Portland gifts January 20 to The Decemberists

By The Beacon | January 21, 2015 8:33am
The Decemberists performed a free show at City Hall to celebrate Decemberist Day on January 20th.
Photo by Rachel Rippetoe

By Rachel Rippetoe |

There is nothing more Portland than dedicating an entire day to an indie band, except, maybe dedicating a day in January to a band with the word “December” in their name.

But if there is one band deserving of this honor, it’s surely The Decemberists. They planted their roots in Portland, (with no GMOs, of course) and only sang this city’s name in admiration and praise. That remained true even after they blew up and their record, “The King is Dead,” hit the top 100 charts.

And yesterday, after Jan. 20 was officially declared Decemberists Day, they sang at the City Hall for free.

Now, being new to Portland, I had never been to the City Hall. I come from Nashville, where the city hall has a big stretch of lawn in front where free concerts are regularly held. So this is what I’d pictured for this ceremonial performance.

I was therefore confused when I walked into the City Hall and saw clusters of people milling around inside. It took a few minutes of awkward wandering for me to locate the stage at the back of a not-particularly-spacious courtyard in the center of the building. Opposite the stage was a large brass staircase where those who couldn’t fit in the crowded courtyard were crammed.

At first, I thought, “Geez, they couldn’t find a bigger place to do this?” But then I heard the band perform, and I totally got it. The acoustics were incredible.

The ceremony was fairly brief. Mayor Charlie Hales gave a short speech commending The Decemberists for their success while holding on to a distinctly Portland image. Hales then presented the band with a piece of artwork local artists and business had put together in honor of The Decemberists’ work. It hung as the backdrop for the performance and closely resembled a quilt.

The Decemberists played a handful of songs, talking in between them about their early days in Portland. They started the short set with “Make you Better,” their newest hit off of their 2015 album “What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World.” The Hall’s acoustics helped Colin Meloy and Jenny Conlee’s crisp vocals echo throughout the room. And when you threw in cello player Nate Query, it really made for a magical experience.

The band closed out with “Sons and Daughters” off their 2006 album The Crane Wife. At the end of the song, the audience chanted the last line “Here all the bombs fade away.” I find these moments powerful in any concert I go to just because of the sheer volume of space all of our voices can fill.

However, I found this moment particularly amusing and very Portland-esque, as it became clear that I was definitely surrounded by at least four or five musicians. They were all clad in flannels, beanies with beards to match. Their loud, perfectly-pitched voices chanted in harmony through the hall and I thought to myself, “If this isn’t a perfect Portland moment, I don’t know what is.”


Rachel Rippetoe is a reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at rippetoe18@up.edu