EAST BAY TIMES: July 5, 2018
Austin, Nashville, Seattle — these cities are defined by their live music scenes. But before you dismiss the Puget Sound “sound” as being too grunge, consider this. Seattle is a hot spot for all kinds of live music, in walkable neighborhoods with majestic views and cutting-edge cuisine.
It doesn’t hurt to have a benefactor like Paul Allen either. The Microsoft titan founded the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP, www.mopop.org) and the annual Upstream Music Fest + Summit (upstreammusicfest.com). A musician himself, Allen grew up under the spell of a local rock legend.
“Jimi Hendrix had a huge influence on Paul Allen, growing up,” says MoPOP Senior Curator Jacob McMurray, “One of the records that made a huge impact on him was ‘Are you Experienced’ which came out in ‘67. That inspired him to be a guitar player.”
I had my own Jimi Hendrix experience at MoPOP in early June, trying to play his guitar riffs in one of the Sound Lab’s 12 soundproof studio pods. After hearing my ear-splitting attempts, my daughter suggested we catch some more ‘polished’ musical acts at Upstream, where 200-plus artists were playing at cafes, bars and sound stages all over Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square.
Credit global warming, but the weather was perfect for Upstream. We walked from our home base (Loews Hotel 1000) to the heart of Pioneer Square — Occidental Park — to hear the Indy, folk and acoustic music of Tobias the Owl. We grooved to the tuba-driven jazz of Marina and the Dreamboats outside Starbucks.
We swayed to Schwey’s funk, pop and Indy rock mix at the classic sports pub, Quality Athletics. And we saw The Seshen, (R&B, synth-pop fusion) at Seattle’s oldest saloon, the Central, which regularly features the region’s best new bands. Everywhere we went, my daughter and I felt the joy that live music brings to the masses. It wasn’t always like this.
“For a long time Seattle was very mysterious and mythological in a way,” says McMurray. “We had this deep history with people like Quincy Jones and Ray Charles starting out here … Jimi Hendrix growing up in this area and that whole “Louie, Louie” scene with The Kingsmen and The Whalers and Paul Revere and the Raiders in the Northwest … but really until the early ’90s, no one thought anything big would happen in the Northwest.”
Then, when grunge exploded at the end of 1991, McMurray says the media spotlight turned to Seattle. “All of a sudden, instead of bands moving away from Seattle to make it big, bands were moving to Seattle thinking they could be the next Nirvana or Pearl Jam.”
Today, Seattle builds live music into its budget … with street “buskers” playing in the parks and dozens of live music festivals across town. Some of McMurray’s favorites? The Capitol Hill Block Party (July 20-22) and Bumbershoot, the Labor Day Weekend festival with more than 2,500 visual and performing artists. Add to that the countless clubs, bars and coffee shops that feature live music every week, and you have what McMurray calls a vibrant ecosystem of music.
It’s really pretty amazing,” he says. “It represents all genres of music, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down.” Could it be something in the coffee?
- For a list of music festivals and more, see www.visitseattle.org/things-to-do (includes tickets to MoPOP, the Space Needle and other top attractions) and www.citypass.com/seattle.
- Loews Hotel 1000: www.loewshotels.com/hotel-1000-seattle
- Pacific Northwest cuisine at Scout in the Thompson Seattle Hotel: www.scoutpnw.com
- See a video showcasing Seattle’s music scene at www.ginnyprior.com.