You shouldn't yell things at the band. No requests. No heckles. Not even an "I love you" (much as it might be appreciated). And, especially, you shouldn't shout something in a quiet moment between songs by an already-quiet, folk-inspired band like Offa Rex. But there its members were, playing a sold-out show at Portland's Aladdin Theater. And not just any show, but a nerve-wracking first-ever show, even if Offa Rex's components—all five Decemberists and the British folk singer Olivia Chaney—are not exactly rookies.
And then someone had to share.
"Colin, I still miss Tarkio," a female voice declared loudly.
"Oh," replied Colin Meloy.
"That was many projects ago," he said, finally.
Namechecking Meloy's college band might have been a less-weird thing to shout out at a boisterous Decemberists show. In Missoula. Then it would merely be like yelling for Green River's "Swallow My Pride" at a Pearl Jam gig (hey, it happened once). Or demanding an Uncle Tupelo song from Wilco (which happens pretty often).
But the moment showed how much the Montana connection lingers for Meloy, a Helena native and University of Montana graduate who's been gone to Oregon for almost 20 years. Which is why it makes sense that, even though the Decemberists are a Portland band in every way, they've put together a music festival in Missoula—perhaps to the Portland media's chagrin.
"The Decemberists launch their own music festival ... in Montana," was the headline at the Oregonian's website.
"The Decemberists Are Curating a Music Festival ... in Montana," echoed Willamette Week, with writer Matthew Singer going on to call it "the most exciting thing to happen in Montana since ... um ... we'll get back to you on that."
Named for the famous Lewis and Clark expedition stop (sorry Portland: Montana gets those guys, too) Travelers' Rest will take place over two days at the Big Sky Brewing Amphitheater, with two Decemberists sets and 16 other bands, including Belle and Sebastian, the Head and the Heart, Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires and Sylvan Esso. Offa Rex is also on the bill, along with Olivia Chaney solo, and Decemberists drummer John Moen's side group, Eyelids.
I spoke to Meloy about the festival, the trials of being an indie music fan in Helena and many other topics in late July, just before both Offa Rex and the Decemberists headed out on tour.
Is this supposed to be an annual event?
Colin Meloy: I think that's the plan: to keep it going as long as people want to come out. It's a fun project to do, to spotlight other artists that we're fans of and bring music to Montana, as sort of a curated weekend.
Always involving the Decemberists in some way, or do you hope to kind of give it its own legs?
CM: No, I think ... as long as we're capable of holding that top spot, I think that we'll keep it.
Do you sense that things have changed since you were in Missoula, in terms of the music scene and the amount of bands people get to see there now?
CM: I don't know, having not lived there for a long time. I can speak to my growing up in Montana and, you know, falling in love with this music: kind of the indie, alternative music of the '80s and early '90s, and constantly bemoaning the fact that Helena, and typically not even Missoula, were ever really a part of anybody's tour routing. You were always forced to go to Seattle or Portland to see shows. Which is a 10-hour drive. But we would do it, dutifully. Go see PJ Harvey at La Luna.
So, I remember we were going to see the Pixies in Seattle but our ride fell through, and that night I sat with my friends and we wrote a really angry letter to the Pixies. I don't know whether or not we posted it, but you know, it was sort of pithily complaining, why they don't come to Montana?
I guess I maybe sort of held a grudge from that point on until I started a band myself, and started to realize how difficult it is on a shoestring budget with a tour. Making the jaunt to Missoula is not a thing that makes a ton of financial sense. But still, the Decemberists do a Montana show on every tour. I felt like I would be a hypocrite [otherwise], going back to writing that angry letter to the Pixies.
It seems like it's improving. It's kind of a chicken/egg: you've got two major promoters competing in town now, and the way the music business is, people tour harder, so they hit smaller markets more frequently.
CM: Yeah, it seems that way. But all the stuff that I wanted to see was little: the Replacements or Husker Du or Mission of Burma—bands that were in a van. I think geography is the real hurdle, and that's not going to change.
I guess the upside to that is Missoula will never grow as crazily as Portland has.
CM: Yeah, you would think. I was just in Missoula three weeks ago and there are some changes for sure, but not to the degree of Portland. They'll avoid that.