This past Saturday night, my girlfriend Deanna and I attended the Fringe Series: Portland Cello Project at the Cuesta Performing Arts Center. The concert opened with a greeting from the Festival Mozaic’s board member, Michael Ritter, who confessed “he is not a life-long fan of classical music” and admitted that “there were probably more than a few like him in the audience.” He was speaking my language, although I do, in fact, enjoy and support Classical music, my forte is definitely Jazz, Funk, and Blues. Nevertheless, Festival Mozaic, which began years ago by Clifton Swanson as the San Luis Obispo Mozart Festival, expanded both their name and musical repertoire to include music as varied as jazz crossover to Bach. Concerts like this evening’s Portland Cello Project allows people to dip their toes in the water of Classical music.
The Portland Cello Project (or PCP, as their fans call them) came about in 2006, according to the project’s founder, Douglas Jenkins. Not only does the music from the project vary from Bach to Heavy Metal to Brubeck to Beck, but also their venues have ranged from NYC shipping docks, to symphony halls and punk rock night clubs.
Jenkins opened by stating they’d had some problems that day with their car breaking down while traveling to SLO, and felt that “Bach was in order” to help them right their inner psyche to perform up to our expectations. They followed Bach by a medley from Dave Brubeck’s “Take 5” and the Theme from Mission Impossible, which altogether was highly enjoyable. A jazz fan sitting behind me uttered his joyous surprise over the choice of Brubeck, and tapped his feet softly behind me. I couldn’t help but tap my own feet as well.
Things got a little crazy with PCP, as noted when roller derby skaters took the stage. The derby skaters later announced the Mozaic’s raffle and it was funny as they said “You’ll have to look hard to find us!” To say the least, we didn’t have to look hard to buy a ticket, and what a fun and memorable way to tie fundraising into a concert!
The Cellists then took a whole different approach with “Kanye Kardashian West” as Jenkins put it. All humor aside, they made the song “All of the Lights” by Kanye West quite enjoyable. They played a Beck song before intermission sung by their guest singer, Patty King, who definitely left an impact with her performance. King then continued with Elliot Smith, a local Portland singer songwriter, on a song they recorded called “Tomorrow, Tomorrow.” The PCP also brought up, at different moments in the show, a bass player, drummer, flutist, and French horn.
After the intermission, the Cello got down with more Beck, who has released an entire album as sheet music without recording it to leave the artistic interpretations up to the recording group. PCP handled the challenge, and continued with Patty King’s own “My Arrow” composition. They closed out the show with “Flight Of the Bumblebees’ and then into “Sweet Georgia Brown” for their encore. I was impressed how the musicians truly got into it and demonstrated such passion to close on a high note.
The Portland Cello Project was a group I’d only known in name before this concert and truly understood why you must hear this type of music in a live setting to appreciate it fully. What I’ve admired about the Festival Mozaic is their ability to bring the finest in not only symphony, but also chamber and crossover music like this fringe band, PCP. This particular concert was held at the CPAC, which is probably one of the top two or three places to hear a concert on the Central Coast of California.
If you haven’t heard them, make sure you see Portland Cello Project the next chance you can, as their show is both impressive musically and fun to experience.