Modern country music meets the city

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Hang ‘em High countrifies North Portland. Courtesy of Heather Brazille

We Portlanders live in a particularly great city for starting up a band: Just grab a couple of long-time buddies, equip yourselves with some secondhand instruments from the local music shop and then scour ads for open mic nights where you can showcase your talents and maybe enjoy a microbrew or a PBR afterward. Local modern country band Hang ’em High shares in this grassroots vision of creating and playing music and offers a kickass show for both local Portlanders and people who are just passing through the city.

The coolest thing about the originality and flair of Portland’s music scene is our ability to create art and music out of very little means and find comfort in music that we can relate to. Many Portlanders and PSU students come from rural areas and other places outside the urban center, and sometimes it is a pleasant surprise to be reminded of small-town values. PSU students should consider giving the local country music scene a shot, if only as a reprieve from the bustling urban campus lifestyle.

The band has been running for a long time and has a deep history, from initial formation through temporary breakup to reformation of an entirely new band re-using most of the original members. Hang ’em High started out in 1998 as a six-piece band called Double Trouble and performed under that name until 2006. After eight years running strong, the band temporarily ceased to play and lost two members.

The current members said there was no drama over breaking up the original lineup; it felt like a natural break. Then, in 2012, the four current members—Brian (lead vocalist/backup acoustic guitar), Robby (bass player), Larry (lead electric guitar), and Nick (drummer)—got in touch with each other and decided to reform. They picked the eye-grabbing title Hang ’em High to connect the new lineup both with the Clint Eastwood movie and with the classic Van Halen song.

During a down-to-earth interview at the O’Malley’s pub on SE Foster, the band shared some laughs and brews with the Vanguard as they recounted their earliest memories of getting into music. Robby said that he literally had to pay for his first guitar lessons with change that he stored up in a change jar. Brian said, “I found my voice when I was singing Randy Travis at age twelve,” and he began performing by using a simple karaoke set-up to cut out the vocals.

Larry pointed at Brian and said, “He’s the reason that I started performing again,” explaining that he wanted to play background music for Brian’s singing talent. Nick started playing drums when he was 16; he is self-taught and, like many PSU students, turned to YouTube for instructional videos to hone his talents. The band’s beginnings speak strongly to the simple, humble roots many Portlanders experience and attempt to build their dreams from.

Hang ‘em High plays regularly in North Portland at the Ponderosa Lounge in the Jubitz Travel Center and Truck Stop for a cheap cover charge of $5. Before most shows, a line dance instructor helps the audience bolster their line dance skills.

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