Interview with Portland Queer Music Festival’s Samuel Thomas

Samuel Thomas, the man behind the music

Portland may be known for both its music and its queerness but the two have never come together in quite the cohesive way that this Saturday’s Portland Queer Music Festival aims to. A full day and two stages of back to back acts at Red Cap Garage for only 3 bucks is one of the most reasonable prices I’ve ever heard too, in true PDX fashion. Plus, despite the dive drink prices, Red Cap’s bar menu is quite delicious, with that unpretentious but slightly upscale goodness that Portland bars are starting to do so well.

Bands, producers and DJs of multiple genres and genders have come from our own backyards as well as across the country to participate. You can see a lineup of all 30 in an earlier post for just a taste of the days never-ending aural pleasure.

And the man behind it all? That would be Samuel Thomas, director and founder of the Portland FREE Music Project and an organizer of the (nearly) weekly Maricon dance party. This hard workin’ man booked all 30 acts himself. He’s hopeful that the fest will be a success, anticipating over 800 attendees over the course of the day. Here’s what he had to say on the eve of his inaugural summer celebration of queer music.

qPDX: What made you want to start a queer music fest in Portland?

ST: It actually came to me quite suddenly, I woke up after attending a show the night before and I thought about my LGBTQ friends and musicians and how we struggle to perform and truly come into our own as artists. I had worked on various festivals around Oregon before, from volunteer work to being the Director’s Assistant for a (now defunct) large Portland festival. I called up some friends, said “Let’s do this” and the rest is recent history.

Have you put on other fests or is this your first?

I started in the music industry by putting on local hardcore shows, and eventually branched out into festival work, running a record label and managing national touring acts, but this will be the first time I have truly ever put on an entire festival.

Have any other festivals inspired you? Ever been to Hom-a-gogo? And on the other hand what has disappointed you about other fests and what do you want to do differently?

Local act Boys + Mixtapes is one of the many performing at the PDX Queer Music Fest, featuring Chris Sein of ChiChi and Chonga

I have a ton of respect for music festivals, most people have no idea how difficult it is to organize and put together a truly memorable experience. I never attended Homo-A-Go-Go, but I know of their legacy and I hope to replicate that level of awesome. Complaining about festivals is difficult for me though, because there are always things that could be done better, but I do not always know all the background information and how hard it was to create. With the Portland Queer Music Festival I wanted to create a friendly space for musicians of all genres to come together and have a truly unifying and enjoyable experience, as well as promoting LGBTQ musicians and diversity to a larger audience.

Tell me about expanding from a local set of musicians to a national one. What prompted this? Do you plan to continue with a national focus? If the fest grows will you, perhaps, have a local showcase and a national/international showcase?

When I first started planning the festival it was very much a Portland Metro idea, I knew we had enough musicians to make a killer festival and on top of that I wanted to showcase the talent Portland is brewing… but within just a couple weeks of planning I started receiving emails from people as far away as New York asking to perform and I realized there was a largely untapped pool of LGBTQ musicians who want to tour and want to play festivals but have not had the opportunity. So I expanded slowly, finding the best local talent, then the best regional talents and finally opening it up on a national scale. I am already in the initial planning stages of next year, and I plan on keeping the showcase Portland and NW oriented, but will probably continue to incorporate talented acts from around the nation.

Who are you most excited to see perform?

I honestly cannot answer that, because my list of “hell yes!” artists practically fill the lineup, we have an amazing roster and I am just stoked to see everyone and to give them a platform to show Portland what they can do.

Do you have plans for next year yet? Anything you know already you’d do differently or additional things you’d like to see?

The initial plans for next year are already laid out, the very foundation, but I wont be able to expand on that until after this year. I do hope to provide more space for community involvement, and hopefully give artists more time to perform… but like I said, I wont honestly know what I want to change until after Saturday.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I am incredibly proud of this community and how fast everything came together, from volunteers and musicians to the sponsors who helped create something I could never do alone. Without a strong community the Portland Queer Music Festival would never have happened.

Glitterbang is a Seattle act you can catch at Saturday's fest

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