🌆 Answering the 'call of the weird'
Plus, Fields Park all lit up.
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Folks, today we’re getting a little weird with you. For the month of February — and perhaps longer if you all enjoy this — we are introducing “Weird Wednesdays.”
What the heck is this exactly? Glad you asked.
Each Wednesday we are going to highlight and celebrate elements of Portland’s wonderful weirdness, in collaboration with the amazing folks at Weird Portland United. This can range from the classic (we’re looking at you Extreamo the Clown) to the contemporary (👋 hey there Portland Sleestak!).
But for our maiden voyage into the weird, we are focusing on the origin story of Portland’s weirdness, and had the sincere honor of interviewing the one, the only, the Ambassador of Portland Weird himself, the Unipiper. What follows is our interview with him, edited for length and clarity.
Scroll on for more weirdness.
🌆 The history of Keeping Portland Weird, with The Unipiper
He’s here and he’s keeping Portland weird. (📸: Courtesy of Brian Kidd & Weird Portland United)
For folks not in the know, tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Brian Kidd and I came to Portland in 2007 to answer the call of the weird with a set of bagpipes and a unicycle in tow. Like many others, I was lured in by off-kilter tales of what Portland had to offer and the promise of fitting in merely by not fitting in. Without any real plan, I began my life of weird in Portland by roaming the streets on my unicycle and playing bagpipes everywhere I could. I adopted the moniker of “The Unipiper” and kept going. I began receiving requests to play at every kind of event from birthday parties to ice hockey games and everything in between.
Viral fame soon followed after upgrading my bagpipes to shoot fire, a video captured in front of the iconic ‘Keep Portland Weird’ sign landed me a spot on Jimmy Kimmel Live in 2014 and overnight The Unipiper became a physical manifestation of the ‘Keep Portland Weird’ movement. From there I would have the chance to represent Portland in many different capacities and in many different locations, from a Portland-themed festival in Amsterdam, to appearances on shows like ‘The Bachelor’ and ‘America’s Got Talent.’ I of course had no idea what The Unipiper would become or where it would take me, but I am very fortunate to have found my place in Portland. There is no doubt that it is as much a part of my identity today as my pipes or unicycle.
How did “Keep Portland Weird” as a slogan become such a significant part of Portland’s identity?
The slogan originates from Music Millennium owner Terry Currier, who borrowed it from Austin, TX (Keep Austin Weird) as a way to promote shopping at local businesses in the late-nineties when big box stores began dominating the Portland consumer landscape. It was the fact that the slogan caught on that shows something uniquely Portland. The city did not become weird with the introduction of the phrase, rather it gave a name to an already vibrant subculture that had existed for decades. Portland’s reputation as a haven for misfits traces its roots back to the days of the ‘Wild West.’ However with a catchy name in place, it suddenly became a lot easier to put into words what was going on in Portland and the label stuck.
People started putting the iconic yellow letters on their cars, in their windows and even on the sides of their businesses, and for better or for worse, the citizens of Portland began taking pride in their different ways of doing things, from offbeat museums, to performance art, to stores specializing in ice cream sundaes covered in ants. The cycle continued, attracting other like minded individuals and the weirdness of Portland grew, in size and in name. Fortunately, Terry Currier kept a tight leash on the name and licensing rights, keeping it safe from corporate interests seeking to turn a profit from our unique brand of quirkiness.
This, in turn, has allowed Portland to maintain a hold on the authenticity of its weirdness. As Portland continued its rise in the cultural zeitgeist of the early 2010’s, fueled in part by our collective love of food carts, tall bikes, craft beer, and just generally being weird, the city started to experience a growth in population the likes of which it had never seen before. Would our sense of identity rooted in our reputation for putting breakfast cereal on donuts and bacon on everything survive this unprecedented growth? Was being weird in Portland still relevant? And what does ‘Keeping Portland Weird’ even mean in a post-'Portlandia' world? Enter Weird Portland United…
Kidd and a friend of Rojo The Llama at the 2019 Weird Gala. (📸: Courtesy of Brian Kidd & Weird Portland United)
What led you to create Weird Portland United? When did it launch?
Weird Portland United, as an accredited 501(c)3 nonprofit, officially launched in January of 2019, however the idea for an organized group dedicated to preserving Portland’s weirdness goes way back. I had always thought there was a need for such a group and I was ready to offer my support whenever it came to exist. I felt the need grow stronger though as I watched many of the weird staples of Portland slowly disappear and start to fade into memory (things like the prevalence of tall bikes and museums like the Velveteria come to mind). It didn’t seem either that we were getting much in the way of replacements for each gem that was lost. I was worried that as the cost of living in Portland continued to rise and we lost more of our unique treasures, we might also lose a bit of ourselves in the process. At that moment I felt I had no choice but to try and start a movement, and as Portland’s unofficial ambassador of weird, I was in a unique position to save the weird.
As they say, ‘With great weirdness, comes great responsibility.’ While other folks sat idly by and poured one out for the ‘Old Portland,’ I instead saw an opportunity with the influx of Portland newcomers to reinvigorate the underground creative scene. Be the weird you want to see in the world, I always say. Instead of lamenting what was being lost, my goal was to share with others the amazing and weird things about Portland that made me fall in love with it in the first place, and inspire others to pick up the mantle and continue that story. I want everyone to have the same chance at success as I did for expressing themselves as uniquely as possible.
Because if not in Portland, then where can the weird turn? Weird Portland United kicked off alongside the release of the Unipiper Hazy IPA from Portland Brewing. I had concocted the idea of partnering with a local brewery to create a beer that would support our mission. For each beer sold, a portion of the sale would be funneled directly to Weird Portland United. What better way to ‘Keep Portland Weird’ than by drinking beer? Unfortunately Portland Brewing has since closed their doors – another business casualty of COVID-19, however the mission they helped to launch still carries on.
Follow this link to read the rest of our interview with the Unipiper.
What are some quintessentially Portland Weird people and things that stick out for you? Hit reply to this email to share your weirdness in our next Weird Wednesday edition. Submissions will close Feb. 9 at 10 a.m.
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☝️One more thing …
Thank you for reading all the way to the end.
Did you enjoy our first installment of Weird Wednesdays? Got some fellow weird Portlanders who are doing something incredible and deserve a shoutout?
Let us know and also let Weird Portland United know as well!
-Cassie at Bridgeliner