As I put my head down against the infamous Seattle drizzle that promises the coming of spring, the city’s signature smell of clove cigarettes and ethnic food swirls about me. I inhale and try to pinpoint the source, but there are too many restaurants, too many hipsters.
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, colliding against the thick glass of modern buildings, lit up green and blue in support of the home team, the beloved Seahawks.
Known the world over for its protests, Seattle is a mecca for the liberal arts, animal rights and the environmental movement, and of course…music. The Emerald City has produced many greats such as Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Eddie Vedder, Macklemore, 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 10 years.
On this sloppy wet and cold April 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 brass 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 indie band playing here tonight – Portland’s, Floater.
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.
As I walk the short hall between the dark bar and the even darker music room inside The Crocodile, I feel as if I’m walking through a haunted corridor, the dingy walls lined with the faces of those musicians who made Seattle theirs. 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 shadowed 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 live music, but to feel music; a place to immerse yourself in sound and revel in the vibe of 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 alcohol, weed, and sweat are burning my nose and I feel as if my skin is the only thing keeping my excitement from bursting out of my body. Watching the mysterious silhouettes silently take the stage is perhaps the climax of the entire evening; waiting for the music to begin and knowing it’s only a matter of 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 at Neumos, or the Dead Sonics in West Seattle; Garrett & the Sheriffs at the Queen Anne Beerhall, Macklemore at CenturyLink or Lindsey Stirling at the Paramount. The choices are endless, and Seattle is an over-indulgent buffet of pure bliss for the live music glutton.
Unsurprisingly, Floater rocks it hard and the crowd is a sweaty, slippery mass of limbs and torsos, their arms raised, and fingers splayed wide in the swirling light while the music pulses through their bodies. From my claimed spot behind the merch table, 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 resonating so deeply within each 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 or me, further still than our parents and grandparents. It is an experience that has the power to invoke transformation.
The after-party of a show is something to behold. As the band, whom I have called friends for most of my life, 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 in itself is a Floater legend, plastered with stickers and witty messages written in sharpie by every person who has ever worked merch, and rewrite the sales list that I haphazardly scrawled on the back of a torn poster – a piece of Seattle and Floater’s history that I will tuck into my pocket instead of dropping into the trash can, finding a special place for it later in my scrapbook of music memorabilia.
Nowhere in the world will you find a city that harbors 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.
The condensation from a room packed full of breathing bodies gathered on the window and slowly rolled down the glass as beautiful sounds filled the air and joined each of us, mostly all strangers, with a shared love of sound. While the cold world lingered outside, we were all huddled together in a Seattle living room, blanketed with the warmth of music.
The crisp and frosty evening in the Fremont neighborhood began with my boots clacking down the dark street, past the Fremont Troll, and left onto 35th Street. The Sofar Sounds poster clung to the bushes outside the house, which sat up two flights of stairs from the sidewalk, and gently drew attention by swaying in the bitter breeze rising from Puget Sound.
Stepping onto the porch, the poster taped to the glass door and the soft light glowing inside invited people in off the chilly street. Upon entering the living room, I was immediately greeted by several old friends whom I hadn’t seen in quite some time. This evening was already shaping up to be fantastic, as I knew it would – as it always does when live music is involved.
Packed shoulder to shoulder like we were waiting for a sweaty rock show, the camaraderie amongst this group was a tangible thing. The house was warm and inviting and I felt as if I was gathered for a holiday with people I cared about.
As the first band took the ‘stage’ (i.e.: a corner of the living room by the windows), a hush came over the room and we all lowered ourselves to the floor and curled up into any available space. I was leaning back against someone’s legs as they sat on the couch behind me and one look between us let me know that it was okay; that even though we didn’t know each other, we were friends, joined by the circumstance and the music.
The band, Brite Lines, offered up a nostalgic-feeling performance by two dudes, armed with an acoustic guitar and a banjo, and who encouraged the audience to participate and sing along. With witty interactions and lyrics that spoke of giving it all up and living on the beach, these guys tugged at my heartstrings and reached out to the nomadic spirit of my soul.
OK Sweetheart was the second band and as they readied themselves, the very unassuming nature of the duo meant that I was vastly underprepared for what I was about to experience.
The singer, Erin, with her purple dress and brown boots, was in possession of the most glorious and radiant smile I’ve ever encountered. From the moment she first stood before us in that little room, to the moment they gave their final bows, she was smiling. She smiled while she sang. She smiled while she regaled us with stories of Macklemore and of teaching a new song to Mark, her guitarist. She smiled while she shared with us her passion for a non-profit called Music and Memory, an organization that collects used iPods, fills them with music and then bestows them upon the elderly. This girl was simply luminous. And then she sang; and her angelic voice pinned everyone to the wall. Not only could she sing, but the stage presence and connection that she and Mark shared absolutely sparked. This band is one to keep an eye on.
After two acoustic performances, Western Haunts jumped at the chance to rock out a bit, and they didn’t disappoint. They described themselves as spacey, yet I was plagued with sweeping visions of an epic journey; visions of walking alone through a vast desert or being on a ship, lost at sea with dark waves and rolling ocean all around. My mind was conjuring up feelings of aloneness and deep solitude. The two brothers in the band, the singer and the drummer, were very much in sync with one another and they lovingly referred to the keyboardist as “Twinkles”. This band was fun.
As my boots clacked back up Troll Ave towards my car, I felt very fortunate to be involved with Sofar Sounds; it really is an extraordinary organization that connects real and true musicians with real and true music lovers. What could be more magical than that?