As I put my head down against the infamous Seattle drizzle, the city’s signature smell of clove cigarettes and cooking food swirls about me. The crisp salt air blows in from Puget Sound to the west, and the fresh scent of pine trees drifts down from the forests that lay to the east.
Known the world over for its protests, Seattle is a mecca for the liberal arts, a passion for music, animal rights and the environment. The Emerald City has produced many greats such as Jimmi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Eddie Vedder and Dave Matthews.
For a relatively small city with a population hovering around 660,000 (within city limits. Metropolitan population is estimated at 3,798,902), Seattle is an icon of the Pacific Northwest, and it’s the place I’ve called home for nearly 10 years.
This bitterly cold December night I am headed to a music house that has made its name among the great venues of this city: The Crocodile. The building, with its neon green sign and giant metal crocodile door handles, rests in the heart of the Belltown neighborhood and its stage has been graced by the likes of Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and the band that made me love the venue – R.E.M. (guitarist Peter Buck’s wife once owned the Crocodile when it was a cafe).
Tonight, I am here to work the merchandise table, a job that fuels my passion for the live music scene and encourages my love of the great hometown band playing here; a band that once was called Floater, but now goes by Robert Wynia and The Sound.
With their name being a lengthy acronym (Fight Large Organization Advertising Take-over of Every Radio station), Floater is an institution in the PNW. Born and bred in the local music scene of early ‘90’s Eugene, Oregon, they have been home-grown ever since. Now residing in Portland, the power trio is known for the fierce loyalty and cult-following they instigate within the hearts of their fans. Floater is a band that truly belongs to those of us that live our lives within the West Coast music scene.
Tonight, Robert Wynia and The Sound, which is composed of one original Floater member (yup...that would be Robert Wynia), left their mark on Seattle for the first time since the official disbanding of Floater (the last hurrah for Floater was their induction into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame in October of this year).
As I walk the hallway between the bar and the music room of The Crocodile, I feel as though I’m walking through a haunted corridor, the walls lined with the faces of those musicians who put Seattle on the map. I top the ramp at the end of the hall and look to my right, to the stage, and am rewarded with the sight of a dark and musty room that has seen live music almost every night of its life. High ceilings, a small bar against the back wall and a dominant stage make the room what it is: a place to not only see music, but to feel music; a place to immerse yourself in sound and revel in the vibe - the scene that grungy Seattle is famous for.
When the time comes, I can’t help but smile as the lights dim and the bodies crowd the stage in eager anticipation. Already, the smell of booze, weed, and sweat are burning my nose and every nerve in my body feels viciously alive. Watching the dark figures silently take the stage in a swirl of colorful fog is perhaps the climax of the entire evening; waiting for the music to begin, and knowing it’s only mere seconds away, is the glory moment of all live music.
The incredible thing about Seattle is knowing that while I’m here, watching my friends do what they do best on stage, there are thousands of others just as passionate as I am scattered about the city doing exactly the same thing. On any given night, in this cluster of music-lovers who reside in the space of land between mountains and sea, there are a number of venues to choose from and whatever type of music you’re in the mood for – it’s there for your taking. Everything from hard rock to reggae to angry girl music. You’ve got a choice of big name bands or never-before-heard-of bands that are trying to dig out their groove in history. There’s Kuinka and Vaudeville Etiquette at Neumos or the Dead Sonics in West Seattle; Macklemore at CenturyLink or Lindsey Stirling at the Paramount and Franz Ferdinand at the Showbox Market. The choices are endless and Seattle is an over-indulgent buffet of pure bliss for the live music fanatic.
As usual, Robert Wynia rocks it hard and the crowd is a sweaty, slippery mass of limbs and torsos, their arms raised and fingers splayed wide while the music pulses through their bodies. From my claimed spot just below the stage, I fluctuate between being rooted in place and watching with captivated eyes, my heart filling with sound so gorgeous it nearly hurts, my ribcage rattling in time with the bass, and dancing with no reserve, the music taking control of my body. Strangers and I sing every lyric to one another, high-fiving and laughing and dancing while we bond over the words escaping from someone else’s mouth; words born inside someone else’s soul, yet resonate so deeply with all of us in the crowd.
Live music is an adrenaline like none I have encountered before; it is a healing agent that can help you through rough times; an element of joy that can lift you up and create some of the happiest moments that you will remember until your dying day. Music is therapy, and should be revered as such. It is an ancient and universal culture that dates back further than you and me, further still than our parents and grandparents. It is an experience that has the power to invoke transformation. Music creates family, especially when you've all been 'with the band' for the majority of your life, like most of us have been with Floater.
The after-party of a show is in itself something to behold. As the band descends the stage, I am the recipient of sweat-soaked hugs while we slip into the green room, where I count the bills in the money box, which is a Floater legend plastered with stickers and funny messages written in sharpie by every person who’s ever worked merch, and rewrite the sales list that I haphazardly scrawled on the back of a poster.
Nowhere in the world will you find a city that fosters the incredibly alive, vibrant and alluringly dirty atmosphere that has encouraged Seattle to create so many talented musicians. Like no other place I have been, The Emerald City, resting upon the shores of the Salish Sea, is truly a gem - a safe haven for individuality, self-expression, and unabated passion for music, even for those of us who aren’t musicians ourselves.
So many years of Floater...