If you're not tapped into Portland's music scene, you should be. Twelve years ago, the PDX Pop Now! music festival grew out of a listserv for Portland musicians—and it has been growing ever since. This year's event featured some of the best locally-based indie bands of national (or global) renown, from Blouse to Barra Brown Quintet to Alameda.
At 23 years old, Christine Rutan is perhaps an unlikely president of the board for such a significant music event. But that doesn't mean she lacks experience; she has been volunteering with the festival for eight years.
We caught up with Christine to talk about about music, her career . . . and the time she had a Hanson brothers séance.
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself—where did you grow up? Have you always loved music?
I grew up in the suburbs of Portland. I’ve always loved music and I played the saxophone in school bands for a while, but I definitely wasn’t aware of the local music scene until I was in high school. The first CD I ever bought was by the Spice Girls and I tried to contact the Hanson brothers in a séance in first grade. (I didn’t really understand the concept of séances.)
How did you discover the PDX Pop Now! festival? What made you want to be a part of it?
I was 15 and had just heard about the Decemberists, and I was trying to see if there were any other cool bands in Portland. I found the festival’s website and saw that they were looking for volunteers, so I signed up. I was really worried that they would ask me to leave when they saw me, because I hadn’t told the volunteer coordinator how old I was, but everyone I met—board members, other volunteers, artists—were really nice. I didn’t feel weird or unwelcome, which was a pretty novel experience for me at that age. The festival is a really fun event, so I kept coming back.
You started as a volunteer when you were 15, and now you’re the board president. How did that happen? What's your favorite part of the job?
My first volunteer role was to stand in the parking lot and tell bands not to park on one side of the lot. I’ve helped out at every festival since then, but I also started taking on other volunteer roles, like voting on songs for the compilation, sitting on the booking committee to choose artists for the festival, or helping the development director put together grant materials. Right after I finished college, the organization was restructured and one of the board members asked if I wanted to join as the administrative director, and I jumped at the chance. My favorite thing about the role is that I get to hear about every department’s work and how they’re working through challenges. It’s been an incredibly educational experience.
Does PDX only allow Portland-based musicians to play? How do you find the musicians that perform there?
Our organization’s mission is to promote our city’s talent, so we only feature Portland musicians. We have a booking committee of 10 to 15 volunteers who meet for about six months to research and discuss current artists, and that process starts with everyone listing every band they know of in a giant spreadsheet. With the booking committee made up of venue bookers, musicians, promoters, music writers and music nerds, the list of bands to consider gets pretty long. Anyone who contacts us is also added to that list, and each of those artists are listened to and voted on.
What makes Portland different than other cities?
I haven’t lived in a lot of places, but it seems like Portland is unique in a few ways: It has a thriving music scene, a community that actively volunteers, and a lot of beautiful people.
Do you consider yourself a feminist? What does that mean to you?
I consider myself a feminist, but I’m definitely still in the process of figuring out exactly what that means and how to be a good one.
Do you have any advice for other young women in the festival/music industry?
If it’s what you love, go for it!
Do you have any time for yourself? What do you do in your spare time?
I watch a lot of comedy specials, try to make time to read novels, and take my dog for long walks.
If there was an apocalypse and you could only bring five albums into the bunker, what would they be?
Kate Bush – Hounds of Love
YACHT – Disco Worship Mixtape
Cyndi Lauper – She’s So Unusual
Destroyer – Kaputt
Neal Morgan – In the Yard
If you had a megaphone and the whole world was listening, what would you say in one sentence?
Realistically, I would be passed out from anxiety in that scenario. I hate public speaking!
Photos by Jose Velazco