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The Ramblin' Mike

Behind the Scenes with Jim Potillo
by Michael Guthrie

Live Music

For about a year or so I have been listening to Jim Portillo at the Victory Music open mic at Ravenna Third Place Books. Jim has a relaxed style and a warm voice that soothes the soul. He was encouraged to start playing this open mic by his friend Stewart Hendrickson, and he has been a regular ever since.
Jim and I have been getting to know each other through e-mail and at the open mic. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Jim and Sandy McDonald were co-producing a concert of Country Blues for the Seattle Folklore Society featuring Grant Dermody, John Miller and Orville Johnson. Being a fan of country blues I was ready to go and see these local legends.
We arrived at The Phinney Ridge Community Center and were greeted by a full house. Fortunately we had reserved our seats ahead of time. As we made our way down to the hall, people who didn't have reservations formed a growing line, waiting to buy any remaining unreserved tickets. The hall was packed with blues lovers and the lovers of blues lovers. Of course I made my way straight to the coffee and cookies, poured a tall one and sat down to listen to a fine tribute to country blues. And fine it was—superb vocal harmonies, killer harmonica, masterful guitar, and stellar mandolin and steel guitar. These veterans know how to lay it down. When they booked this gig they had to promise to have their new CD Deceiving Blues finished in time for the concert. A lot of happy folks got to take away a piece of the show because they lived up to their promise. If you like old country blues then you've got to see the dynamic trio of Johnson, Miller and Dermody (www.johnsonmilleranddermody.com).
Do you ever stop and wonder how these concerts happen? This one started one day in December when Jim and Sandy saw Johnson, Miller and Dermody play at Dusty Strings. Later Jim decided to ask Sandy, concert chair for SFS, what would be involved in producing a concert with these guys. Sandy became Jim's mentor and invited him to co-produce the concert. Jim says this experience added a whole new dimension to his music experience.
Jim was born and raised in West Texas. He graduated from high school and moved to Austin, Texas to attend the University of Texas. He always liked music as a kid but it was when he moved to Austin that he first listened to music seriously. One semester, instead of attending university, he decided to go to a training center for blind adults in Louisiana. He met Rik James there, who introduced him to the music of Gordon Lightfoot. After learning some new skills there, Jim went back to Austin and graduated from the University of Texas.
His first job took him to Nebraska to work at a rehabilitation center teaching people who lost their sight how to use computers. Because he was hooked on music he soon found a radio show called "River City Folk" hosted by Tom May (which now is syndicated and comes out of Portland). Listening to this show inspired him to buy an old Yamaha acoustic guitar and learn to play.
In 2002 Jim moved to Seattle and started taking guitar lessons—which he still does to this day. He started going to the SFS song circle and their concerts, and eventually became a member. Jim finds the music community he is in very inspiring and now, four years later, he has found a new thrill. He is an example to all of us of how our ideas are within our reach if we follow through and do the work part.
Jim Portillo is a part of the Greater Seattle folk music scene. At the core of it all lies the Seattle Folklore Society and Victory Music, two organizations that exist for the sole purpose of nurturing the community as a whole by promoting the art of music in the form of concerts, open mics and song circles. Many musicians started out playing through this network. This is the web behind the scene with Jim Portillo sitting in.

Michael Guthrie is a singer/songwriter who regularly plays venues in the Northwest. He is a Victory Music sound volunteer and produced his own CD. He ran his own coffee house/cafe, The Village Green Cafe, in Kaslo, BC from 1973-79, and studied sound engineering and recording at Sound Master Recording Studios in North Hollywood, CA in 1987. Contact him at moorafa@mindspring.com or visit www.moorafa.com.



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