Seven musicians crowd onto the stage at Mississippi Studios in north Portland–they’re dressed in cowboy hats and bolo ties, a hipster take on the wild west. The frontman, a guy with light brown hair that swoops across his face, all the way down to his chin, steps up to the mic. He looks to the ground, purses his lips, raises his slanted eyes to the crowd and unleashes a long, lonely whistle. A tragic trumpet sings. A snare drum crackles. And the band begins to play.
This is Federale, Portland’s premier spaghetti western ensemble.
The house is packed tonight. Some don corduroy vests and flat top cowboy hats; flannel shirts under beige vests with tight jeans and black leather shoes. The crowd is made up of excitable young kids and worn-out 30-somethings in groups of four–double dates or friends on the town, all here for a singular purpose: to see a good show.
And of all the shows in Portland on this particular Saturday night, this show promises to be the best. Promoted by the media powerhouse trio of The Portland Mercury, Willamette Week and The Oregonian, it’s easy to get carried away in the cyclone of hype that surrounds Federale. But who are they? Who are these weirdos playing dark, lonely cowboy songs in the 21st century Pacific Northwest?