In case you haven't yet heard, Seattle's own Crocodile Cafe shut it's doors for good abruptly last Saturday. The club opened it's doors April 30, 1991 and since then had become nationally known as one of the best rock clubs and places to see music in the Northwest. I've seen my share of shows at the Croc and though I unfortunately never played a bill there under my own name, I am thankful to have stepped on stage for a night while I was temporarily the lead guitar player for SWEET LOU in 2003.
I know that a lot of people are sad about this as it was a destination spot for music lovers who knew the evening would be ABOUT THE MUSIC (what a concept), but my reminiscing comes more in the form of what it symbolized to me as a young teenager in North Seattle...
When the Seattle Scene "exploded" in the early 90's, I was a 12 year old just starting to discover music (and my teenage identity) who every morning ate breakfast while flipping through the paper to see what exciting band was featured this week, and hoping there was a picture of what was sure to be my favorite new band (I didn't know many).
When you read interviews now with the popular Seattle bands of that time, they dismiss the "Seattle Boom" as annoying and unnecessary; an artificial hype that couldn't sustain itself and ultimately destroyed many bands in the process of unrealistic career expectations. I can totally understand that point of view if you were involved directly in that time, but for me as a young suburban kid looking into a yet unattainable world of music and art...I FUCKING LOVED IT.
SCREAMING TREES, SOUNDGARDEN, PEARL JAM...these guys were like gods to me and still to this day I wish I was of age at a time which appeared to me like pure magic. It seemed like at the core of all this was a Valhalla-like club called the Crocodile Cafe. This was the place I always felt like would be my first destination of choice should it work for a 13-year old to get away with a fake I.D.
All the good shows seemed to happen there, and it seemed like THE place I needed to get into first when the time was right; a mystical realm where you were transported into rock and roll ecstasy.
When I finally did play there, it was exciting but I also had the feeling that I missed out on being a part of a different time and that no experience could be what I had built it up to be in the head of a music obsessed teenager. The Crocodile Cafe I will hold in my memory was the Candy Cane lane of music and the unattainable woman of adolescent dreams...
As stated in my good friend Patrick Porter's blog, it is very difficult to run a successful business, and even harder to run a good music venue. The Crocodile Cafe did it for many years and for that reason alone it deserves our respect. Still, I wonder what this means in the bigger picture of things. With more and more live music venues closing in the past 5 years, we see an increasing trend of live music seemingly becoming lower and lower on the entertainment priority list for the public at large.
You have to ask yourself (especially someone in my line of work) why this is. In the age of Netflix, iTunes, and everything clawing at your entertainment dollar while sitting at home; it appears that more and more live music is taking a backseat. I by no means am offering a solution or saying I know why this is, but more or less just throwing out the questions that need to be asked no matter how uncomfortable.
Does live music matter anymore? I think so, but then I'm also pretty biased. :)
I think here is also where some of the responsibility lies with local area musicians in any city that make up most of the weeknight billings in clubs like the Crocodile.
I know that it's a challenge for myself and ALL fellow musicians to get new people out for shows who have never heard your music before which is half the battle in expanding your fan base. It's not that these people aren't extremely talented (many times they are), it's just that many people have been burned on exploring the local music scene and not being "met halfway" in the relationship/live performance. I can completely understand because for years I too have tried to catch the random newly hyped local band expecting the best and found myself leaving disappointed. Does that happen all time? No, but enough that I can understand why "Joe Music" may have given up on supporting his local music scene. I also know that that's probably a pretty unpopular thing to say, but unfortunately that's what I feel may be an ugly truth and probable contributing piece to the puzzle of why more and more clubs close. I'm all for original art through and through, but there's a reason why even though we're force-fed "American Idol" groups against our will, we turn around and make them the biggest selling albums of the year. Why? I believe it's because people want songs they can relate to that tell a story and artists that they can believe in no matter how the artist reaches their success. If the average listener/show attendee got the same feeling from the majority of his/her local music experiences, I can promise you the Wednesday nights would be packed, clubs would be thriving, and "I work early" would be and excuse of the past.
With more and more venues closing and the corporate airwaves getting increasingly homogenized,I think it's a challenge for all of us (myself included) to up the local music game. This isn't a half-assed pathetic call to arms that so many of us have read over the years for "invigorating the scene" (I'm not sure there's even a scene anymore) that never happens, but more of a look into how we artists may be part of the problem. I'm talking stronger songwriting, I'm talking stronger performances, I'm talking about taking the time to learn how to sing the parts right (you'd be surprised), and I'm talking involving "Joe Music" in a way that I think people are wanting to be involved in...art from the heart void of any "scene" or exclusivity. I'm not saying by any means that this is a responsibility to be filled my myself or ANY one band at all. What I'm saying is that we artists collectively have a responsibility to the venues we play to bring quality entertainment to the table and they equally have a responsibility to us to provide the environment where that interaction can take place between artist and performer. If one of those things is unbalanced, it's not working for anybody be it performer, venue, or listener.
"Build it and they will come?"
Maybe, maybe not; but we don't know until we do. I'm sure this will be a pretty unpopular viewpoint (A.K.A. piss some people off) of a what I consider to be a crucial piece in ensuring local music sustainability, but I encourage you to tell me why you disagree if you do for both musicians and listeners alike.
Thanks for reading and Merry Christmas!