By: Susan Dusse
Nestled in close proximity to a few other prominent venues, Portland’s Ash Street Saloon might be known (even proudly) as a “dive bar,” but to us…it has been our own personal living room.
Hosting all genres of music (and art), you could roll up to the doors on pretty much any day of the week and there would be some form of entertainment going on.
I personally remember the first time I stepped foot into the Ash Street Saloon: I walked in to get something to eat after a show at another venue, and there were people hanging from the ceiling! It was a free form, suspension show. I had never seen anything like it! I knew at that point, this was somewhere that I would frequent. The staff was friendly, and I liked the casual and eclectic vibe.
The Ash Street Saloon has a vast history of hosting local bands before they made it big. In this company includes: Red Fang, The Decemberists, and 36 Crazyfists, just to name a few. Any punk, rock, or metal band who wanted to get their start and play live, could play there if they wanted. Welcoming all genres of music, Ash Street Saloon remained consistent. From the organized, talented, and no-nonsense sound engineer Heather, to the doorman turned booking agent Barret…from the old posters that line the ceiling of concerts past, to the voluminous amounts of PBR served…. from the fairly priced pub food, to the rare outside courtyard, Ash Street Saloon became a place for new bands to get their start, for friends to meet, and for music to be enjoyed.
Closing its doors forever on December 31, 2017 (technically at 1:00 AM January 1, 2018), Ash Street Saloon will certainly be missed.
We sat down with Barret Stole of Ash Street Saloon and asked him a few questions about his experience:
MIRP: What was your favorite thing was about working at Ash Street Saloon?
Barret: My favorite thing about working at Ash Street has been the people. I'm probably a little burnt out at this point admittedly but when I think about all of the people I have had occasion to meet, play with, befriend, work with, get high with, and get to know, it boggles my mind. Every type of person, every shape or color, every age bracket and every talent level. Sometimes all in the same weekend. Being here and doing these things constantly has been an experience that you just can't invent. I don't know if I could have held a booking position anywhere else that I would have felt more philosophically aligned with in regard to being inclusive, open-minded, DIY, and still sell shitloads of beer (which, lest we forget, is the engine of a bar's economic model).”
MIRP: What will you miss the most?
Barret: What I will miss most about Ash Street are the frequent moments when I was able to witness music and performances that took me out of the reality I was in and formed memories that are as embedded as any I have had since childhood. Didn't need to be drunk or high for a lot of those, either. Moments when I was lost in the performance and overwhelmed by experience, both when I was on stage and when friends were and when complete strangers were. I have a continuous loop of low lights, a garden of smells, ringing in my ears in perpetuity. I will miss adding to that.
MIRP: What was the best show you handled?
Barret: Ehhh, that's hard to say. It was always a collaborative effort, so I would have to say the best ones were when the collaborative process worked the most smoothly. Various shows, whether hip hop or punk or metal, had aspects that could have gone awry, and it was a pleasure to have big shows come off without a hitch. The history of Ash Street was built on collaborative relationships; once we established good working relationships with bands, promoters, agents, etc., there was a lot of loyalty and a lot of trust. I remember when I started booking, I was given a rundown of bands, promoters, etc., that I was to continue working with, who were people who would do what they said, when they said they would do it. That kind of continuity built this place, and I was fortunate to be one person in a long line of contributors.
MIRP: What was the worst show you ever handled?
Barret: The worst show I handled was probably one of my own, when I drank too much and acted like an asshole, ha ha ha. I don't remember. Nothing specific comes to mind, but I remember random shows when I just showed up with my own life problems on my mind and didn't handle dealing with people as well or as smartly as I coulda/shoulda. I remember a few rueful moments when I had let myself think "oh, all's good, good show" and then something fucked up happened, like a fight or some kind of dispute about money. Important lesson--the most bullshit happens at the end of the night.
MIRP: Can another venue recapture what made Ash Street so special?
Barret: Yes and no. Yes, because what has made Ash Street special are the people in this community, in addition to the way the club had a give-and-take with the musical community that was fair and inclusive. You don't need anything special to recreate that, as long as you don't act like a prick and be a straight shooter with your community. But on another level, no, it can't be recreated. Simply because the club was already anachronistic in the last decade or so anyway. Look at everyone else that has closed up or moved or been moved out or just went bust. 7 day a week calendars, $5 shows, 90% of the bands are local, mixed genres. That used to be the regular way of things in this town, but that has all changed. I don't say that bitterly, either. Shit, things change, always have, always will. I don't believe that economic model can survive. Remember, we also had Oregon lottery in the back--make no mistake, that shit helps pay the bills. Can a new economic model fit a location and have ownership and staff that perpetuate that same kind of feel? I honestly do not know the answer to that question.
