When you’re grooving on the concert lawn at McMenamins’ Edgefield with 4,999 other happy souls, it’s easy to believe that this company, known for its historic and quirky hotel properties, knows a thing or two about music.
But take a look at their music calendar, and it really starts to sink in. This company best known for historic building renovations and a strong tradition of craft beer, wine and spirits is deeply rooted in local music culture. “The company has many layers and levels, and music is one of those key pieces. It is the fabric of the company,” says music director Jimi Biron (his official title is Minister of Fun).
Evidence for this musical passion can be readily found: free music every night at McMenamins’ hotels; a year-round music residency at Al’s Den in the basement of the Crystal Hotel; an annual music tour of the Pacific Northwest; the Crystal Ballroom, where everyone from the Grateful Dead to Black Eyed Peas has taken the stage; and then there’s Edgefield, hosting live music from June through September with recent headliners like Willie Nelson, Michael Franti and Pink Martini.
And it’s not all superstars; the McMenamins philosophy, Biron says, is also about supporting new and local musicians. “We want to be able to work with artists we believe in and help them cultivate their careers, and as they grow they grow with us,” he says.
Newer musicians might start out at the White Eagle Saloon & Hotel, a bar with a long history of rock ’n’ roll (including early Robert Cray and ZZ Top). The North Portland venue offers free music nights, evenings with multiple bands and Monday nights as options for musicians in their early days. “White Eagle is where we get to know these bands,” Biron says.
Those that show promise might get invited to be part of the annual Great Northwest Music Tour, which runs April through November, featuring a single act each month touring every McMenamins music venue in Washington and Oregon. The Avett Brothers, a folk rock band that now routinely sells out at Edgefield, has been chosen for that tour, along with singer-song writer Langhorne Slim, alt-rock band Deer Tick and country music star Elizabeth Cook.
And bigger isn’t always better; Biron points to the Edgefield Winery, which has a seating capacity of about 40 and nightly free music with established artists like Pete Krebs, a founding member of the band Hazel and contemporary of the likes of Elliott Smith and Nirvana. “He is an example of the tried and true Portland troubadour,” Biron says.
In addition to all the great musical energy, there’s the rest of it — one-of-a kind hotel properties like Grand Lodge in Forest Grove, Old St. Francis School in Bend and Hotel Oregon in McMinnville. And there’s craft beer, wine and spirits available at all hotels and restaurants. There’s tasty, locally sourced food at restaurants like The Black Rabbit Restaurant & Bar and The Ironwork Grill. There’s even a McMenamins Passport program that rewards people for visiting the different McMenamins locations and participating in venue-specific activities — which gives you one more excuse to visit a soaking pool, play a round a golf or attend a brewfest. And when you’ve finished up and paid the tab, follow the music down the hall to see who is playing tonight at the McMenamins closest to you.