Hillsboro has grown into a city with room for everyone and everything to flourish in the past 30 years. We have all seen the rise in the high-tech sectors and all of the creativity and influence that has brought to the world. Winemakers and brewers have found our City to be supportive and a place that they can launch an entire brand with great success. Bakers like Mindy Simmons have found support for their creations- ever so delicious. Baseball? Yep. We now have one of the finest stadiums in the Western USA and not one, but two minor league teams call our town “home”. The Portland State Vikings call Hillsboro home bringing Big Sky college football here. Laika Studios is making blockbuster movies here. Reser’s Fine Foods relocated here. Bag and Baggage Productions and HART Theater and others bring the Hillsboro performing arts to the top of the region. Yes, folks, we have one fine City in so many ways. But I know one area that we have room to improve a whole lot.
My life took me from Hillsboro as a kid to Portland (PSU) in the early 1980s. What I found and fell into was one of the hottest music scenes in the US at the beginning of a run. For 20 years we followed all types of music and going to see live artists was what we did 2 or 3 nights a week. Artists like Tommy Thayer rose from the City. The Beaverton boy with his band Black and Blue shredded things here before heading to California to help form the great American rock band, KISS. Art Alexakis ground it out in Portland as we watched and created Everclear who had a huge impact nationally. Marv and Rindy Ross formed Quarterflash who we saw at least 50 times at live venues around the Rose City on their way to #1. Right on their tail were Valerie Day and Nu Shooz who took their song I Can’t Wait to #1. I got to experience the Punk scene and that was as wild as it comes. The band Hole, led by Courtney Love were among dozens who found Portland the place where they could find a future.
Maybe my true love was the Jazz scene where we followed and met Tom Grant and Michael Alan Harrison and Mel Brown and the great bassist Phil Baker. Singer-Songwriters like Craig Carothers, Gary Ogan, Jack McMahon, John Bunzow, Johnny Koonce captured our attention nightly and became our close friends. And Blues…oh boy the blues of Portland still haunt me. Curtis Salgado, the Lloyd Jones Struggle, Norman Sylvester, and Paul Delay were the gold standards for me but there were dozens of others.
So with that prelude let me say that when I tell you that music can change a City, I mean it.
Now what made the music so great was not just the artists. The artists were always there. What they needed were the venues to showcase their skills and to attract fans like me. At that time entrepreneurs were finding great spaces and older venues where they could open live music hot-spots and bars. From about 1978 to 1988 we saw dozens of clubs open. On any given night in greater Portland, one could find 40 to 50 places to go watch music. Willamette Week and other music guides had pages of ads for clubs with bands of every style and sound. The music scene grew and grew and at one point Portland was known for being the place to come see great music in the West. No joke- it became a huge industry, money maker, and revenue source for all involved. All of the artists I mentioned above were playing 3 to 7 nights a week. All of them became the best in their field and many are still playing today. The time and the City collided with the artists and the clubs and it was beautiful. It was incredible.
Flash forward 40 years: This music junkie needs a fix and in Hillsboro these days that is super tough. The facts are there are few if any places I can go and enjoy live music on the Westside of Portland. Even before COVID hit the live music scene here was anemic and it has been that way for a long time . The shining star for me the past 5 years has been Pizzario where our long-time (30 year) friend and musician, Mike Soto, has provided a space for musicians and live music to exist in Hillsboro. No surprise Mike spent many a night with me and my crew back in those Portland days. Mike gets it…he knows the value of music to his business, to the artists, and to the City. He has started something here and while other music venues have closed in the past 18 months (Influence Music Hall & Clarks Bistro) he has kept the flame alive. Other venues should be paying attention.
Sunday was the end of a BRUTAL week in real estate (my day job) and it was singer-songwriter night at Pizzario. As the evening progressed I got to see 4 acts and loved each of them for their unique talents. Not just rookies either but some great potential stars. As the final act took the stage I was reminded of the great potential in all of this- the potential for a true start to rise, which is the dream of course for them all. Elijah Blake Vanecek, commonly called Elijah around Hillsboro, sat down and tuned up his guitar. Having seen him before I knew he was good- but on this night I found that he is truly great and maybe his star is rising in the North sky.
Elijah apologized for his voice being rough as he had played a concert the night before at the 18 23 Mystery Bar, which is a relatively new venue over near the Home Depot on TV Highway. Apparently he and his band, The Lower Falls, sold out a 100 ticket show and it had been a draining but incredible night. Tired of not he sat down there in front of about 10 of us and he poured out his heart and soul. His voice was gravelly and soulful, powerful and emotional. He played 5 songs and after a few bars, I knew I had to film him to catch what he was doing. From Dylan to Alice in Chains, he laid it down. As the night ended I reflected on what I had heard and I thought of the musicians listed above that I had heard in similar rooms. I thought of the success they have had and the venues they played and it was clear. Elijah is the proof that Hillsboro is ready to be a music town. He is one of many talented artists we have here. Pizzario has a thriving business with great food and staff. It is no coincidence that the music has been a part of their successes. I know what comes next and what can happen; what will happen. More venues and more music equal more success for all. This is the win-win folks and maybe Music will be the cherry on the top for a city that has built the best-looking Sunday in the region.
Watch him here, Kids:
Catching Up with Elijah-
HH: Elijah, how long have you been into music, and what is your musical history so far?
Elijah: I’ve been into music for as long as I can really remember. Music has been the single saving grace in my life. From sitting in the car with my dad or mom or grandmother at a very young age in the backseat music has always touched my soul. I’ve been playing since about 8 or 9 though. I started on drums and moved onto guitar and bass and piano and singing as time went on. I was always infatuated with rock n roll, the feeling, the style, the “punch in the face “type music. It always spoke to me and helped give me a voice. Lately though, In the last few years, blues, country, and folk have made their way in. The stories and soul of it are undeniable and really help me hone my sound and really have taught me to tell stories with “the gift” I have been given.
HH: That is quite a journey. Where in Hillsboro have you been able to find support and a place to perform?
Elijah: Downtown Hillsboro has been a huge support for my music. Especially Influence Music Hall. Everyone there was so true to the passion of music and honest and engaged. It changed my life. That and when Matt was there at Clark’s, that place got me into performing live. And lately, it’s been Pizzario, the unlimited support there quite literally blows my dang mind!
HH: Ok, tell me the state of the Hillsboro music scene. Clark’s and Influence are gone now. Do we need more venues?
Elijah: I feel like music needs to be at every restaurant and bar. There are always hungry musicians. That being said, Pizzario has been HUGE in keeping culture and music, and art alive in downtown Hillsboro. There does need to be more. I remember a time when I had a place to play literally 7 days a week and I’d only travel 4 blocks every night. Music is needed. Especially now.
HH: Are there a lot of artists trying to rise up having trouble finding opportunities to shine?Elijah: There are so many wonderful artists in Hillsboro. I am overcome with joy when I think of how many musicians there are around town. And every one of them is GOOD, and not just subpar, really GOOD.HH: Elijah your a special talent and we expect great things ahead. We can not wait to see you again!Elijah: Thank you- I look forward to that!
Slowly forgive my lie, lying to save me
Could she love me again or will she hate me?
Probably not, I know why, can’t explain me
I think it’s gonna rain
When I die
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