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caption: Seattle's new cultural district designation made way for this large mural on a building in the Pike/Pine corridor.
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Seattle's new cultural district designation made way for this large mural on a building in the Pike/Pine corridor.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Marcie Sillman

Don't Worry, The Seattle Music Scene Isn't Dead Yet

Is the live music scene under siege in Seattle? Writer Charles Cross thinks so.

Cross told KUOW’s Bill Radke that in the city that nurtured Nirvana, today’s bands are having trouble finding places to rehearse and play.

“What Seattle needs is a sense that music is important to what our entire cultural identity is,” he said. “In other cities, like Austin, for example, the city government supports live music with a number of incentives. Seattle is only waking up to that, but it may be a little bit too late.”

In a story this week, KUOW explored the tradeoff for artists in the region’s booming economy – lots of new consumers with lots of money but a prohibitively expensive cost of living.

Cross said that Seattle's live music scene is healthy, for now, but it's being constrained.

He remembers the era “when there were five clubs in Belltown that you could walk to and you could see Mudhoney in one and maybe Nirvana or Tad in another. And the Vogue was just down the street, and the Central Tavern, and there were five places in Pioneer Square.”

That proximity, he said, “was part of what bred the Seattle music scene of the ’80s.”

Cross said the city should try to save some of the places that put Seattle on the map during the grunge era and later phases.

“Let's give incentives to people to save some of these buildings, to save some of these venues before they're all plowed under,” he said. “Because the reality is if you run the Crocodile Café, that space is worth a lot more to a high-rise developer than it is to putting on shows. But that venue is very important to the history of what Seattle is. That's where Nirvana played, where Mudhoney played, where everyone played in the day. Should it be plowed under for a condo? In my mind, no way.”

Live clubs face other pressures as the city grows more dense, Cross said. He cited noise complaints against the Nectar Lounge in Fremont.

“It's a great club. If you move in next door, you should realize you're moving into a club,” Cross said. “But that club is under siege by city regulations. The city needs to step up and make music a bigger part of Seattle's cultural identity and accept that that's what we are.”

So if musicians and live venues can’t survive in Seattle, where are they going? Farther out, says Cross.

“Some are moving to Shoreline. One of my favorite clubs is in Shoreline: It’s called Darrell's Tavern, on 175th and Aurora,” he said. “One of the great things about Darrell's is it's like Seattle used to be. There's no building right next to it. So they can make as much noise as they want. That is virtually unheard of within Seattle at the moment.”

If you’re a fan, you can help live music thrive, Cross says.

“Go out and see live music, the venues that are left,” he said. “Pay for musicians’ albums. Don't stream them on Spotify, because you're essential enforcing a kind of slavery when you do that. Nobody makes any money from Spotify. Don't stream music, buy it.”

But he said the city has an important role.

“Should the Comet Tavern be saved for landmark status? Absolutely,” he said. “It's as important to Seattle to me and to my cultural heritage and what Seattle's about as the Fifth Avenue Theatre.”

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