From my comfy armchair on a warm summer night in England (yes, they do exist), I’m wondering if I’m going to be able to relate to a sweet folk song set on a cold night in Portland, USA.
I needn’t have worried: there’s an authenticity and a beautiful simplicity to this song, which transcends climate and location. In less and a minute, I’ve forgotten all about my armchair and the warm summer night. In my mind, I’m transported to a bar in the USA where there’s a guy on stage, singing and playing the guitar. On the dance floor, there’s a girl and there’s a connection between them…
Despite being an observer to this scene in front of me, I can relate to it – as can most people and, as a listener, I get to experience this simple but beautiful love story, the entirety of which is played out in only 3 minutes and 14 seconds. For that time though, I find myself captivated and involved.
The beautifully simple and understated instrumentation in this song (a single guitar and a whistled melody) leaves the listener able to focus on the story being told. Their eyes meet in the bar and the connection is instantaneous. They have the sort of night that we all dream of but the rest of the song leaves us wondering about their repeated question, ‘Will this be the last bus back to Portland? Could this be the end of it all?’
Maybe I’m just a hopeless romantic but I find myself rooting for them. The melody and the lyrics drag you in like a good movie: you find yourself caring about these characters, which in less than 3 and a half minutes is quite an achievement. Maybe it’s because it’s such a credible story: Boy meets girl, they fall for each other but has fate dealt the cruel blow of this only being for one night? Even after that, do they both feel the same?
Emily and Jake take turns to tell different parts of the story and their voices complement each other perfectly. There’s something almost metaphorical in the way that both voices seem to dance around each other before coming together into a perfectly pitched harmony – just like the characters in the song. Also mimicking the characters, there are times when the voices separate again and you find yourself waiting for them to reunite.
As the song progresses, we follow Jake and Emily as they meet up again, referencing the kind of real-life love that listeners can really relate to. Things like sharing awful puns, eating tacos and having the time of your life with someone, wondering if they feel the same. That’s the other side of ‘Last Bus to Portland’ that resonates with me. There’s a real vulnerability to it, showing how fragile love can be, how terrifying it can be to have it and wonder if it’s all going to be taken away.
On delving a little deeper into the duo’s social media, I discovered that it’s no fluke that this song feels so real. This part of the biog on their Facebook page feels very familiar to anyone who has listened to this song:
Emily lives in Boston and Jake resides in Portland, how did these two meet? Two words: Lizard Lounge. This venue hosts a killer open mic, but it’s an even greater place for a meet cute. It began one winter night; Emily’s friend convinced her to go Cambridge and watch the finalists compete in the Open Mic Showdown. While in the audience, she heard Jacob sing… and more importantly whistle… and instantly felt a connection. One year later, and these two are happily dating and finishing their first EP.
Needless to say, the whistle that they refer to is prominent in the song, which is endearing. Jake and Emily have let us into their love story but it’s still very much their song, about their relationship and it’s for them.
I won’t spoil the end of the song but I‘m pretty sure that you can guess where it goes. Fortunately for me, the couple also promise on their biog that if we keep track of the band, we’ll get to hear the next part of their story.
By the end of the song, I felt like I’d been on a journey with these two and, like a good book, I found myself wanting to know what happens next.
This world can be a cynical place so it’s good to know that there’s still a place for a simple, sweet love song. The song stays with you after it’s finished – having an impact on your mood just like good music should.
Formed in Boston, Emily and Jake are an indie duo whose influences include folk, pop, and Fleetwood Macesque rock. The duo came together in 2017 when songwriters Emily MacDonald and Jacob McCurdy met in Cambridge MA at a Lizard Lounge open mic night. Since then, the have created lively and fun acoustic music that reflect their attitudes on life.
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Iain Wheeler was born in the Wirral, England and now lives in Bedfordshire (after a short detour to Lincoln) with his wife and 2 children. Iain grew up listening to his parents’ record collection, including things like Little Angels and Bon Jovi. He has since moved on to an eclectic collection ranging from The Wonder Years and Mayday Parade to Bright Eyes and Mojave 3. Currently, he is a school teacher who plays tenor sax for ‘Codename Colin,’ a ska-punk band who released their first EP ‘Outgunned’ in 2017.