Always a welcoming place for us at MIRP to host a benefit show void of any red tape, and always a welcoming “yes,” if there was availability, we at MIRP will personally miss Heather, Barret, and the staff at Ash Street.
We took a moment to talk with others in the music community about one of our favorite venues being forced to close its doors.
Ya know, the best thing I can say about the Ash is; The venue never gave a shit about cliques and who's who. They gave a shit about everyone. We ALL had a stage to play on. Our best shows have been there. It was our home and we were treated like family. The Ash St Saloon will be greatly missed. Portland music is suffering a massive loss. Portland has suffered enough. – Ian, Ditch Digger
I will miss the Ash St. I’ve played shows there in three different bands, dating back to 2008, and have always loved the stage, the sound, the staff, and the crowds. I’ll be there on NYE to help close it out. Got my ticket ahead of time. – Ryan, Nihilist Nation
Ash Street was an iconic Portland venue that will be sorely missed! – Marc, Proven
The Ash Street Saloon was one of the first places that I ever performed. They gave my band and I a chance to hone our performance skills and showmanship at the young age of 13. I've played there more times than I can count, and am very saddened to see it go. It will always have a special place in my heart. – Gunnar, Chronological Injustice/Vicious Rumors
The Ash Street was the heart for music in Old Town Portland. So many of us cut our teeth destroying that stage! That room! Once it’s gone, there will be nothing like it to pick up the slack. A curse on those who brought about its demise. – Jason, Separation of Sanity
Ya know… that place has always felt like home to me. I have played there hundreds of times and loved each and every time. The place is definitely a dive, but it is our dive! I, like hundreds of others, am going to really miss the place, the atmosphere, and all of the weird loveable characters that were always around. – Mike, Ditch Digger/Agnozia
As the story goes for a lot of bands in the area, Ash Street Saloon is the first place that we played in Portland, years ago. We found friends in the people working for the venue. We became friends with both the local and touring bands that we played with. Shows were seven days a week with an in-house sound system, professional sound, booking people, and a great bar crew. Isn’t this what a music venue should be like? Putting on shows seven days a week made Ash Street a live music destination for all and not an “entry level” venue as some would like to say. If you played live and liked to hear live music, Ash Street was the place to be. We are going to miss it. – MeLinda Dalton & Russ Quinn, Nails Hide Metal
Wow, being asked to pen thoughts and memories from Ash Street? I'm beyond honored. What can I say that hasn't already been said by so many great people? When Aaron and I started Kingdom Under Fire, we were discussing our goals, and I remember saying: "Man, I just want to play Ash Street on a Saturday night." Well, I'm proud to say that we've done that more times than I can count. Along the way, we've formed so many great relationships, many that wouldn't have happened if it weren't for our beloved Ash Street. As I write this, there are only four shows left. I have my ticket for the final show (in which many of the great friends we have made over the last decade will be playing.) It will definitely be a night filled with hugs, laughter, tears, and memories. The Ash Street will be fondly remembered as the place where many Portland bands and musicians gained a foothold in their respective music scenes, and a place where we could all go as almost a sanctuary. RIP Ash Street Saloon! – Chris, Kingdom Under Fire
Ash Street was always exciting to see on our calendar. They always took care of us, and always had great sound. It's sad to hear they're shutting down. Such a good location, and great staff. I’ll miss it for sure. – Luke, Thistle-Stalk
I have thousands of unforgettable moments from the years of performing at Ash Street Saloon. My absolute favorite, and most cherished, is the memorial show for our late drummer Brian "smash" Bennet. The Ash Street staff have always been the best in town. It will be greatly missed. – Bishop, Toxic Zombie
I played with my first band at Ash Street in 2000, and instantly fell in love with the place. It didn't matter if you were a metal head, a punk rocker, or whatever, we were all there for the music! I really can't say enough about the shows that I've both played and attended there over the years. It is definitely a sad day for the Portland music scene. I will absolutely look back at the times spent and the friends made with fond memories! – James, Othrys
Every time that we played Ash Street, albeit it has been only a handful of times, I can honestly say that there was always a feeling of community among the performers, fans, and staff. The layout and general vibe of the Ash Street really helped to bring people a little closer together, giving even first-time attendees/performers a feeling of familiarity that is uncommon for a typical venue. Not only that, but the sound that was achieved on a regular basis at Ash Street was something fans and artists alike really looked forward to at every show, which is often the first thing people bring up when discussing their favorite venues in town. The good times and fantastic shows that have been organized under that venue's roof are too many to count. To say that Ash Street closing down is a loss to the music scene here in Portland, or much greater, to the many artists/fans of the Pacific Northwest, would be an understatement. It is truly, as the often-used trope goes, the "end of an era.” To the folks at Ash Street, who gave bands like ours a stage to play on, and for helping to introduce us to the community we are proud to be a part of: Thank You! – Billy, Von Doom
