by Anthony Stassi & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & "Y & lt;/span & ou know, I think it's just a really good time for me," says Rocky Votolato, minutes after his set at the Big Dipper last Wednesday. As he takes a drag from his cigarette, a reassuring smile creeps out the side of his mouth. It's a smile that suggests things are looking up. That's his humble way of saying, "Yeah, I've been working my ass off and it's finally paying off."
Votolato's most recent payoff came in the form of a fruitful national tour supporting his friends, Lucero and William Elliot Whitmore. "All the shows have been selling out -- all but one so far, and that was in Fargo, North Dakota," says Votolato. He seems genuinely surprised by his newfound renown but, at the same time, he knows it's all falling into place for a reason --many reasons, in fact. "I think it's been a combination of Barsuk records, the new album (Makers), and a lot of shows," he explains.
His increased exposure certainly extends to the venues he's been playing. Last time he stopped through Spokane, he packed the Shop, a venue one-quarter the size of the Big Dipper. The story was no different last Wednesday. Every crevice of the place was wedged with scenesters of all ages, sizes, and odors; from youngsters in horizontal stripes and diaper cuts to soccer moms dressed like the Banger Sisters. And although he wasn't the headliner, everyone was there for Rocky: The place cleared out before Lucero could even set up their gear.
So the question becomes: What gives shows like Votolato's the Pied Piper charm to lure people out of the Spokane woodwork? Is it the fact that RAWK presented him? Maybe. RAWK does a good job of getting out the rock. But they brought Lucero too, and the crowd still disappeared. So maybe it's just the hype surrounding Makers. That makes sense to some degree, but no amount of buzz can instill the kind of inexorable faith that Spokane's Votolato faithful display.
Here's our hypothesis: People are convinced that good shows are a rarity in Spokane, and thus familiarity is the only thing that entices people to get off the couch. After all, familiar acts like Rocky, Book of Maps, and NO-FI Soul Rebellion -- none of whom are from Spokane, but who play here all the time -- are embraced as quasi-locals. Because of that, their shows usually -- no, like, always -- draw big crowds. If we could find a way to replicate that kind of local buzz for other, less frequent touring acts, Spokane would be that much more enticing a stop for touring bands.
Honestly, though, we think good shows have become more frequent in the last year or two. Good turnouts, though, have not. And without the good turnouts, the good shows will start to fizzle. So here's what you should do: Put your ear a little closer to the ground and find the underrated shows that slip through the cracks of acknowledgment. It may take some blind faith and more effort than you're used to, but you'll be glad you did. So will the penniless band you pay to see. If you're not willing to go that far, at least stick around for bands like Lucero. They were pretty tight.