The Space is the Place: the Changing Seattle Scene

544226_506230329435926_110670946_nThere are a few elements necessary to making a good music scene, and one of them is this: it needs the right kind of space.

The Comet Tavern, a Seattle underground venue that’s been around for over 40 years, just closed its doors within the past month. It’s a place that’s acted as a toehold for touring performers visiting Seattle for the first time as well as new local acts cutting their teeth on the scene. At first, the closure seemed temporary, but since it came out that the owner had removed the sound system without telling employees or the venue’s music booker, it seems to be a much more long-term change for the beloved dive. Whether it opens again remains to be seen.

The closure of the Comet comes close on the heels of The Funhouse, another underground club that Seattle has lost. The Funhouse was sold to condo developers, a story that’s so common to hear in gentrifying cities like Seattle, it’s almost a foregone conclusion. A documentary about the venue was crowd-funded soon after, raising over $8,000.

These sorts of places are sacred to people for many reasons. For musicians, many played their first shows there and learned some hard lessons about what it means to perform, and what it means to be in the music industry. For concertgoers, many found their favorite band there, when the performers were close enough to touch, close enough to talk to. It’s as much a social experience as it is an artistic one.

When spaces like this are sold or torn down, it’s a bit like losing a childhood home. And while special scenes can never be replaced, it isn’t hard to find other places that are differently wonderful. Some of them are right under your nose.

My friends Max and Teresa have made their family home in the Central District an oasis for music lovers and music creators. They’ve been hosting house concerts for over ten years, entertaining all manner of guests, from rambling strangers and poor students to award-winning authors and cult musicians. Pre-show potlucks feature an unbelievable amount of food cooked by the couple, and on top of it all, they often provide the musicians with a place to sleep. For a traveling performer, this makes the house a sanctuary from a life on the road that can be lonely, exhausting, and distressingly low on showers.

3717_443563155702644_453581569_nTheir home has provided many of the same things that The Comet and The Funhouse provided, but to a different genre of performer. To singer-songwriters, pianists, cellists, Appalachian folk bands and circus storytellers, Max and Teresa’s house offers a safe place to perform where people will listen. To the visiting audience members, this house offers new and interesting art in an intimate and affordable venue (every show is by donation). There is a place and time for people to mingle, and there are lots of different kinds of people to mingle with.

It’s great mingling for musicians, too. I know I’m not the only one who has met friends, peers, and collaborators at this house. Some of these artists may not have found each other without Max’s excellent choices in booking. Many of the opportunities that have come my way are entirely due to these gatherings.

Over the years, I’ve helped Max and Teresa off and on, booking and promoting performances, cleaning up both before and after, and sometimes, even preparing food (I chopped my first salad in that kitchen). I’ve performed a lot of new songs at their house, many of which I still play to this day, while others died honorably in the field.

Even in friendly places like this, we can make mistakes and learn hard lessons about what it means to be a professional musician, but better to learn them there than in an unfamiliar city that doesn’t care.

Luckily for us all, Max and Teresa’s house has not met the same ill fate as the rock clubs. Though the occasional condo neighbor will still ask us to get quiet when it’s late and we’re all singing around the bonfire, the house still stands as a Place of Music. (The one time the cops responded to a noise complaint while I was present, they arrived right in the middle of a 40-person pillow fight instigated by the performer; no ticket was issued).

522740_506230109435948_462074347_nSeattle’s music scene is changing all of the time. Doors close, doors open, new stages are built and new acts emerge. It’s gonna hurt for a little while when the things we love go away, but there might be something right under your nose, maybe even in the house next door, waiting to be found.

Side note: Would anybody be interested in purchasing a gently used, vintage dive bar? It’s in excellent condition, and if you act now, you’ll also get all of the dollar bills attached to the ceiling and a chunk of the Kingdome! Contact Brian Balodis.

Aaron J. Shay has performed original music for the Bushwick Book Club Seattle for the past three years.