Model Airplane. Photo by Andy Bustin

Model Airplane has been playing shows right after Thanksgiving for 13 years, billed for the past decade or so as Funksgiving.

This is the first year the show will happen at Aura, which is much bigger than its previous venues – Portland House of Music and, before that, The Big Easy. This allows the band to play one show instead of the usual two, so they’ll get to spend time a bit more time digesting turkey. It also means it’s going to be one hell of a party.

“We’re in it for the collective joy,” said Dan Boyden, drummer for funk, soul and R&B collective.

Fans can expect to hear tunes by Earth, Wind & Fire, Little Feat, Parliament Funkadelic, Chaka Khan, Joe Cocker, Prince, Aretha Franklin and a sprinkling of some ’90s hip-hop and R&B tunes. There will also be a handful of originals in the mix.

I met singer Lyle Divinsky, Boyden and bass player Pete Genova for lunch recently and was charmed by their story, which dates back to their childhood in the early ’90s. Divinsky was in first grade while Boyden and Genova were in second at what was then called Hall Elementary in Portland, where Divinsky would sometimes belt out a falsetto tune earning him the nickname “Malyle Carey.”

Fast-forward to high school where the three friends bonded over “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and basketball. But they also loved music, including bands like Boyz II Men and all sorts of pop. Boyden and Genova skewed more rock, while Divinsky had developed a taste for soul and R&B, thanks in part to his father, Phil, who is also a singer and a huge influence.


It was during that time that Boyden and Genova started to get serious about playing music. They both stopped playing sports and instead used those after-school hours to practice becoming a solid rhythm section.

Around 2002, Divinsky, who was focused on his basketball aspirations, came to realize that he wasn’t NBA material. That’s when he reconnected with Boyden and Genova and said he’d like to sing. A handful of gigs followed, and then a Sunday night residency at the long-closed Old Port venue The Alehouse. “We would make just enough money to be able to take one friend to Denny’s afterwards,” said Divinsky.

“That was the birth of Model Airplane, and we got a lot better just playing Sunday night,” said Genova, adding that they rotated in a lot of covers with some Divinsky originals. The band slid into a Monday night residency spot at The Big Easy, and the momentum continued. Although the members weren’t yet 21, they managed to get themselves on that legendary and still-missed Big Easy stage.

In 2010, Model Airplane shared a bill with singer Kenya Hall, who was celebrating an album release at The Big Easy on the day after Thanksgiving. This was the beginning of a Thanksgiving tradition that rivals the Macy’s Day Parade as far as the local music community and its fans are concerned.

“The reason why Funskgiving is the greatest thing ever to all of us is Model Airplane is our family, and we don’t get to spend time with each other in this group, in this capacity, very often,” said Divinsky. Divinsky has been living on the West Coast for the past couple of years and has been in Portland for the past few weeks. His next move will be to Nashville, Tennessee, soon after the show.

Boyden also loves the annual gathering. “I get to be at my show while I’m playing it, and I’m just floored by what everybody’s doing. I’m on my toes and excited.”


I’ve seen Model Airplane live and, whoa nelly, their shows are a dance party like none other. Everyone in the room has a blast because the musicianship is first-rate, the song choices tremendous and the vibe is arguably one of the happiest you want to be immersed in. Trust me on this.

Everyone in the band, and by the way there could be a few special guests, has been playing in Portland and a few other parts of the country for many years. Their musical DNA is everywhere, and the 12 core members who will be on stage on Aura on Nov. 25 are a who’s who of wildly talented singers and musicians.

Along with Divinsky, Boyden and Genova, this year’s Model Airplane line-up is Tyler Quist (keys), Dane Farnsworth (keys),  Max Cantlin (guitar), Phil Rodriguez (trumpet), Lucas Desmond (sax), Brian Graham (sax),  Chris Sweet (percussion), Gina Alibrio (vocals), Kenya Hall (vocals), Phil Divinsky (vocals).

I smell a sell-out, so don’t sleep on tickets.

Model Airplane Funksgiving
9 p.m. Nov. 25. Aura, 121 Center St., Portland, $25, 18-plus.

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