Photo courtesy of Bim Ditson
Have you ever played basketball on a hoop attached to the back of a graffitied utility van? Probably not, because you aren't in a band. And even if you are in a band, you don't live in Portland, Oregon. And even if you are in a band, and you live in Portland, chances are that you missed the registration period for the basketball tournament. All 32 slots on the bracket were filled with bands in less than 24 hours. There's always next year.
The annual tournament, called Rigsketball, takes place every summer all around Portland. Here's how it works: The Rigsketball van is parked in front of strip clubs, in cul-de-sacs, and in alleyways—two bands face off until a champion emerges or the cops break it up.
The band that makes it through to win the championship walks away with bragging rights, a bunch of media attention, and an obscenely large golden trophy topped with a statue of the van. Past tournaments have included Portland royalty bands like Starfucker, Typhoon, AAN, and the Rock 'n' Roll Soldiers.
There's a 32-band bracket this year, with bands like Minden, the We Shared Milk, Hustle & Drone, and Con Bro Chill competing. The first round of games takes place on Friday at PDXPop Now!, Portland's city-wide music festival. Be sure to show up before the games devolve into a drunken roman candle fight, like has happened in the past.
Bim Ditson and the Rigsketball hoop. Photo by Brenton Salo
Rigsketball is the brainchild of Bim Ditson, a lanky guy with a frizzy red mohawk who looks a bit like a punk version of the turtle guy in Master of Disguise. I first met Bim when he was a 15-year-old high school kid in Eugene, Oregon. He was loud and charismatic and was already running an oddly-successful chainmaille jewelry business at local craft fairs. The last time I saw him, he showed me an eight-inch stick-and-poke tattoo on his thigh of a slice of pizza nailed to a cross. He called it "Cheezus Christ."
Bim moved to Portland to join one of Portland's most-loved bands called And And And. For a while he was going to shows every night and reporting on them for local newspaper Willamette Week in a column called Bimstagram. Then he decided to drill a hoop to the back of the And And And van to give the band something to do on tour.
It was only natural that other bands would start challenging them to three-on-three pick-up games. That grew into this insane, 32-band tournament. Bim's always been good at making stuff happen. I recently called him up to find out what the hell Rigsketball is, how you play it, and why all the bands in Portland are suddenly into sports.
VICE: Hey Bim. Why'd you decide to build a basketball hoop on the back of your tour van, anyway?
Bim Ditson: My band, And And And, built it because we thought it'd be funny. We would play pick-up games after soundcheck against the other bands on the bill that night. It grew from there into Rigsketball.
But the hoop comes off, right? You don't just drive around with that ten-foot basketball hoop on the back of your van.
It folds down, but it's on there permanently. We just needed something to cut down on drag and get us better gas mileage, so we went ahead and built a heavy basketball-hoop spoiler on the van.
Smart. So Rigsketball started out with you guys playing against bands before shows. When did the tournament come together?
This is officially our fourth year. When we started out, I really had to hassle bands to get 32. Now, when we open registration, the bracket is full in a day. We had 20-25 bands signed on during the first hour.
The first year we played each game in a different location—we had 31 different spots and no permits or anything. I can't believe we got away with it. Now, we just use a handful of locations.
What kind of spots?
Parking lots of bars, little dead-end streets, skate parks... We look for the places where it's OK for you to brown bag it.
Are all Portland bands really into basketball now?
There are at least 10 people that I know who, before Rigsketball, never touched a basketball. Now they play all the time.
You're keeping them healthy. Does Rigsketball have any special rules?
This year we're going to be doing best of three games to 15. Three-on-three, half-court, streetball style. The teams decide as they're playing how aggressive they want to be. Sometimes it's basketball and other times it's more like rugby. Depends on who is calling fouls.
We've had games where people climb up on the van and push each other off, but also games where they call every hand slap.
Is there a big prize, or do people just do it for the glory?
Totally for the glory. We make an absurd trophy every year and people like that. Last year we set up a bunch of media stuff for the winner, which helps them with visibility in the music community.
TxE, past Rigsketball champions. Photo courtesy of Bim Ditson
Anything wild happen in past years?
We've run the gamut on crazy stuff. There were days where we played outside of a strip club and all the strippers came out to watch, and then everybody started shooting roman candles at each other. It's absurd. You let 100 musicians do whatever they want and it gets crazy most of the time. No one leaves without at least a skinned knee.
When's the first game this year?
The first and second rounds will be this weekend at PDXPop Now!. It'll go from 2PM until 9PM Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The semifinals and finals will be the following weekend, with a big finale show that Friday, with a bunch of the bands. The show is going to be at this ridiculous East Portland Eagles Lodge.
It's the kind of place where old people with a lot of pins on their coats go to day-drink. It's pretty awesome. We'll have two stages, and KPSU—the local college radio station—is sponsoring it.
What is it about the Portland music scene that keeps it so close-knit? It seems like you guys are all good buddies.
Portland has a huge infrastructure of entry-level venues. Places that will throw free or $5 shows and let the band keep the door. We have an endless number of those venues, plus an endless number of basements—bands always have places to play.
There's such a strong community and camaraderie between Portland bands—even ones in different genres. It's not uncommon to see psych bands on the same bill as a metal band. That's why I wanted to start Rigsketball. It taps into that idea that we're all on the same team when we're at this level. We aren't hurting each other when one of us gets success. We're all in it together.
Except when you're competing for the Rigsketball trophy.
A little good-natured competition never hurt anybody.
Check out the 2014 Rigsketball compilation featuring this year's bands here.
Follow River Donaghey on Twitter.