Just a few months after the close of its upstairs neighbor, the Roma Cafe, the Bramhall Pub, long an institution in the West End, shut its doors two weeks ago. And while there's talk it may reopen after renovations, one thing is for sure: The 11-plus-year run of Jerks of Grass shows on Thursday nights, the longest-standing weekly gig in Portland, has come to an end.
Banjo player Carter Logan is sanguine about the run's end: "It was 11-and-a-half good years," he says, "but it wasn't like I wanted to be there another 11-and-a-half years."
But damn if it didn't feel like it could go on forever. Though the Jerks of have gone through a line-up change or two, their formula for success on Thursday nights never wavered: show up a little after nine, set up in no apparent hurry, wander through the crowd to grab a couple drinks (Ronnie Gallant always likes his whiskey), then power through three sets of alternatingly breakneck down-home bluegrass and some of the most technically proficient and progressive stuff you're ever likely to hear in a basement bar.
It was good enough that Doc Watson sidekick Jack Lawrence once sat in.
"He was in town for something an he just showed up," Carter said, and the Jerks never met a guest musician they didn't like. Fiddlin' Tim Farrell used to do the best "Orange Blossom Special" with them I've ever seen (Farrell's a whiz with the animal impressions).
"I loved how casual it was," Carter said. "It was, 'Hey man, what's up? Hold on, I gotta play a song.'" Fans loved that, too, chatting up the band between songs and calling out favorites. Plus, it was a great night for meeting like-minded soul-mates. Guitarist Jason Phelps met his wife Erica there, and stories abound of couples who hooked up at the Bramhall on a Thursday night, never to break up.
If Logan laments anything, it's that "they should have had one last party — we could have really put on a great night, and a ton of people would have come out for one last throwdown."
The Jerks say they've got plenty of gigs for the summer, but in the fall they'll be looking for another weekly gig at another venue. And maybe they'll stick there for a decade or so.