By ASHLEY CENTERS
The musician grew up in rural North Carolina. In high school, he played rhythm guitar with a few bands influenced by both heavy metal and blues music. According to West, he and his then bandmates, who were all underage, would sneak into bars in a nearby college town to play covers at open-mic events. He started singing and writing his own music while attending University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“I first braved an open mic to play my own tunes in early 2000,” West said via email. “I raced through three original tunes and almost had a panic attack. It was both frightening and incredibly fun. I was hooked at that point, and knew I wanted to perform.”
West fell in love with Portland, Ore., while visiting in 2001. Hoping to make a name for himself, the recent graduate packed up his dog and guitar and moved to the City of Roses. The first couple of years he spent a lot of his time busking on street corners and frequenting open mics around the city. He began booking his first shows in 2005. Now, he and his band average 100 shows a year, including several music festivals.
“I believe that performing is a type of therapy,” West said. “For myself, and hopefully for the listeners. There’s a connection that can happen within the band and to the audience that can only happen in a live setting. Our music continues to evolve and shift the more we perform. Plus, there’s always an element of improvisation to keep things fresh for us (and hopefully for the listeners too).”
Will West and the Friendly Strangers formed after West picked up a weekly gig at Portland’s White Eagle Saloon in 2008. West said he would try to put together a trio or quartet for each week’s show, but when people’s schedules were incompatible he began filling the lineup with seven or eight musicians he met around town.
“Sometimes my bandmates will be meeting each other for the first time on stage,” West said. “So, the name Friendly Strangers came up to describe the rotating lineup of players that would join me.”
Playing a groovy blend of bluegrass and folk, the band previously performed at John’s Alley Tavern as a trio but performs tonight as a six-piece ensemble featuring Skip vonKuske of Portland Cello Project on cello and mandolin, Jeff Simpson on trumpet and keys, Ben Kohen on bass, Don Henson on percussion, vibes and synths and Tanner Cundy on guitar.
West said he enjoys touring and meeting people while experiencing new places but also misses his wife and 16-month-old daughter. He hopes to bring them on tour starting next year.
IF YOU GO
WHO: Will West and the Friendly Strangers
WHEN: 9:30 Thursday, Sept. 7
WHERE: John’s Alley Tavern, 114 E. Sixth St., Moscow
Centers believes in white coffee, haikus and feminism. She can be found replenishing her empathic superpowers in the sun or under her cocoon of blankets at home in Moscow. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.