Published on January 19th, 2015 | by Scott Ryan0
2014 Spokane Music Recap
I still consider myself a relative newcomer to the Spokane music and arts community. Having relocated to the area from Southern California just over a year and a half ago, 2014 was my first full year spent among the many talented people working to share their craft in this city. I can vividly recall one of the earliest conversations I had with people from the core of the arts scene at the first Collect Secret Show. I stood on a rooftop with Luke Baumgarten and Ginger Ewing, sharing my excitement and trepidation about starting over as a musician in a new area. Both heartily reassured me with their faith in Spokane’s future. “This is an exciting time to be creative in this city,” Ginger told me, and what I have observed in 2014 has reinforced this notion, specifically in the music scene. In the past year, I feel fortunate to have witnessed and been involved in the development of our musical community, and looking back, I believe that there’s a great deal to be proud of and even more to look forward to.
As production manager at The Bartlett, I was immediately and directly connected with this city’s musical identity. Watching this venue open and become a new pillar in the local scene has been affirming for all involved in the process. It has given me the opportunity to chat with bands from all over the city, region and country, feeling the living pulse of the hard working musicians that have performed on that stage. The Bartlett had it’s grand opening party nearly one year ago, and since then has seen it’s share of amazing shows, featuring acts like Typhoon, Future Islands, Bonnie Prince Billy, Angel Olsen, and Mudhoney, not to mention local favorites like the Marshall McLean Band and Lavoy. The Bartlett has also been host to a weekly open mic that has grown tremendously in a year, and events like Poetry Slam and The Round, allowing a crossover between the music, poetry and art scenes in Spokane, helping to unify us and create a synergy between different creative fields.
The Bartlett was not the only space to enjoy high quality performances last year. Despite some difficulty behind the scenes, former staple, The Big Dipper, returned to prominence as an anchor of Spokane’s live music culture. The Dipper hosted fantastic shows this year from locals like Pine League and Folk Inception to national touring acts like Boris, Tristen, Orenda Fink and Alien Ant Farm. Last summer’s Volume 509 music festival, organized by the Inlander, managed to bring record crowds to see local and regional bands at new and well-known venues throughout the city. Larger spaces like the Knitting Factory and the Bing brought in Of Montreal and Dave Rawlings Machine among others, and the Spokane Arena landed the likes of Elton John and Motley Crue on their farewell tour. Even small clubs and bars like the Viking and the Lantern worked hard to elevate the level of their live music offerings, and old standbys like Mootsy’s and the Baby Bar continued to be favorites for catching both brand new and well loved acts. Spokane has a wider variety of environments for folks to experience fantastic shows than ever before.
2014 also proved to be a banner year for local musicians, raising the bar on the quality of the city’s output. While some giants called it quits (RIP Terrible Buttons), new projects rose from the ashes. Mama Doll, fronted by former Buttons singer, Sarah Berentson, and including members of several other bands, and The Holy Broke, a long gestating solo project by Buttons frontman, Kent Ueland, both worked on new releases and built admirable followings. Vaughn Wood and Brandon Vasquez of Dead Serious Lovers managed to find time to create a side project, bringing dreamy, psychedelic blues vibes as Von the Baptist. EP releases from newer electronic projects including Sea Giant, Crystalline and Water Monster (to which I contribute guitar work) made Spokane’s feet move. Longtime Spokane staple, Tyler Aker, showed his raucous side with new band, Pine League, delighting crowds at venues all over town. The Rustics and Duke Hogue showcased their unique takes on songwriting to make sure the folk scene was alive and kicking. Having spent a great deal of time at the Bartlett’s weekly open mic, it has been a joy to see a group of regulars form and get to know each other, testing out new songs, forming new bands and paying the utmost respect to each other as they find their voices in a safe environment. I have been continually impressed by the way that those in the music community in this city seem to look out for one another, no matter how eclectic the sound and style. This protectiveness is part of what makes Spokane a unique and wonderful place to create music.
Where we truly seem to excel is this aspect of being a community. I had a friend come out to visit this past summer to help launch the Spokane branch of the Songs for Kids Foundation, and he couldn’t get over how encouraging the local musicians were to each other. It seemed so wonderfully foreign to him. He was right. Coming from several years spent in Southern California, I got very used to the idea that musicians came to other bands’ shows because they wanted a favor in return. Everything revolved around the idea of networking, hoping to maybe meet a promoter that could lead to a future show and making sure you had been seen at the right venue by the right people on the right night. There is something completely refreshing about a scene where some of the biggest acts call other local musicians their heroes and some of their favorite musicians. It seems that since music in Spokane isn’t currently getting national recognition, those who inhabit this community watch out for their own. We recognize and celebrate each other’s achievements. It doesn’t mean we are free of the competition and jealousy that exists within every community of artists, but from what I’ve seen, this scene is overwhelmingly supportive and artists have genuine respect for each other. Musicians play in multiple bands, sometimes fronting a project, and sometimes taking the role of sideman for somebody else. New events like those mentioned above (i.e. The Round, etc.) are bringing artists together in fresh ways and helping them to collaborate. There are people here with a passion for their art and their community, hungry for the kinds of experiences that can be found in other cities and they are starting to find ways to create them in Spokane. These are the things that give me the most hope when I see what we’ve accomplished and look forward to our future.
“There is something completely refreshing about a scene where some of the biggest acts call other local musicians their heroes and some of their favorite musicians.”
As a music scene, there are still improvements to be made. There’s a prevailing attitude that what happens here is “Spokane good,” but nothing more. I have heard badmouthing about our city, venues and even fan support of the music scene (despite sellout shows, festivals, etc.) Some venues still expect bands to play for free, and look down on them even asking for gas money, despite charging a cover. There are bands booking multiple shows during the course of a weekend, or even the same day without much thought to how it might affect the turnout of each show. These seem like symptoms of a music scene that doesn’t consider itself worth taking seriously. The truth is that Spokane has an enormous amount of talented people who are passionate enough about their art to do something special with it. Those who continue to further the ‘yeah, but Spokane sucks’ mantra are those who aren’t paying attention to what is happening right now in this city. They haven’t been to The Bartlett. They haven’t sang along with Marshall McLean at Volume. They haven’t been to the renovated Huntington Park or driven through Kendall Yards or eaten at Casper Fry. So many bands I have spoken with at the Bartlett have said that they used to look down on Spokane. Now it has become a favorite stop for many of these same bands because of the changes we’ve seen happening in the last year. Many of these national touring acts are changing their opinion of Spokane, and we need to do the same. Karli Ingersoll pointed out that some local headliners have managed to sell out shows at cover charges above $10 this year. This should be proof enough that as artists and venues get more serious about the quality of their output, fans will be more than willing to invest. There’s amazing art and music being made here and it should be recognized. If we want it to be taken seriously, we need to ditch the old rhetoric and promote our city with the same genuine passion we have when protecting each other. Incredible things could happen here if we did.
What I’ve been a part of as a musician in Spokane during the last year has given me hope, partially because what I’ve experienced is so refreshingly different from the self-promoting, competitive music culture I came from. I really believe that there’s music being made here that people outside our city need to hear. If 2014 was a banner year for music in Spokane, I get excited dreaming about what we can accomplish in the years to come. We’ve got the togetherness thing down. Let’s keep creating amazing music and invite the rest of the music listening world at large into our little corner of the northwest. They may never want to leave.