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Disappearing Portland: R.I.P. The Woods, 2009-2012

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On the day Michael Jackson died in 2009, The Woods opened its doors in the Southeast Portland neighborhood of Sellwood. It was a slightly morbid coincidence: Before being repurposed into a concert venue, the building was home—for close to eight decades—to a funeral parlor. That night, however, in between inaugural sets from the Portland Cello Project and Thao with the Get Down Stay Down, someone decided to put Jackson’s music on over the house speakers. Instantly, recalls co-owner Ritchie Young, people took to the dance floor. It was at that moment, he says, that whatever old ghosts the mortuary might’ve been harboring took off, and he and fellow owners Vivien Lyon and Yoni Shpak knew they had something special.

Alas, truly special things are often ephemeral. Unable to secure an affordable new lease, The Woods held its final show last week, with hundreds of people packing the club to say farewell. It now joins the long list of great, lost Portland music venues, places that will be remembered for years to come by anyone lucky enough to have caught a strikingly intimate concert there—or anyone who won a kitschy prize at its bizarrely popular bingo night.

We spoke to Young—frontman for chamber-folk ensemble Loch Lomond—about how The Woods came into existence, and what he’ll miss most about it.

Portlandia: How did The Woods come into being?

Ritchie Young: One of my business partners, Vivien Lyon, she and I lived as friends together in a church off Division Street. In the ’70s, they cut it up into four different apartments. Ours was in the basement. It was just super cool. [Vivien] was basically a retired lawyer—and when I say retired, I mean she decided she didn’t want to do it anymore. So both of us were super poor, and the place had over 30 years of stuff left beind by people who used to live there. Vivien has an aesthetic eye, and she made [the apartment]—y’know “Harold and Maude”? It was basically Maude’s place. So Vivien and I decided that instead of going and getting catering jobs again or anything like that, we’d try to open a little place to see a show that doesn’t feel like a music venue. I love most music venues in Portland, but that’s their purpose, to be like a box. We wanted to create a place that’s a cross between your eccentric, wealthy grandmother’s place and a music venue.

It took us a while to find a place that felt comfortable, that wasn’t just a box, that we’d have to do extensive work on. When we walked into The Woods, the old funeral home, it was messed up. It had pink carpets, pink walls, no lights. We had to put everything in. But as far as the vibe of it, we just knew we’d found the right place. Our big problem was we had no money. I had $8 in my bank account, I was on unemployment. One of the reasons we actually got to do it is because we signed a shitty lease, and one of the reasons we’re not there anymore is because we signed a shitty lease. It never would’ve happened if it wasn’t because of that bad deal, but it ended up kind of burying us.

The Woods is in the Sellwood neighborhood, which a lot of people in Portland think of almost as not even being part of the city. Was it difficult to book there?

There was a bit of a struggle. When Mississippi Studios opened up and Mississippi wasn’t what it is now—and what it is now is a place to buy a $100 candle—I remember thinking, “No way is anyone going to go up there.” And then I found myself going up there. We had a couple bands at the beginning who’d apologize, saying, “Sorry, we have a draw in Portland but not here.” I’d be like, “But this is Portland.” Up until about a year ago, people were like, “We’re going to another city.” But we’d have Crooked Fingers [play], and people would ride their bikes no matter if it was raining or sunny, all the way from North Portland. I think people got over it. The more bikes stacked up around The Woods, the more I knew people were getting over that idea of “driving to another city” to see a show.

What shows stand out the most for you?

So many. Sean Lennon I loved, because he was so chill, and he stayed afterward and danced with us until 3:30 in the morning. And I’m a huge fan of Crooked Fingers, Dolorean, Pancake Breakcast—a lot of local shows I loved. Joe Boyd and Robyn Hitchcock, that was a super-huge thrill for us. I think the secret shows I liked the best. Bands would want us to announce them the day before, and people would come out of the woodwork. Alela Diane did that, like, three times. Most all my memories are very positive. If people showed up and had fun, whether I thoroughly loved the band or if I wasn’t a huge fan of the music, I still had that tingle of a rush. Kind of like, “Holy shit, we pulled this off, people are here and having fun.”

One of the most popular regular events at The Woods was Monday night bingo. How did that even get started?

We had a really hard time finding anything to have on Monday. People refused to come to the Woods on Monday. We had a little meeting and asked, “What would need to happen for you to drive all the way to, say, St. Johns on a Monday?” It’d have to be theater or comedy or something. So we thought of bingo. We pushed Brian Perez, who lives in the neighborhood and has been a huge friend for a long time, to host. He has one of those personalities where, when he feels awkward, he starts making jokes, and he doesn’t have a filter. He just has a strange personality. We begged him, he said no, but then the first time he did it he freaked out and had a blast. For a while, Monday nights were my night off, and I didn’t want to go all the way to The Woods to hang out for my night off. Then I started hearing from friends that Monday is, like, the best night ever. So I went down and was really impressed by what Brian Perez and everyone working there was doing with that night. Way too many times I ended up going and getting drunk at the Woods on a Monday night.

There was something like 400 people there for the last bingo night.

It was really strange. People were tearing up. I was to keep repeating to myself, “It’s just bingo. It’s a game for people to have something to do on a Monday.” I still haven’t put my finger on what the emotional aspect of it was. Maybe like if one of your favorite TV shows was ending.

What are you going to miss most about the Woods?

The sense of family and solidarity. Everybody there was paid the exact same amount. Me, the door person, the person who swept the floors, we all made the same amount of money. There was no power structure there. When you walked in, it felt like a team of people working together. It almost felt like having a house party with your roommates every night. Like, “I’m tired today, but this is going to be really fun. Ee’re going to make this a really special night.” I think it was that, that challenge of trying as hard as we could to make it special for the people who walked through the doors, to make it special for the performers, and at the end of the night have a beer and talk about how great it was.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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