Video poker machines light up the back of the room, and a deep-fryer chugs away filling the air with the smell—and feel—of grease. Sandwiched between beer signage, neatly framed autographed Michael Jordan and John Paxson jerseys hang on the wall.
On a recent Tuesday night, two of Bend's most seasoned musicians, the incomparable Bobby Lindstrom and the up-and-comer Derek Michael Marc, are pounding hard-bitten blues from a bare-bone, no-nonsense stage.
No, don't expect to order a martini here, and know that the words "indie music" don't mean much at the Northside Bar and Grill.
But what is here is great music. Just ask the guy who walked into the bar a second ago and immediately started strumming his air guitar to the music as he walked passed me. He knows.
The first time I was at Northside, it was to chat with Marc—Bend's no-frills youthful rocker known for his work with The River Pigs and as the former drummer for Bend rock outfit Jones Road. Tonight I finally see him in his element—guitar in hand, adorned by a leather hat, sporting a soul patch and playing the blues. He's busting out covers from Eric Clapton and seamlessly transitioning into solos that trend more toward the northern blues of Memphis. There's a country element to his playing, but I can still hear big notes of B.B. King in there, too.
In an effort to become a serious front man and solo artist, Marc tossed aside the drums and taught himself to play the guitar just a couple of years ago. Yet here I am, watching this guy run his fingers up and down the fret board of his electric guitar making it wail an angry sad tune as he trades solos with Lindstrom like it was an instrument he learned decades ago.
He's still honing his craft, but the timing for his solos is impeccable—likely the result of his time behind the drum kit.
Marc finishes up a solo and starts harmonizing with Lindstrom as they cover Clapton's song "Pretending." I take another swig of my beer and notice that Marc doesn't have a huge array of guitar pedals at his feet. In fact he's only using two—only one reason why his sound is so raw.
Marc is also one of Bend's only musicians making a living solely off of playing music. Part of that transition was his desire to play music more than not. But the rest came from a lack of work in his trade. Eking out a paycheck doing a job he hated forced Marc to turn to music and specifically the blues. Being down and out has a way of doing that to a rock-and-roll musician.
"I moved here in 2005 from Snoqualmie, Washington," said Marc. "At the time I was a carpenter and this was where the work was. After the economy tanked, I was driving truck. One day I looked around and thought, 'Man this is not what I want to do.' I'd rather be poor and do what I love doing."
And he wouldn't trade it for anything.
"I could be 65 years old and living from gig to gig," continued Marc. "I'd rather look back over the last 30 years and say that I actually enjoyed my life rather than hate my existence getting up to slave to the man."
The story of Bend guitarist and singer Bobby Lindstrom is a yarn fit for the blues—a bumpy tale of bad choices, most involving women and drugs. And though it's his past, even on this night, as he stands at my table, his eyes divulge the weary road that brought him to redemption in Bend.
As he fills me in on picking up his first guitar at age 10 to eventually hitting rock bottom in 1995, I can see, just beyond the smirk and his boyish twinkle, the emotions of the past.
"At one point I was passed out in a car outside Norms restaurant in Costa Mesa 45 miles south of L.A." recounts Lindstrom. "I woke up looking for my next bright idea and it wasn't there."
He chuckles about it, but a for a split second, a delicate sadness sweeps his face. I'm reminded of the Jimi Hendrix quote, "Blues is easy to play, but hard to feel." Clearly Lindstrom—who is 59 and clean and sober now—feels a lot.
Lyrics from his original country blues song "The Long Way" is proof of that: "I could go back again but I would not change a thing," the song explains. "Not one heartache, not one moment of doubt or pain. So I'll keep moving on, cuz I know this road's the one. It's the long way, but it's bringing me back again."
Since moving to Bend—as the result of finally falling in love with what he calls "a good woman"—Lindstrom has put together quite the résumé for himself. He shows me a stash of CDs that he's recorded with almost anyone worthy of noting in the Bend rock-and-roll scene and indicates that he's excited to share some news with me in the near future. And though I'm only meeting him for the first time, I'm excited too because I instantly believe in this guy.
He heads out in front of the bar for a quick smoke, then returns to climb back on stage and grab his guitar. Two minutes later he says to the band "let's pluck a while," and he starts a decadent blues guitar solo. His eyes are closed, his head is tilted upward and I wonder—what memory is he thinking on now?