Portland, OR. As Oregon reopens, one activity Oregonians are eagerly anticipating is the return of concerts and live music. The Portland nonprofit, Friends of Noise is a local organization making a return of live music possible, and accessible for anybody who wants to get involved. It provides sound equipment to performers, hosting free age-inclusive shows, and helping creative youth navigate the local music scene. Now starting its summer 2021 season, the nonprofit has a fresh slate of performances and events to bring the joy of communal music experiences back to Portland youth, including a dance battle, hip hop cypher performance, and multiple outdoor concert events for youth artists.
Friends of Noise provides programs, workshops, and other professional development opportunities for teens and young adults to gain experience with sound equipment, and performing so they are more prepared to navigate the music industry.
An integral core foundation to Friends of Noise is the belief that getting young performers and audience members involved in music is essential to the growth of the local and global music community.
The nonprofit offers a variety of services to support Portland’s musically-oriented youth, including professional development workshops providing skills for involvement in the music industry, paid opportunities for youth musicians to perform, and offering sound equipment services for independent, youth-organized concerts, teaching those interested how to operate such equipment and offering youth paid opportunities for work with sound technology. According to Friends of Noise executive director André Middleton, the nonprofit’s mission is to “facilitate healing and growth in the community” for Portland youth artists, with a focus on BIPOC individuals.
Middleton admits that the COVID-19 pandemic was difficult for Friends Of Noise, with the nonprofit completely halting operations like most other businesses at its start. However, the organization still found ways to utilize its services mid-pandemic to further its commitment to justice by providing sound equipment to local Black Lives Matter protests and marches to “lift up the voices of the unheard.” Friends of Noise even helped host a BLM protest event on labor day 2020 in Portland’s Cathedral Park, providing and setting up sound equipment for speakers.
Middleton says that his organization’s greatest challenge of the pandemic has been the recruitment of new youth performers and sound technicians to work with, stating that reconnecting with the musical youth of Portland is the current “highest priority” for Friends of Noise. Thankfully, they were still able to support independent young musicians of Portland through the pandemic by recording isolated performances in various Portland music venues from a wide range of talented youth, editing them, and uploading these performances to the Friends of Noise Youtube channel as part of their “Friends of Noise TV” series.
Here’s a video from ‘Friends of Noise TV’:
Behind the scenes photo depicting the filming of a live performance by Arietta Ward/”Mz. Etta” at Jack London Revue for the Friends of Noise TV YouTube concert series.
Middleton says what he was most excited for about the return of live music, but for Friends of Noise, concerts have been back for a while as they have done sound equipment for and hosted a series of concerts for youth artists in parks around Portland, following COVID safety procedures such that youth could still gather, connecting to both music and one another, safely. He is most eagerly anticipating the Friends of Noise Summer Jam being held for free at Oregon Contemporary on July 11th from 6-10pm, where the organization will be hosting a variety of talented young performers. Middleton also noted that he is currently working with a youth graphic designer in a paid opportunity to create a poster for the event, highlighting his organization’s commitment to uplifting creative youth and getting them involved in as many ways as possible.
Middleton hopes support for Friends of Noise will take off this summer in comparison to last year, as the organization has its eyes set on a large, yet important project— the creation of a free, youth-led, all-ages, all-inclusive space for performances, music, workshops. and creativity as part of public housing in Northeast Portland. He expressed disappointment in the fact that Portland currently has no all-ages, youth-inclusive concert spaces, and hopes to change that by saving the organization’s funds and donations to establish the community center.
More information about Friends of Noise can be found at the nonprofit’s website, friendsofnoise.org. Here, supporters of FON’s mission can find times and locations for all of the organization’s upcoming events mentioned in this article and many more. Further, readers can donate funds through the website via posted PayPal, Venmo, and Cashapp to help make André Middleton’s dream of an youth led and focused, all-inclusive community concert center a reality— one which places the importance of creative expression above alcohol sales.
