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First Times: Experiencing Seattle’s music scene

Seattle skylinePhotos by Melissa Hebeler & Josh Herwitt // Written by Josh Herwitt //

Growing up in the 90’s, Seattle always had a special place in my heart.

From my days of listening to Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains albums in my bedroom, grunge music had already produced a profound impact on my musical taste by the time I entered my teens. Unlike so many of my peers, I never became a crazed Nirvana fan, but the rock music I did like — whether I knew it or not at the time — was being born in the Pacific Northwest.

As time passed and my music palette grew, grunge wasn’t the only genre coming out of the region that tickled my ears. In fact, Seattle’s musical history stretches further than it just being the birthplace of grunge. In more recent years, Seattle’s hip-hop scene, for one, has exploded in part due to Grammy winners Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, but even experimental acts like Shabazz Palaces and Blue Sky Black Death have helped build the local scene. And let’s not forget that we’re talking about the city that bred the one and only Sir Mix-a-Lot, of course.

Knowing this, my expectations of Seattle’s music scene have always been quite high. Since the late 60’s when Seattle native Jimi Hendrix took London by storm with bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell, there has been a musical fabric that has run through the Emerald City. It’s a city, after all, that has a nonprofit museum dedicated largely to pop culture and music, with informative, in-depth exhibits on the history of The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Nirvana that include authentic artifacts, hand-written lyrics, used instruments and original photographs of both groups. You never know — maybe someday Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Foo Fighters memorabilia will also find its way behind the EMP Museum’s glass doors.

EMP Museum

Meanwhile, Sub Pop, Seattle’s famed independent record label, has found continued success outside of its home base long after popularizing the grunge movement, with indie contemporaries like The Shins, Fleet Foxes, Beach House, Foals, The Postal Service and Wolf Parade all signed to its current roster. And even more than 25 years after its inception, the label Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman created hasn’t lost its charm in a city where the Seahawks carry as much weight as any local band on the brink of national prominence these days.

With that said, while history can’t be erased, it certainly doesn’t mean it will be repeated. The Crocodile, formerly known as The Crocodile Café, has long been a fixture in Seattle’s music scene; the relatively small, intimate club on the corner of 2nd Avenue and Blanchard Street in the neighborhood of Belltown was the place where bands like Nirvana and Death Cab for Cutie first got their start. Even though the 525-person venue closed its doors in 2007, it reopened them a couple years later and has remained instrumental in maintaining Seattle’s reputation as one of America’s best music cities.

But whether it was the Fourth of July holiday or just the band that was booked for the night — in this case, San Francisco’s Geographer, who I have seen a handful of times at this point — I was surprised to see a room only half full of spectators when I walked inside. Maybe Geographer just doesn’t draw in Seattle what it does in SF or LA — or maybe I’m just spoiled. Since graduating college, I have had the privilege of living in New York and Los Angeles while getting to experience both cities’ music scenes for an extended period of time. My concert-going experiences haven’t been restricted to just LA and NYC, though. Over the years, I have made numerous trips to Denver — a city smaller than Seattle, yet one that undeniably eats, breathes and lives for live music — to attend shows at Red Rocks and beyond.

Geographer

At The Crocodile, something felt missing unfortunately. Sure, it was just one show, but there wasn’t the same kind of buzz I found in any of those aforementioned cities. For whatever reason, my native LA often gets vilified by outsiders and transplants for our crowds’ lack of enthusiasm; words like “rude” and “unengaged” are regularly thrown around when it comes to LA’s music scene. But the energy at The Crocodile on that Friday night wasn’t anything better than what I experience on a regular basis in Southern California. If anything, it was considerably worse.

As disappointed and uninspired as I was after the show, my respect for Seattle’s music scene hasn’t wavered. With so much of my youth influenced by the musicians who have called this majestic seaport city home, it will always remain an important place for this music lover. Yet, what it’s made me realize is just how lucky I am to have lived where I’ve lived and been where I’ve been.

Geographer

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