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A one-man hit machine

Local promoter and musician Bart Hafeman runs a pop music cover empire from a basement studio in Scappoose


Blink and you’ll miss it, but in a strip mall along Highway 30, tucked underneath a nondescript real estate office, there’s a cover band conglomerate.

Longtime Scappoose resident Bart Hafeman has roots in the community, both metaphoric and physical. His grandfather founded the real estate offices and small group of commercial buildings now known as Hafeman Plaza, and which would later be divided between Hafeman’s father, uncle and aunt.

Hafeman, a youthful 43-year-old jack-of-all-trades musician, recently established a large recording studio beneath the Windermere real estate office that’s now on-site. From upstairs, he runs admin duties, overseeing his own small empire of successful cover bands, each modeled to suit a different musical genre or theme.

His company sports a no-nonsense slogan: “Bartholomew Productions: For all your musical needs.”

It all started nearly 12 years ago, with Hit Machine. After playing in a disco-focused tribute band, Hafeman discovered he wanted to branch out. Now, the five-member group transitions effortlessly between Prince, the Bee Gees and AC/DC.

Hit Machine has become a staple of metro-area festivals, including Tualatin’s yearly Crawfish Festival and Hood-to-Coast celebrations, offering up a catalog of more than 200 well known pop hits, catered to each specific event. By now they’re industry pros, often playing holiday parties for the likes of Sony, Nike or Intel — exciting gigs which keep the musicians on their toes.

“There was a stipulation when we got hired by Intel. They wanted us to play at least one song by LMAFO,” Hafeman recalls, laughing at the rather off-beat selection of a niche electronic hip hop duo. “Intel wanted to party. We went ahead and we did it, and we played for their company for three nights in a row.”

Not content to perform with and manage one cover band, Hafeman branched out to offer a more movement-oriented experience with sister band Dance Machine. “Sister band” is, in fact, an apt description, since the quintet is led by frontwoman Ione Chaco. Their genre? Anything from the 1970s on with a danceable beat — after all, Chaco is a former dancer for the Portland Trail Blazers.

Hafeman doesn’t neglect the influence of hair bands, either. His group Metal Machine is available to pay tribute to metal hits on request. If, however, the occasion calls for a little less KISS and a bit more of The Cure, yet another group — Nu Wave Machine — can deliver some serious ’80s nostalgia.

Musically, Hafeman has his bases covered. What’s impressive is that there’s a lot of band member crossover.

“The total members in the company are around 30 or 35,” Hafeman says, “so that I’m in charge of the different bands, the different personnel. I’m kind of the staple in [each] group.”

In part, it makes bookings easier. Hafeman knows he can guarantee the exact band a customer wants — with an average of three musicians to step in to a given position in every band, he knows he rarely has to turn a gig down.

That means the musicians Hafeman works with are not only technically talented, but know the moves as well. That’s right: Each Machine band comes to the stage ready to perform synchronized dance moves.

For Hafeman, who’s lived in Scappoose since the second grade, it’s been a natural path to mix music and ingenuity.

Now the father of four, Hafeman started piano lessons at the age of 7, took up drums in music class at Otto H.H. Petersen Elementary School, moved on to acoustic guitar and, after graduating from Scappoose High, threw himself into the study of music at Portland State University — for about 13 days, he says, until the dry theoretical side of his program, coupled with PSU’s terrible parking situation, left him underwhelmed.

Within the next year he married his wife, Thea, an accomplished photographer, and began recording solo albums from a home studio.

With a homespun franchise of bands and a customized studio space, Hafeman has accomplished the unlikely: making money doing what he loves, and balancing work with family.

While Hafeman has several gigs to look forward to, Hit Machine’s performance at the Jantzen Beach Red Lion on Dec. 21 seems especially poignant. The theme is the Mayan “End of the World” party.

“If it’s the end of the world, at least I’ll go down doing what I love to do,” Hafeman jokes.

For more information, visit bartpro.com.