Four Over Four asked Gina Altamura to sit down with us and talk a bit about how she got her start, what the scene in Portland is like, and some of her favorite memories.
When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in the music industry?
I got my start while in college at Lewis & Clark here in Portland. I joined a committee which booked all of the concerts on campus and just fell in love with the work of curating events and hosting musicians.
I remember one particularly hectic evening when we booked Langhorne Slim to play a show in our scrappy little venue, ‘The Rusty Nail’, which was in the basement of one of the dormitories. The campus is essentially in a forest, full of these fern-filled little ravines, and one of the tires on Langhorne’s van got totally stuck from veering off a narrow, very muddy dirt road and down into one of these little forest slopes.
He still played a great set, but I remember the two of us standing outside after the show watching the tow truck pull the van out, and he just flashed me this big grin with his charming gap tooth and said in his signature drawl, “Well now, look at all the trouble I’ve caused.” I knew at that moment that I was hooked on this crazy biz.
And how did you get your foot in the door?
I started out in the Portland music industry at Holocene as an intern. I was booking shows, writing press releases, etc. at age 20, before I could even legally attend the shows that I was booking and promoting. I loved the space so much from the start, particularly its versatility and its unique role in the city as an interdisciplinary art space and dance club alike. I’ve loved it so much that now, 10 years later, I’m still there. These days I’m serving as the full time talent buyer.
Several years ago, one of the owners of the venue, Scott McLean, another partner Jeff Wooding, and I decided to partner up to form a management firm. We’re called Nature\\Nurture Artist Management, and we love the synergy between running a venue and managing acts. It’s wonderful to get a real 360 degree view of the industry, by occupying these different roles simultaneously.
What do you enjoy most?
I’m most in my element at Holocene when I’m curating multi-platform arts events. I love events that involve unique collaborations between artists of different disciplines. I run an ongoing live film score series, as well as a series where modern dancers collaborate with musicians, and another where puppet artists put on eccentric puppet shows set to pop bands’ sets. Anything I can do to innovate and challenge the stereotypical “three band bill” invigorates me.
The other thing I enjoy the most is mentoring teens who are interested in my industry. I am on the board of directors for an organization called Friends of Noise, which is a music advocacy non-profit for all ages. We teach young people how to book, promote and produce concerts, and we advocate for performance opportunities for youth and for more all ages events in the Portland area.
What’s one of your biggest challenges?
I’d say the biggest challenge is just the unpredictability of live events. That aspect is also how all the magic happens in the unexpected moments on stage or between artists. But the shadow side of that would be things like last minute artist cancellations, the effects of the weather, etc. You get really good at rolling with the punches and thinking on your feet.
Tell us a bit about what makes the Portland music scene different.
Portland’s music scene is very unique and continues to evolve as the city does. I think it’s notable for how nurturing it is. I would absolutely say it’s a community, more so than just a scene. There’s a reciprocal love among the musicians in this city, and people make it a priority to go out and see each other play, to collaborate with one another, and to celebrate one another’s successes. It’s all a family affair.
There’s always been a profusion of music in this city, but I’m thrilled to see it all getting more national exposure in recent years. I’m also thrilled to see our R&B and hip-hop community grow and thrive in recent years, because we have been stereotypically known as an indie rock and indie folk city, and it’s taken some time to shake that stereotype and let people know that urban styles of music are alive and well here.
What’s your favorite memory of the scene so far?
Oh man, too many to count! At Holocene, it’s been amazing to host some powerful women who I think will truly be superstars, catching them early on in their trajectory. We had the great pleasure of hosting SZA a few years ago, and NAO this past summer. Just phenomenal talents. As an artist manager, there’s been some completely amazing, rewarding moments as well. I remember when the R&B artist that I work with, Shy Girls, got a shout out from Brandy and a ton of love from Maxwell. They were just the most reassuring and awesome nods to get, coming from these R&B legends, as a sort of passing of the torch.
What artists do you think our readers should know about?
There are so many rad artists coming out of Portland that you should know. Here are some I’ve been really excited about lately in the realms of R&B, hip hop and electronic pop: The Last Artful Dodgr, Blossom, Rasheed Jamal, Reva Devito, Brown Alice, Ellis Pink, My Body, Chanti Darling. The list goes on and on. I have a radio show on Saturdays on Portland’s new community radio station, XRAY.FM, where you can hear my favorite new songs each week from Portland and beyond.
Any advice for someone just starting off?
Bring all your love and all your enthusiasm to this work. The music industry is crazy, but the spiritual rewards in store are worth navigating this constantly changing, kooky industry. It affords you the opportunity to showcase artists that you believe in, to help propel them forward, and to help your community heal and grow through art. Whatever you do, let it be in service to your community and rooted in genuine passion, and make it a point to engage with others who do the same.
Lastly, where do you hope to go from here?
Currently, my aforementioned non-profit organization, Friends of Noise, is working towards establishing a dedicated youth arts and cultural center in East Portland. While many details remain to be seen and there is still much work ahead to make this dream a reality, I do hope that the next evolution in my career could be to play a central role in establishing a community safe space for all ages.
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