Ritchie Young is playing the Tower Theatre with his band, Loch Lomond this week, but it won't be his first time in the iconic Bend venue. In fact, he's played there a few times, but not as leader of the critically revered folk-pop band that he now helms. This was before the Tower was the Tower we know now - things were different. Really different.
"They'd just give us the key and let us do whatever we wanted," says Young, "The seats were all torn up - there wasn't much else you could do to the place to make it more burned out, but when you're playing punk rock music in high school that's kind of the ideal situation, ya know?"
No one, especially high school punk rockers, is just handed the key to the Tower Theatre these days. The place has been remodeled, a symbol of the revived Bend of the 2000s, a city that's changed since Young, a Mountain View High School graduate, left town in 1997. Now, Young, whose parents still live in Bend, will return to the Tower as part of the PDXchange Program series on the bill with the Portland Cello Project.
In 2003, Young created Loch Lomond, a cerebral and at times orchestral folk-influenced but rock equipped collective that's currently a sextet, but has toured with a lineup as large as nine in the past. Since the band's inception, 29 different musicians have played with Young as part of Loch Lomond. He doesn't hesitate to calculate that number- - he seems to have it readily available, a sign that he's aware of the evolving nature of this band.
"It took a while to find the core group, but that's been around for a long time, even if other faces have changed," says Young, adding that the lineup includes another native Bendite in multi-instrumentalist, Dave Depper.
The band released its most recent EP, Night Bats, last fall, which was essentially an outlet for new material that Young and company wanted to get out in the open as they continued to slave away on their much-awaited next full-length record. That album, titled Little Me Will Start a Storm, is expected in early 2011.
This new album will likely solidify Loch Lomond as one of many Northwest bands finding success not just in rock clubs, but in places with seats - something that would be uncommon for a band in the "indie" landscape just five years ago. Loch Lomond isn't as hushed a fellow as Portlanders Horse Feathers, who opened the PDXchange series a couple months ago, but still a band where people get quiet to hear what's coming from the stage. And this is something Young has taken a liking to, even if he's not sure the band is necessarily a "folk" act.
"I wouldn't put us in straight up folk music. But I do think it's amazing that people will sit down on the floor of a rock club and listen," says Young, "I think part of this is that people are listening to the lyrics more. If the lyrics are not where they should be, people might write them off."
Young knows something about live music from the audience's perspective. About a year ago he opened The Woods, a Portland music venue that's housed in what was once an old funeral parlor. The place has hosted acts like Blitzen Trapper and is steadily booked with national touring acts in addition to local Portland bands and solo performers.
When Young takes the stage in his hometown, Loch Lomond will play a set on their own, but then return later in the show in which they'll join the Portland Cello Project, the collective of musicians who use the band's namesake instrument to create rock and roll sounds. This is a chance for the Loch Lomond songs to get even bigger than they already are.
"I like to be wrapped around with strings and timpani drums," says Young, "I'm not the most complex songwriter in the world, but a lot of people like to accompany me, so it works well."
This isn't a bad homecoming, at all. Even if they no longer give him and his buddies the key to the theater.
Portland Cello Project, Loch Lomond
8pm Thursday, July 22. Tower Theatre, 835 NW Wall St., $18.