September 8, 2008

‘What If?’ Turns into a Happening This Weekend


At its root was the kind of conversation all friends have. It's a dreamy "What if," a full-on bull session that is as fun as it is intense.

"What if we could create a new venue for live music in Portland?"

"Wouldn't it be great if we had a place for all the scattered crafters, artists and other wizards to not only meet but show and sell their work?"

For many of us, that's where the conversation ends, sometimes bitterly. But for the people behind the Picnic music and arts festival this weekend, it was just the beginning.

That "if" became a "how," and Saturday the festival will be an official happening at Lincoln Park in downtown Portland.

The Picnic festival is a mix of a block party, garage sale and craft fair. More than 70 local artists and crafters will be selling their work, ranging from T-shirts and photography to homemade jewelry and bags.

If that weren't enough, they'll also have vinyl record peddlers, vintage and antique pushers and the kind of art that can only be found in a city with as many struggling artists (and art students) as Portland.

The festival will feature live music from beginning to end, starting at 11 a.m., including local acts like Confusatron, Huak, Honey Clouds, Dead End Armory and The Rattlesnakes.

There are a lot of rings in this circus, and considering it came from a simple "what-if" session, it's an accomplishment.

But it came into being not just because of hard work - there's been plenty of that - but because even the craziest, most unbelievable or just plain weird brain candy sessions always have a hint of truth in them.

For as many clubs and bars Portland has, there's still a void in where bands can play.

Even with artist co-ops and online business, Portland can still be a tough place to start a small business, let alone sell individual work.

Noah DeFilippis, who owns local design studio Pinecone+ Chickadee with his wife, Amy Teh, said the idea was to just have a place for bands to play.

He envisioned something like generator shows, where bands bring their instruments, speakers and a power source and just do a show where they can.

"Instead of whining about not having good alternative venues to play, we wanted to create one," said Sean Wilkinson, an organizer. Wilkinson is art director for The Bollard and drummer for the band Honey Clouds.

"It just seemed like the kind of thing that really fits Portland and the music and art scene here."

Wilkinson said bands know the benefits of being part of a community. It comes with the job, he said, and "being forced, by the nature of shows, to play together with other bands. We experience how inspiring collaboration can be."

In giving Picnic life, Teh said they realized it's not just that people want locally made products, but they also want to know the people behind them.

Teh and DeFilippis are no stranger to the craft circuit, having been in fairs in New York City and Boston.

DeFilippis said he was initially skeptical of fairs, having too many bad flashbacks from the craft shows his dad took him to as a kid.

Teh said they also knew that indie fairs represent something different in the craft world. You're not going to find tea cozies or ornaments made from pine cones.

What does that mean? You could find silk-screen tees, vintage dresses, or notebooks made from recycled magazines. And there's almost always an X-factor, Teh said.

"I generally end up buying things I'm not necessarily looking for, but things that stand out and I'll say 'Wow, I have to have that,' " she said.

Diane Toepfer, designer and owner of Ferdinand, a store on Munjoy Hill, said Portland has a community of crafters that is largely unknown to the public and each other.

Thanks to Web sites like, an e-commerce site specifically for handmade goods, people have carved out their own world.

Toepfer, another organizer of the festival, said Picnic will be a chance for crafters to really introduce who they are, what they make and what they're all about.

"I've noticed that people are really upping their game (for the festival)," Toepfer said.

Staff Writer Justin Ellis can be contacted at 791-6380. See his blog at:

Originally published by By JUSTIN ELLIS STAFF WRITER.

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