Three hours, eight streetcars, and one all-Portland downtown music festival (photos, video)

boy and beanMusic fans packed the Portland Streetcar all night Monday as eight local acts boarded separate streetcars for a rolling music festival across downtown.

Led by Portland members of the New RailVolutionaries, a national organization of young transit professionals, organizers said they hope the 2011 Streetcar Mobile Music Fest will be the beginning of a new local tradition.

"Events like this are what make Portland Portland," said Michele Gardner, 61, a North Portland resident who drove downtown to see the show. "They should do this more often."

Art Pearce, a program manager for the City of Portland, called the event "Sunday Parkways for transit." It was the brainchild earlier this year of RailVolutionary Todd Borkowitz and led by volunteers. Each musical group took home $150; organizer Lauren Joyner said continuing the program would require money for event promotion and compensation for the artists.

I headed downtown after work and caught five of the eight acts, popping on and off cars by foot and bike; photos and a short video below.

"I was swinging around like a monkey," said Seth Webber, right, of five-piece bluegrass act Left Coast Country, just after getting off their circuit of downtown. "It was more fun than I’ve had at least the last week or so."

left coast country

As another streetcar started its run across 6th Avenue toward the Park Blocks, a volunteer organizer announced "the talented Sara Jackson-Holman," who proceeded to sing her soul out over a toy piano.

"It’s about 50 keys shorter than I usually play," said Jackson-Holman, just before launching into a plinking, improvisational take on "Hallelujah." "Your faith was strong but you needed proof…"

Sara Jackson-Holman

The next car back, Laurent Nickel of Whiskeygoat was intensely into his cello:

laurent nickel

Guitarist Leif Anderson was the only member in the group Sons of Good Fathers who could make Monday’s gig, but he gamely ran through a quiet acoustic set. When one possibly tipsy listener called for Eric Clapton, Anderson apologized but jumped for a Beatles tune, "Blackbird."

When in doubt, always play the Beatles.

Anderson’s proceeds from the night will go toward the Portland chapter of teen mentorship group Minds Matter.

Sons of Good Fathers

My own favorite act of the night was the last to scoop the loop: be-bopping swing/jazz trio Boy and Bean. That’s Andrew James struggling to keep his bass upright, with Amber and Luke Short leaning close at the old-time microphone:

boy and bean 2

After we got off the last streetcar around 9 p.m., Pearce (who was on board) talked Boy and Bean into one last tune for the crowd that had followed, performed beneath the Urban Center balcony. Here’s most of their encore:

It was a great, unpredictable evening of local music and public-transit serendipity, and I have to hope this is one of those weird Portland ideas that keeps rolling.

Update: for more photos, plus audio by a trained professional, check out local journalist Bill Lascher’s new installment of "Along for the Ride," his ongoing series about riding public transportation in Portland.

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