(The following is the memorial speech at I gave for my friend and mentor, Bill Martin, who passed away this past September. I gave the speech at the 14th annual Portland Old Time Music Gathering to a crowd filled with his friends and loved ones)
I met Bill Martin in the late 90’s in the freshly opened warehouse space of Stumptown Printers. Bill was immediately warm, friendly, interested and excited in meeting us young musicians who had just appeared on the Portland scene. At that time the number of Portlanders active and passionate about old time music appeared to be only around a couple dozen. Half of those folks seemed to be in hibernation from the thriving scene that existed here in the late 70’s… The other half was my generation; young, dreamy, enthusiastic, and trying to get a handle on what southern music was all about. Bill found our energy contagious. He immediately recognized the need to connect our northwest brand of southern music with the southern dancing he was so excited about and he set about to convince us youngsters to make it happen.
In 1999 – after our second pilgrimage to that dusty, thorny, field in Weiser, Idaho known as Stickerville – Brian Bagdonas and I began organizing the first Portland Gathering, which we called the Throbfest after the pulsing mega jams that used to occur there which we loving called throb-jams. Bill, along with his wife Nancy, came to that first gathering in Jan of 2000. On his cello and his tuba he would bow and honk out the bass notes along to fiddle tunes…all the while infusing every jam with his surly happiness. By the end of the weekend we knew that Bill would be involved in whatever came before us. By the following year, with Bill at the helm as dance master, we began incorporating square dancing into the Old Time Gathering, as well as a regular part of our communities fabric. That connection of music and dance can’t be underestimated. It is the glue that has held this community together for over a decade – and it’s a glue that has inspired countless communities all over the country.
Around the same time that Bill joined our group he started two other seemingly humble projects; a website and a weekly email newsletter. The website was a trusty amalgamation of information and goings-on about about square dancing, southern music, and our local scene. But the newsletter was his voice. It was pure Bill; funny, grouchy, irreverent, optimistic, unapologetic, fatherly, repetitive, passionate, forgetful, satirical, compassionate, wise, humble, critical, and loving. But most importantly, it was a consistent, weekly reminder of Bill’s values and his dreams for our community. That voice quickly became the voice of the Portland gathering and the voice of our community to the rest of the country. I learned as much about Bill from those newsletters as I did from all the hours spent with him. And I believe that Bill’s strong, constant voice over the last decade is what has enabled our community to achieve the cohesiveness it has achieved and to create the joy it has created.
Along the way Bill was a constant part of my life. When I formed the Government Issue Orchestra, he was there to bow his cello and play ten dollar gigs with us youngsters. When I started calling square dances, he was there to guide me and give me opportunities to practice. When we started a nonprofit music and dance organization, he was there to help. Bill’s close friends called him Bubba so we named our organization Bubbaville, in order to fully entrench him as our spiritual leader. Bill was a friend, a mentor, a co-conspirator, a dreamer, and an inspiration.
I like to remind people that no one person created this gathering. And no one person created this community. This community was created by everyone in this room, and everyone who has ever been in this room, or come to one of our dances, or jams, house parties, chili cookoffs, movie screenings, or workshops. But it’s really hard for me to imagine all of us being in this room here together if it hadn’t been for the support, encouragement and guidance of Bill Martin. I miss you Bill.