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Columns > John Zinkand - Improvise

Published: 2006/06/22
by John Zinkand

Mississippi Studios: Jewel of the Pacific Northwest

Ironically, I caught a concert at Mississippi Studios here in Portland last week. This was an ironic turn of events because, just last month, I wrote my piece for about the positive and negative qualities of various live music venues in my beloved home town. There were good points, bad points, and all points in between. Some venues ranked high on my list while others scored dismally low. The one thing that changed drastically after visiting Mississippi Studios last Wednesday night was my favorite live music venue in this fair city. Mississippi Studios now holds that esteemed title far and above all others (sorry Fez and Goodfoot). This is the best little venue ever. Im sure some readers might be scratching their hairy heads thinking that your humble narrator must be an inexperienced dolt. Admittedly, there are cool little venues sprinkled vigorously all over this great nation we call the United States of America. How could the very best small venue in the country be located in an obscure North Portland neighborhood? Friends, let me be the first to answer that I have no freaking idea. It just is. Maybe its because there are some kind, uber-cool, music-lovin people living in this kick ass city (would seem to make sense, right?). My frame of reference is pretty good, too. Ive been to small live music venues in quite a few cities including Boston, Providence, Worcester, New Haven, Hartford, New York, Denver, Aspen, San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland. This place is really unbelievable. The only negative is the size. This is an intimate venue/recording studio. The maximum capacity of 75 makes Mississippi Studios an extremely intimate place to take in a live music performance. Usually one will find acoustic music being played here, so it is also hard to consider it a jamband venue, per se. But folks were friendly and the vibe is high here. It feels like someones home. How fortunate that I randomly discovered this little gem of a venue last week. I had been perusing some message boards and someone mentioned the band Blu Sirkut. They described it as Karl Densons Tiny Universe without Karl, which sounded interesting. While the band was made up of most of the guys from the Tiny Universe, the style of music they played was very different. There was a trumpet, but there were also synths, effects, samples, and electronic drums. It was a grooving sort of cosmic electro-jazz music. There was also a small screen with various changing images and light swirling about to the music. Palpable energy filled the small room as the band thumped through tune after tune. If you like to dance to trancey jazz, check these guys out. Im glad I happened to see their mention on a message board or I would have missed them and never stumbled upon Mississippi Studios. First of all, its a called Mississippi Studios for a reason. Its not just a venue, its a recording studio, too. They also host small gatherings for meetings, parties, and weddings here. I was following my directions faithfully and was closing in on the venue, when I noticed I was in a very hip little area. Having never been in this section of town before, I was pleasantly surprised by the cool little shops and restaurants. After parking my car, I walked down the street to the venue. The woman at the door was bedecked in a brightly colored, hand woven coat. The large room behind her was empty, but looked like a bar/restaurant that had closed or was just about to open (its a restaurant and bar specializing in gourmet comfort food opening June 20th). It was a long room with a bar on the side that will easily hold many tables will be a great place to serve food and beverages. Understandably, I was bit puzzled to see a large empty room where I was expecting some sort of music studio venue. The woman smiled, took my money, then told me that I should go to the back of the room and turn left at the red lights to get to where I wanted to go.

The red lights were actually colored candles located on a patio behind the long empty room. At this point, I began to realize that I had just stumbled upon a very special little spot. The back porch was double in size. On one side, there was a large fireplace, strange metallic art, little nooks and crannies with funky seating, outdoor heat lamps, grassy areas, and plants all around. On the other side was a large wooden deck with an awning over it. There were a few heat lamps, an old fashioned gas pump, plants, and candles here. A projector cast images up on the awning that changed from time to time – a very nice touch. Just behind this patio was a small seating table with an umbrella next to an old fashioned, bullet type, camper trailer. The trailer was parked neatly in the back yard and folks could go in and lounge in the comfortable seating inside. Everyone seemed as awed by their surroundings as I was, which makes me think we were a bunch of first timers. Its hard to describe just how beautiful, cozy, and funky the outdoor area is here.

The music venue is actually in the building next to the one with the entrance from the street. You walk out the back door and across to the patio (the one with the awning) beside the house next door to get to the music venue. The door to the venue is at the top of a small flight of stairs. It feels like a home. Its a warmly painted, nicely decorated, living room type of a place that also happens to have a bar that serves wine and beer. Just beyond the bar is the soundboard and a small upstairs area with some stools and whatnot. At the front of the room, down a short flight of stairs, is where the band played. There are many thick carpets strewn about, a few stools, a small performance space, and nice lighting. The sound is great, too. Calling this venue intimate is an understatement. We danced literally right next to the band. It kind of feels like you are seeing a show in your rich friends nicely finished basement.

To top it all off, the staff I interacted with were all very pleasant individuals. The vibe was good, people were happy, and the patrons had a great time. Everyone in attendance seemed genuinely surprised with the excellence of the venue they were checking out. There are not many venues in Portland that offer indoor and outdoor areas rain or shine, a laid back staff, great sound, funky, unique dr, and such a homey feeling. Ive been telling friends about this new found venue ever since. I dont know the music of a single person or band that is scheduled to play here in the coming weeks, but I will definitely be back very soon anyway. This is a premier, top notch venue for a very small band to play.

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