Portland comes by its eclectic reputation honestly. Sure, we celebrate normal stuff like roses and beer, but we also throw in regular events dedicated to quiet music, strange films and riding bikes while wearing crazy costumes — or nothing at all.
From quirky to downright bizarre, here are some of our favorite “Keep Portland Weird” events:
Ground Kontrol’s Rock Band Tuesdays
Karaoke is great, but if you’re a drummer or a strummer at heart, Rock Band Tuesdays, a weekly gathering of Rock Band video game players, will strike a chord with you. Ground Kontrol also has an astounding selection of more than 3,500 songs and professional-level lighting and sound systems.
In addition to standard karaoke bars, Portland has two unusual offerings: Karaoke from Hell lets you sing with a live band, while Baby Ketten Karaoke, which features custom mixes of impossible-to-find songs, was called “America’s greatest karaoke night” by The New York Times. Both events occur at different bars twice a week.
Closing off 15 blocks of Northeast Alberta Street to cars during summer months, Last Thursday on Alberta has grown fantastically in the more than 17 years it’s been running. With artists, performers and craftspeople filling the streets and sidewalks, Last Thursday is a great place to get a purely Portland souvenir. And with thousands of people in attendance, it’s also a great place to take in the local flavor.
Faux Film Festival
Each April, phony baloney abounds at the Clinton Street Theater as parodies, documentaries and spoofs of the Faux Film Festival poke fun at film and pop culture, mocking everything with ads for fake products to trailers for non-existent movies.
Hero/Villain Power Struggle
Donning homespun costumes and all-original personas — like hero Space Frog and villain Snow Globe — bands of masked men and women make the round to local watering holes to fight boredom and convention at this annual pub crawl. Event organizers the Alter Egos Society can also be found assisting with costume repair at the annual Rose City Comic Con (September).
Bearded Lady Competition
Redefining beauty, this night of music, comedy, celebrity judges, and of course, whiskers, takes place annually at Tonic Lounge in May or June. As the 2014 event’s tagline said, “Put a beard on it.”
Filmed by Bike
Showing just how bike-crazy Portland is, the week-long Filmed by Bike festival at Clinton Street features bike-themed short movies — no longer than eight minutes — by independent filmmakers from around the world.
Every summer since 2002, local cyclists have crammed the calendar with hundreds of bike-related events over a three-week span. The Pedalpalooza roster includes everything from Portland’s entrant into the World Naked Bike Ride (see below) to Unicycle Polo and Zoo-Bombing, in which riders coast downhill through Washington Park riding tiny kiddie bicycles.
World Naked Bike Ride
Wearing nothing but helmets and smiles (and maybe some body paint), thousands of bicyclists take to Portland streets each summer to protest oil dependency. Portland’s edition of the World Naked Bike Ride is the biggest on the planet. But it’s not as serious as it sounds — the nighttime ride snakes all over the city with crowds cheering on the buck naked bikers.
Portland Geek Olympathon
Think you’re the world’s biggest geek? Well, in Portland, you’ll have to prove it, at the Portland Geek Olympathon. Test your skills at arcade games, trivia and more in competitions at nerdy spots like Things From Another World, Guardian Games and Billy Galaxy Toys. In 2014, prizes included comics from Portland’s Oni Press and passes to the 2015 H.P. Lovecraft Festival and Chtulucon, held in — where else? — Portland.
The Quiet Music Festival
You’d be forgiven if you thought Portlandia made up Portland’s annual Quiet Music Festival. But the relaxed, low-volume performances (where sleeping is actually encouraged) at Disjecta are for real. Shhh.
PDX Adult Soapbox Derby
Every August since 1997, the PDX Adult Soapbox Derby has seen select teams of grown-up kids piloting homemade soapbox derby cars down Southeast Portland’s Mt. Tabor. Vehicles have included miniature A-Team vans, Batmobiles and the always popular Flintstones-mobile. Crowds line the track with picnics and BYOB beer and wine, cheering on the daring speedsters.
December & July
Every year, on the second Saturday in December, Santa Claus comes to town. A mob of Santas, actually. This annual pub crawl takes over Portland with hundreds of jolly St. Nicks making the rounds to local bars, spreading holiday cheer over holiday beers. As for Christmas in July, Portland also has a summer Santacon on the Saturday before July 4.
Find more Portland events in the events calendar.