Pride swelled within me yesterday, as I watched a band play for the n-thousandth time in my life. Pride for my city, pride for what we’d done.
KEXP’s New Home, a $15-million shrine to music, community, and the intersection of the two, was christened yesterday with a free mini-music festival. The little radio station that could, itself begun as a collaboration between a local museum/Paul Allen vanity project and my alma mater, has grown into a cultural force in Seattle and around the world, dedicated to showcasing all that is good in the world of music. Listener-funded, with the only programming requirement being at least one local artist per hour, KEXP has long been one of the best things about living in this city.
And somehow, it’s still getting better.
The New Home, a stunning renovation of some underused conference rooms originally built for the 1962 World’s Fair, glistens like a jewel. The Gathering Space, an area that’s meant to serve as a coffee shop/store/restaurant, has acoustics that put some of the city’s music venues to shame, as proven by yesterday’s performances by Strand of Oaks and Hey Marseilles, among others. Somehow, the actual performance space sounds even better.
That pride swelled during Strand of Oaks’ set, as I watched the band, long-championed by KEXP, perform “Goshen ’97,” singer Timothy Showalter’s musical origin story. Everyone in that room had, once upon a time, had a moment like his. And we were all there because of it.
I’ve written before about the songs that changed my musical life, but it’s hard to emphasize how much has come of that. The shift from shitty radio-friendly generic rock to indie and local options meant opening up a whole world of new shows, an era where instead of maybe one interesting show coming to town per month, my calendar began to overflow with options.
My music journalism career long ago failed to launch, but going back and re-reading the earliest piece I ever wrote, a review of Matchbox Twenty’s third album, makes me cringe for all sorts of reasons, and that’s with the 3½ stars out of 5 rating truncated from the online piece. (My editor said we didn’t give 3½ stars, because it was the most bland, useless rating possible. I insisted.)
Certain friends love to tease me for my former affection for Matchbox Twenty, but it was basically a lifetime ago. When the New Pornographers, among other bands, came into my life, everything changed. “The Laws Have Changed” was a catalyst for that, a three-and-a-half minute burst of pure possibility.
It’s a straight line from there to here.
During yesterday’s festivities, KEXP higher-ups occasionally gave speeches, thanking everyone who helped make the space possible, asking people to acknowledge those who contributed. Taxpayers, donors, volunteers: I’m all three (though I’ve only volunteered once), and yet, I still felt like I hadn’t done enough. Or, maybe, just that I should do more.
Surrounded by friends, surrounded by a community, I was at peace with Seattle in a way I hadn’t been in a while.
The night before, at a bar in my neighborhood, I explained to a friend’s girlfriend that the primary reason I still lived in my home of more than eight years was that I didn’t know where else I’d rather be. But, as we talked, I acknowledged another factor for staying put, the feeling that maybe, just maybe, the decline that had resulted from my neighborhood’s decade-long wave of gentrification had begun to reverse.
Places are still closing, of course, and old buildings are still getting bulldozed in favor of the new. But, at the very least, the ground floor of those new, giant mixed-use structures are no longer being filled with tanning salons and “gourmet” Mexican restaurants. Some character has begun to return, in the form of microbreweries and donut shops. Chains and suburban concepts are on the out, supplanted by the sorts of things we locals actually desire.
KEXP’s New Home is a testament to community: An architectural marvels hosting a coffee shop for the neighborhood, washers and dryers for touring bands, and a state-of-the-art video editing suite for those watching streams from afar. It’s a reminder what can happen when people band together and try to get things right. And it makes me wonder: What else can we save, if we all chip in?