurant and live music venue.
The doors are also open to provide a community space for various causes to use for fundraisers, gatherings and other events. “There aren’t a lot of spaces that don’t charge a lot, and there isn’t a lot of money involved with what we do, so we try to provide a space for causes that need one” says Testerman.
“There is a huge scene in Portland, probably one of the biggest underground punk scenes in the world.” he says, citing that this is one of the few all-ages venues in Portland. There are a lot of shows going on here, but event links are hard to come by ahead of time.
“Since it’s such a big scene we do it old school. When you go to the record store you see the flyers instead of checking a website.” says co-owner Alex Carraccio, who used to write underground music blog PDX Subvert. Of course, keeping everything word-of-mouth is not entirely intentional. “We’re just really spread thin on time,” she laughs.
Many nights find Testerman in the soundbooth and Corraccio behind the bar. The sound set-up apparently started with a basement amp, but it doesn’t sound like it’s in a basement anymore. They are humbly building upon what they have.
Everything is a grassroots approach, and there’s a homey feeling as everyone gathers in front of the stage or fills the back seating to enjoy the 100% vegan menu, which is full of delicious burgers, hot “wings,” cashew based sauces and vegan cupcakes (there’s also vegan brunch). When asked about the correlation between punk, metal and goth music communities and veganism, they says it’s about ethics. “Most people are involved in this scene for ethical reasons to begin with. Animal rights, human rights, the environment,” says Carraccio, “so there are scary songs about nice things.”
Spring and summer usually bring international tours to join the local punk/metal/hardcore/dark bands that play the Black Water stage. April shows include local bands Rubble and Impulse Control, Portland/International band Red Dawns (The Observers), Primer Regimen from Bogata, Columbia and French band The Lullies. Early May brings Contrast Attitude from Japan and UK’s anarcho-punk legends Antisect.