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New exhibit hails Oregons King Louies

Museum kicks off 'Oregon Rocks!' with a blast of music
by: Courtesy of The Kingsmen 
Oregon Historical Society celebrates the state’s century-old music scene with a new exhibit, “Oregon Rocks!,” opening Aug. 25 with a rock concert featuring The Kingsmen (above), Pierced Arrows and Ural Thomas.

Those young people with their crazy rock 'n' roll have infiltrated the Oregon Historical Society.

A new exhibit, 'Oregon Rocks!: 100 Years of Popular Music in Oregon,' opens Aug. 25 with a rock concert. The live show features musicians who are also profiled in the exhibit: soul singer Ural Thomas, the Kingsmen, Quasi and Pierced Arrows.

Mayor Sam Adams will speak, along with members of the Portland music community including Tres Shannon, Terry Currier, Paul Knauls and Roger Hart. Jay Martin, performing as DJ HWY 7, will provide an all-Portland soundtrack.

In an unusual collaboration, the Historical Society is working with the Dill Pickle Club to produce the event. The small nonprofit Dill Pickle Club, founded about two years ago, offers local history and civics lessons in the form of lectures, field trips and, sometimes, comic books.

A lecture series on the history of music in Portland put the Dill Pickle Club in touch with a variety of musicians and other members of the local music community. These included Jason Leivian and Ryan Tobias, who were in the early stages of planning the 'Oregon Rocks!' exhibit and were looking for ways to attract a younger audience to Oregon Historical Society.

A live kick-off show was a natural choice. It's going to be quite different from a typical museum opening night, says Marc Moscato, director of the Dill Pickle Club.

'It's not just a rock show, but it's an extremely diverse show,' he says. 'It's never going to happen before or after this event.'

The organizers are adding additional bike parking to the venue, and bringing in a food vendor, Verde Cucina, from the Portland Farmers Market. Other nonprofits will also be present: Ethos Music Center, Into The Woods TV, PDX Pop Now!, Oregon Music Hall of Fame and Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls.

Later in the year, the Northwest Film Center will open a film series in conjunction with the exhibit, and local bands are recording covers of older Portland songs for a compilation to be released in October.

Obscene lyrics?

The exhibit itself runs through January 2012. Its jumping off point is the earliest days of recorded music, leading into a wall-sized presentation on the lively jazz scene that centered around North Williams Avenue in the 1940s.

Among other things, the exhibit is a meditation on what is remembered and what is forgotten. There's video of the emotive blues singer Johnnie Ray, obscure now, although he was a major pop star in 1950s. Nearby, the Kingsmen loom large. Although the sun never sets on 'Louie Louie,' Portlanders tend to take special pride in the FBI's investigation into the song's supposedly obscene lyrics. (As recently as 2005, a middle school band in Michigan was briefly banned from playing it.)

Moving into the '70s and '80s there are concert posters, equipment for putting on light shows, a gold record from Nu Shooz, and many, many guitars. There are a number of serious collectors of Portland music memorabilia, says Tobias. Longtime KBOO DJ Brandon Lieberman, for instance, contributed his collection of concert T-shirts.

The backdrop for displays from the 1990s is a life-size image of the back wall of Satyricon, the long-lived and notorious nightclub that closed last year and was demolished this summer.

As evidence of the enthusiasm the exhibit is generating, curator Tobias mentions that three people, unsolicited, have offered him bricks scavenged from the building site.

In mounting the exhibit, he says, the biggest challenge has been 'there's not enough space.'

He adds, 'We honestly hope this leads to other similar exhibits, either from other folks who are able to collect more stuff than we've been able to collect, or hone in on specific scenes, like the jazz scene.'

So many people in Portland, including a lot of musicians, come from somewhere else and don't have a full grasp on the history, even as they contribute to it.

'Every generation, new kids come to Portland make new music,' Tobias says. 'Putting this together, it became evident that there are through-threads through each period of music… the sound is very much of a piece.'