…Was fun times to play downtown & one only soundwoman Heather! – Chuck, Damage Overdose
It's always been one of those wonderful dank downtown hard rock clubs, that if you were new to town and you walked by you'd be wondering who you had to know or who you had to blow to get a gig there. Heather has always done amazing sound. There's a perfect little cutaway in the corner to stash your gear and sell your merchandise, and while you're standing on stage, rocking everybody's face off, you know that just off a few feet of stage left, is the outside world wishing they were where you are. – Anthony, Goats of Belmont
When I was first introduced in the music scene here in Portland, Oregon, the Ash Street was the very first place I'd ever seen a show locally. If I remember correctly, it was At the Seams, Chronological Injustice, Separation of Sanity and Othrys. My mind was completely blown. I didn't know such talent could be right under my nose and in a hole in the wall. I finally felt at home. I had always sung and played piano, and I've loved metal down to my bones, but this was a whole new level of amazing. I knew that night that there was no other place I wanted to play. Over the years I have played at multiple places such as The Hawthorne Theater and Rock Hard PDX, but Ash Street, by far, is the most "homey," welcoming, thriving place to play. The love and unity that comes out of Ash Street will always be my sanctuary. I am deeply saddened that Ash Street is closing its doors. Having a few drinks, playing (or watching) a badass show, and heading to Voodoo Doughnuts will always be a great memory. The sound, the food, the drinks, the people, and mostly, my home where my family comes back together, was always be where I chose to go if I needed to get away. I love you Ash Street! You'll be missed. – Bria, Cast dowN/Amerakin Overdose (feature guest), among others
Love Lode had played several shows there. After rehearsing with Smooch knob for a few months, shortly after joining the band, Donnie booked a Smooch knob show with me playing rhythm guitar at the Ash Street saloon. On my birthday. My very first show with Smoochknob was at the Ash St. on my birthday. My friends had planned a surprise birthday party for me at The Ohm later that night, (I used to bounce there.) we had three limousines full of people. After the Smooch knob show, they sent one of the limos by to pick me up. A bunch of people got in, and the limousine left without me. I was still inside the Ash St. getting a cocktail. They had to come back and get me, which made the surprise party at The Ohm even better. – Paul, Smochknob/Love Lode
I always enjoyed performing at Ash St. Saloon - the sound was always perfect and the audience were tremendous. One show in 2001 was so well received, after the set, we discovered that multiple audience members had thrown their panties on stage. I’m going to miss the Ash Street. – Josh, Road To Jerusalem
To see the Ash Street go is heartbreaking. I’ve had so many amazing memories there that I will cherish forever. Thank you so much to everyone involved over the years. This venue will be missed. – Kyle, 36 Crazyfists
The Ash Street Saloon will be sorely missed. They were one of the first venues in Portland to book a young, unknown musician named Jon Davidson when I first moved to Portland. They've been such an integral part of my music career as well as the Portland music scene in general. Heather and Barret are absolute legends, and there will be an Ash Street-shaped hole in Portland from here on out. – Jon Davidson
For as long as I can remember, the Ash Street felt like a home for Portland bands. You knew you were in for a great night when you were playing or even just attending a show. It sucks we are losing another Portland legendary venue. – Cody, Amerakin Overdose
My band Los Vamonos has played there, and it was cool. Really the stand out thing about Ash St is it was a down to earth and accessible place, like a rock n roll joint should be! Good room, central location, and committed staff. Its closing will leave a gap here in town. – Shannon, Wehrmacht/Los Vamonos
I remember in 99-2000 when the stage was in the window, facing the street. My old band Huffy was playing and during a instrumental part of one of our songs I was facing the drummer, looking out the window, and a woman walking down the street unbuttoned her blouse and showed us what she had. Ash Street always treated us good and ran great sound, I'm going to miss playing there. – David, Break The Maker
My 1st experience playing Ash Street was in 1997, and last was 2017, My Band Huffy was Playing in '97 and we got flashed by some nice ladies walking down the sidewalk. – Michael, Break The Maker
I am going to miss the people and community this venue brought into my life. There will be no other club like Ash St. in PDX....but I am glad our paths crossed during this short period in time. – Duncan, American Me/Sustainer
Ash St Saloon is a place where I had some of my very first opportunities to perform and grow as a front-woman. The memories have been priceless. It will always hold a special place with me. – Larissa, Lit By Suffering
I’ve launched two bands in the last two years at the Ash Street. Its been a favorite of mine since I turned 21. 14 years of amazing shows and some of the best times with friends. There’s no other venue like it in town. – Karl, Proven