Portland, OR. Friends of Noise is a Portland-based non-profit that provides young artists with a well-rounded introduction to the music industry. (Wavy Josef, is shown playing an outdoor show above.) With professional workshops in everything from designing fliers and merchandise, to lighting and sound engineering, to networking and performing, the organization invests in its community to better prepare artists for the business side of music. Non-profits have not had an easy year, and this organization has shown that it is resourceful in keeping on track to serve local youth. With ongoing projects heading into 2021, and a long-term goal of opening an art-focused youth center in North East Portland, Friends of Noise is committed to coming out of 2020 stronger than ever.
Many local businesses were forced to halt all activities in March 2020 to slow the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic, and Friends of Noise was one of them. The young community that the non-profit serves, however, was highly active in social justice causes as the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum all over the country in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Andre Middleton, Executive Director of Friends of Noise, delivered amplification equipment and other sound assistance to marches and protests around the city. Andre felt compelled to provide the non-profit’s sound equipment to a noble cause, “I wanted to make sure that the community’s cries for justice and change would be heard.” Friends of Noise continued to be an ally for these social justice events, which also validated the idea that outdoor spaces would become a viable option for their artists.
Members of the community stand in solidarity for a common cause.
The non-profit went on to hold numerous shows in NE Portland parks throughout the summer and even hosted a social-distanced Black Lives Matter rally in Cathedral Park on Labor Day that drew a crowd of 2000. These live music events were welcomed by these neighborhoods and provided much-needed revenue for the artists and showrunners that had relied on concerts in the past. Friends of Noise makes it a point to compensate performers and showrunners, and believes it is incredibly important to show the community of artists that their time and work is valued. By showing the young artists this now by paying them for their work, Andre hopes they will take that sense of value into their futures: “We’re all about teaching and giving kids opportunities to practice what they learn, and then working to get them paid opportunities to develop this as a career. We work to make sure that young people are seen as valued members of our local music ecosystem.”
In 2021, Friends of Noise will be launching live-stream programming as an ongoing way to feature their growing youth artist directory. This programming will be a collaboration with local music venues that have been closed due to Covid-19 restrictions, creating a connection between the artists and the theaters. They have partnered with theaters like Mississippi Studios, the Star Theater, and the Roseland Theater. The shows will also be multi-generational, pairing young artists with older artists, and will eventually incorporate a local dance group as well. The programming will be consistent, and the non-profit hopes this will represent the Portland music scene as a diverse and harmonious entity. This project is set to launch in January, and Friends of Noise hopes it will help sustain the local music industry through these uncertain times.
The band Out of Luck plays an indoor show before the pandemic.
Engagement in the Friends of Noise community has not slowed down with this pandemic. As a non-profit that serves Portland youth, its artists are looking for more ways to connect and be inspired by their peers. Friends of Noise knows that it cannot be a replacement for school, or other social activities that are no longer safe, but hopes that by building a strong community it can provide comradery through work and expression. This new live-stream project will support this ideal harmonious and collaborative music scene. When speaking about the future of the music industry in Portland, Andre is optimistic, “I have every confidence that young people will be pushing the envelope and be as innovative as they always have been. If we can create an ambience of collaboration over competition, this next cohort of musicians are going to be in an even better position in the future.” Friends of Noise is participating in Willamette Weekly’s GiveGuide, and you can also donate or volunteer on its website.
From Friends of Noise: Friends of Noise is a non-profit, educational, all-ages organization. Our mission is to provide safer and productive spaces for all-ages concerts, focused arts education, and leadership opportunities for youth with a focus on providing marginalized youth and youth of color access to performative creative expression. Our long-term goals are to contribute to the development of a region-wide network of young people and adults that are learned and ready to pursue a career in the music industry on stage or backstage and to grow into a youth-centered arts center that resides in a music-focused arts hub in an underserved community within our city.
We seek to create a non-profit, all-ages arts venue that is youth-oriented and youth-driven. We envision a safe, inclusive community meeting place for arts events, with a strong educational and mentorship component. We intend to engage young people in all aspects of event planning and production within this space, in order to encourage real-world skill-building. We believe these skills will serve students well in their future endeavors and help them become cultural leaders and engaged citizens in their communities.
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